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Font Converters Details

Battle of the Font Converters
Article by Ken Hancock, (c) 1991 Ken Hancock
Tests by Ken Hancock and Dave Platt

Metamorphosis Professional 2.0
Altsys Corporation
269 W. Renner Road
Richardson, TX 75080
List Price: $149
MacConnection Price: $87

FontMonger 1.0.3
Ares Software Corporation
P.O. Box 4667
Foster City, CA 94404-4667
List Price: $99
MacConnection Price: $62

With the recent release of System 7 and TrueType, people have started going type-crazy. What Adobe started by opening the Type 1 font format and releasing Adobe Type Manager, TrueType will increase ten-fold. When Apple first introduced the Macintosh, people oohed-and-ahhed at actually seeing different fonts and styles on their screens. Apple introduced the "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" (WYSIWYG) concept to the mass market and heralded it as a major achievement. Now, with Apple’s TrueType, the what-you-see and what-you-get actually looks darn good.

Currently there are well over 100 public domain and shareware typefaces available in Type 1 format for ATM (I have a directory of 144 and climbing). With System 7, though, the demand for TrueType fonts will skyrocket. Currently, only FontStudio 2.0 will allow type designers to create TrueType fonts. (Altsys’s Fontographer will surely follow in its footsteps shortly.) For those of you who can’t wait and want hundreds of fonts NOW, Metamorphosis Professional or FontMonger may be just what you’re looking for.

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Metamorphosis Professional

Metamorphosis was the premiere font conversion utility for the Macintosh and has only gotten better now that it has metamorphosed into Metamorphosis Professional. It’s a fine utility from a fine company. (Altsys’s portfolio also boasts Freehand (marketed by Aldus), Art Importer, and Fontographer.) Metamorphosis converts fonts and does it well. It currently boasts the ability to convert between seven outline formats: Type 1 fonts for the Mac, PC, and NeXT; Type 3 fonts for the Mac and PC; and TrueType for the Mac and PC. In addition, it can also convert any of the above formats to a PICT file containing smooth-polygon versions of the text, an EPS file containing the PostScript outlines, or a Fontographer file for editing with Fontographer. Metamorphosis Professional does its translations in one of two ways, either outline-to-outline or outline-to-PostScript-printer-to-outline. In most cases, Metamorphosis Professional will read in the outline file of one format and transform it into the new format. For a few Type 3 fonts with unknown formats, it will instead download the font to an attached PostScript printer and then have the printer send back the outlines. As an added perk, Metamorphosis Professional will allow you to convert fonts stored in a PostScript printer’s RAM or ROM. Altsys is also supposed to send you a DA which will duplicate the conversion functions of the application when you register your version, though I’ve yet to receive mine.

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FontMonger is a new product in the Macintosh market from a new company, Ares. Like Altsys, though, they’re no strangers to the Macintosh market – they’re the people responsible for Letraset’s FontStudio, Fontographer’s main competitor. FontMonger, like Metamorphosis Professional, is a font conversion utility, but FontMonger goes further, allowing you to customize your fonts to some degree. FontMonger currently supports conversion between TrueType, Type 1, and Type 3 fonts. Sorry, no NeXT or PC formats yet. (Steve and Bill already have plenty of money and don’t need help getting more.) FontMonger also lets you convert to PICT outlines or EPSF files. The biggest difference between FontMonger and Metamorphosis Professional, though, is its font customizing ability. Although FontMonger doesn’t allow editing of the actual outlines of a font, it allows you an array of other functions such as the ability to copy characters between fonts, perform various transformations to any or all characters of a font, and create a variety of composite characters such as fractions and accented characters. Suppose you’ve always wanted to create a narrow version of Times. Simple, with FontMonger. Open up Times, select all the characters, open up the Alter Characters window, and type 80% in the width box. Save the new font as Times Narrow. FontMonger will also save the previous original characters in the PostScript font so you can modify it further in the future, or, if you wish to save on disk space, compress the font and it’ll remove the extra information. Similarly, you can expand characters horizontally, modify character widths, or add a slant for obliqued fonts. Creating fractions is equally easy.

