Understanding Font Display Problems Flash

TrueType, Type 1 PostScript, and bitmap fonts can be used in Flash. Although Flash exports the system information about the fonts that are used, fonts may still appear incorrectly on other platforms if the end-user doesn’t have the font installed, the font may appear incorrectly (even on the same platform). Often this is a due to the fact that although Flash can display the font within the editor, it does not recognize that particular font’s outline and can’t export the text. One way to check for this is to momentarily switch your view to View➪Antialias Text. If the text appears jaggy, that’s a problem font.

Such problems can be avoided by using the _device fonts (_sans, _serif, and _typewriter fonts), which can be chosen either from the Text➪Font Menu or from the Character Panel. These device fonts tell the Flash player to use whatever equivalent font is available on the local computer. For example, _sans usually becomes Arial or Helvetica, while _serif becomes Times or Times New Roman, and _typewriter becomes Courier. Because these settings utilize the default fonts on the user’s machine, these fonts also make the final movie size smaller, because Flash doesn’t have to export their outlines in the .SWF when the movie is exported. Of course, the result of smaller movies is faster downloads.

Characteristics of these _device fonts are that they are always available, always fast, never rotate, and may vary slightly in their metrics from player to player. You can use _device fonts for text fields and areas of text that you don’t want antialiased (processed for smoother edges).

Because Flash is a vector program, it enables the integration of most fonts within the movie, without fuss. For normal blocks of text, this means that fonts don’t have to be rendered into bitmap elements. The .SWF files that Flash publishes (or exports) include all of the necessary information for the font to display properly on every browser.

Problems with fonts on the Mac
Adobe PostScript fonts usually function on the Mac without problems. However, if a font is not properly installed, it may appear to function and display properly within the .FLA, yet falter when the movie is published. Often this is due to the editor using what is called the screen font while you are working in the editor. If, however, the actual font to which the screen font refers cannot be found when the movie is published, that causes problems.

Problems with fonts on the PC
On the PC, it is reported that PostScript fonts that are used with Adobe Type Manager can cause problems when publishing the movie. For this reason, it’s often recommended that PC Flash users limit themselves to TrueType fonts. This is especially relevant for block text. But if a text block has been broken apart, this restriction does not apply, because breaking type apart renders it into a vector shapes (or objects) that will ship with the .SWF when the project is published. But the primary disadvantages of breaking text apart are that it may increase the file size considerably, and that once it’s broken apart, the text is no longer editable.

Cross-platform issues and codevelopment problems
Sometimes a project from the Mac will open on the PC with the Times font displayed in substitution for all of the text! This isn’t anything strange at least in terms of how Flash is trying to help you because Flash knows that you don’t have the font on your machine.

If you select a text block and check you’ll most likely see the name of the original font that was used, even though the text is displayed in the Times font. As long as you don’t edit the text, Flash will continue to try to use the named font. You may have the same font installed on both the Mac and the PC and notice (now) that there is a slight difference in their names. Usually, there’s an extra space or an underscore messing up the font sync.


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