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Head-to-Head Test Specs

So, now the question comes down to who does a better job of font conversion. We ran two tests, a Type 1 to TrueType conversion and a Type 3 to Type 1 conversion. In both tests, Adobe’s New Century Schoolbook Roman was used as a test font. Dave printed his results on an HP DeskJet and an Apple LaserWriter IINT. I printed my results on a GCC PLP II and a GCC BLP IIS. In each case, one aspect of each of the printers was inherently different from the others. The DeskJet is a 300 dpi inkjet printer. Inkjet-based printers usually have a slightly larger dot-spread (dot-size) than a laser printer of equivalent resolution. The LaserWriter IINT is an Adobe Postscript printer based on the Canon laser engine. The GCC PLP II is a QuickDraw printer, so it either depends on ATM or TrueType to do its font rasterizing in these tests. The GCC BLP IIS is an Adobe Postscript printer with the ATM font rasterizer in ROM. Both the GCC PLP II and BLP IIS are based on Oki’s LED-based engines, guaranteeing that the dot-size is equal to the resolution at 300 dpi.

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Type 1 to TrueType

For the first test, we each converted the New Century Schoolbook Roman Type 1 font with both Metamorphosis Professional and FontMonger. Dave had the following comments on his results.

"The real difference between the FontMonger outlines and the Metamorphosis Professional outlines shows up at small point sizes such as 4 to 8 points at 300 dpi on a DeskJet. The Metamorphosis Professional outlines are markedly heavier at all point sizes. To my eye, the FontMonger outlines seem to have a much more even appearance at this point size. The vertical stems, diagonals, and horizontal cross-members remain consistently proportioned at each point size. Another oddity – I just noticed that the vertical stem of the "t" in the Metamorphosis Professional conversion is heavier at 6 points than it is at 7 or 8 points! Weird!" (I noticed this as well.)

For my half of the test, I created a document of a text waterfall from 4 point to 18 point in both upper and lower-case characters. (A waterfall is a document containing text at increasingly larger point sizes for each line.) I then printed out the same document with the same font on the GCC BLP IIS and the GCC PLP IIS. For the same font, with font rasterizers from the same company, the original Type 1 font printed out surprisingly differently on the two printers which share the same hardware engine. The sample from the PostScript printer had consistently thicker line weights than the ATM rasterized type. For comparison, I printed the TrueType conversions on the same GCC PLP IIS rasterized with System 7’s TrueType engine. I then took the four printouts around to ten people who varied from end-users to graphic designers. The results? 8 votes for Metamorphosis, 2 for FontMonger.

More interesting than the results, though, were the various comments on the printouts. A number of times, people commented that both programs’ TrueType conversions were better than the original Type 1 fonts (chalk one up for Apple, Altsys, and Ares). The leading on FontMonger’s conversion was much larger than on the Type 1 originals – Ares chose the conservative route to prevent two lines from colliding. The leading on Metamorphosis Professional’s conversion was slightly smaller than the original, but did, in fact, have the problem with lines colliding. Regardless, the problem with leading isn’t a major one since most layout applications allow independent control of line-spacing. FontMonger produced thinner and more delicate strokes for the converted font – it looked very similar to the Type 1 rasterized with ATM. Metamorphosis Professional, on the other hand, produced thicker strokes, resembling the Type 1 rasterized on the PostScript printer.

Contrary to what Dave found, I thought that the color (uniformity and weight of the line of text) of FontMonger’s conversion tended to break down at small point sizes (4-6 point at 300 dpi) as a result of its thinner strokes, though these sizes seldom print well at 300 dpi anyway. Metamorphosis Professional seemed to hold its uniformity better at those sizes. Both fonts looked fine, though, once you reached 9-12 point sizes. By the time you reached 18 point, it was very hard to tell the difference. Most of the other comments were individual preferences for this letter vs. that letter in the two conversions – preferences there varied widely.

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Type 3 to Type 1

Since I also purchased FontMonger while I was in the process of converting Type 1 to TrueType, I went ahead and performed a second test. For this test, I first converted the Type 1 font to a Type 3 font, thereby stripping it of the hinting that was initially part of the font. I then took the Type 3 font and converted it back into a Type 1 font, thereby relying on the converters’ hinting techniques. In this test, I’d have to give the edge to FontMonger. Both conversions were almost indistinguishable – the controlling factor for Type 1 fonts is that you must install bitmaps and the bitmaps control factors such as leading. Whereas the leading varied greatly in the TrueType conversions, there was no difference since the bitmaps were the same. Although both conversions were very good, the Metamorphosis Professional had one serious glitch between 6 point and 11 point. In the word "point" on the printed page, the hinting of its Type 1 font caused the left side of the stem of the "i" to look like it had a semicircular chunk taken out of it, almost as if the "o" had a thick, white outline around it. Oddly enough, this effect varied in intensity between 6 and 11 point and disappeared at 12 point.

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Outlines to PICT

As part of some design work I was doing, I converted a few Type 1 fonts to outlines and compared the results. Metamorphosis Professional and FontMonger take very different approaches here. Metamorphosis Professional attempts to convert the bezier curves to smooth polygons while FontMonger replaces the curve with a multitude of line segments. The Metamorphosis Professional conversion was much more aesthetically pleasing at an unreduced size. FontMonger’s conversion suffered at an unreduced size with very blocky curves. Both looked quite acceptable if they were reduced sufficiently. FontMonger’s conversion, though not quite as elegant, didn’t suffer a problem I encountered with Metamorphosis: in one instance, I was converting a 500 point italic ‘m’. Metamorphosis Professional goofed on the curves causing the outer curve to swing in past the inner curve so I had to adjust the outlines by hand in Canvas. FontMonger, because of its different methodology, didn’t suffer this problem.

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I knew if I didn’t include a section on speed, someone would surely send in a note to MailBITS telling me that I forgot something (not that it will stop you – thanks for keeping me honest), so here it is. I tested both programs on my SE/30 running under System 7. Although 30 minutes may seem like a long time for a Mac to spend on any one task, converting fonts is a lot of computational work, and neither program seemed particularly slow.

FontMonger 1.0.3, 16 typefaces, 29:47
Metamorphosis Pro 2.0, 16 typefaces, 31:35

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Bottom Line

In the first test, Dave liked FontMonger’s conversion best, I liked Metamorphosis Professional’s best. Dave’s DeskJet tends to have larger dots than my PLP, so the larger dots may partially make up for the thinner strokes. In my case, it’s the exact opposite. In the second test, I’d give FontMonger the edge. In both cases, both programs did a fine job and are equally well suited for converting fonts. There are, of course, a few aspects of each program which I wish would be changed. For Metamorphosis Professional, the major reason why I had held off buying a copy for so long is because it is lacking a feature I very much want: it can’t convert fonts in a Postscript printer without having bitmaps available. This is a hindrance to me since I (infrequently, admittedly) would like to take raw Postscript files from other platforms (notably Sun workstations) containing font descriptions, download them to a Postscript printer, and then convert them with Metamorphosis Professional to Macintosh format. Guess this’ll have to go on the wish-list. For FontMonger, one of its nice features is also a huge inconvenience: its custom file dialogs. All of FontMonger’s dialogs are non-modal. It’s nice that you can shift them around, but now Boomerang-like utilities do not work. Also now that I’ve finally gotten over the habit of hitting tab to switch drives (System 7 uses Command-RightArrow and Command-LeftArrow), FontMonger doesn’t support the new interface since it did things its own way.

OK, so I’m indecisive. I bought both. I’ve long wanted Metamorphosis Professional and finally broke down and bought it. Shortly after, Dave Platt started telling me all sorts of nice things about FontMonger. Ares was getting into areas in which I’m very interested, so the least I could do was support them by buying FontMonger. Which you buy depends on what you need. Both do an excellent job of converting fonts and I have no problems recommending either of them (unless you routinely print out 6 point correspondences). If you want to convert between platforms, go with Metamorphosis Professional. If you want to customize your type library beyond simply converting fonts, go with FontMonger. Of course if you’re a hard-core enthusiast, you’ll end up buying either FontStudio or Fontographer to create your own fonts. (By the way, guys, send me copies of these programs and I’ll be happy to review them….)