Be careful choosing fonts to write your patterns

I want to talk to you about which fonts to use when you write your pattern.  I don’t mean which fonts are more attractive or easy to read, though that certainly is a topic for discussion, I mean which fonts are best if you want your customer to be able to get the best use out of your pattern.

I’m pretty confident in saying that, for most of us, the first patterns we wrote were in Microsoft Word or a similar word processor, and we used the font that the software defaulted for us.  It depends which version of the software you used but the chances are that if you worked on a Windows machine you’ll have used Calibri.  Did you know that there’s a very good chance that if one of your customers printed your pattern from an Apple machine, it won’t have looked the same as your copy?  The same is true of Apple users who will likely have written in Helvetica, and that will probably have looked different from a Windows machine.

Different?  In what way?

The problem is that, unless someone has paid extra for the font, Calibri won’t exist on the Apple machine, and Helvetica won’t exist on the Windows machine.  That means that when your customer opens the document the system won’t be able to find the font you used, so it will use its default.  It will do its best but its default font might be a slightly different width to your font so you might end up with text running into your photos for example, or the alignment might be wrong.  All that time you spent on your layout, wasted.

But my pattern was a pdf.  Surely that’s ok?

Maybe, maybe not.  It all depends on the font and how you generated your pdf.  Some fonts can be embedded in the pdf when it’s created, meaning that the definition of the font will be associated with the document and it will look as you intended.  Some fonts, but not all.

How do we know?

You need to look at the properties of the font.  On my Windows 8.1 pc this is in c:\\Control Panel\Appearance and Personalisation\Fonts but these system things change so frequently that it’s easiest just to search for “fonts” on your machine.  From here you can find the properties of the font you want to use.

These are the properties for the StitchMastery Dot font.  The important thing to look at is the “Font Embeddability” – here it is “Print and Preview”.




Different options for font embeddability and what they mean

Font Embeddability Meaning
Installable The gold standard.  Not only can you embed this in your document, but also your customer can save it to their machine and use it in other documents.
Editable It can be embedded in your document, but can only be used on your customer’s machine for your document.  They will be able to edit this font which is useful for customers who like to make notes.
Print and Preview It can be embedded in your document but your customer will only be able to view or print it.  If they want to edit your document, they’ll have to use a different font.  Not only that, but they won’t be able to select any of your text to highlight.
Restricted Cannot be embedded in your document.  Don’t even think about using this.

This is the information that is available to you on a Windows machine.  On an Apple machine all it tells you for emeddability is “yes” or “no”.  “No” means that it’s a restricted font, “Yes” can mean any of the other options, but you can’t tell which.  If it’s important to you to give your customers full control, then you’ll have to find that information by searching on the internet.

What does it mean to embed a subset?

Sometimes you’ll see that a document has a subset of the font embedded.  This is fine, it means that only the characters that have been used in your document have been embedded.  This means everything you’ve written will look as you intended, but the file size will be smaller.

So what should I do?

If you want your customers to get the best out of your document, then do a little research and make sure you can embed your chosen font in the document.  One final thing though, please make sure to check the licence and choose one that can be used commercially – either you can pay for it, or there are a lot available free.  Font designers are like knitwear designers – they don’t want someone using an illegal copy of their hard work any more than we do!


What is a style sheet?

Jo Torr tech editor

As a pattern writer, one thing that will make your life and that of your technical editor easier, is the use of a style sheet.  If you already know what one of those is, then great; if you already use one, even better.  If not, then this is for you.

Basically a style sheet is a guide that defines your writing style.  It means you will be able to present a consistent voice to your customers, which makes your patterns feel more polished and professional.  From your technical editor’s point of view, it gives them some rules to check against when they are checking for consistency: if your TE finds in your pattern that you’ve written the same thing in two different ways, your style sheet is how they will know which you prefer.

What type of thing should your style sheet include?

This isn’t a definitive list, but some of the things you should include are:

  • standard abbreviations and their definitions (do you always have to check how to define m1r and m1l?)
  • how you like to use capitals – for example do you write Ssk, SSK or ssk? Does that change if it’s at the start of an instruction?
  • phrases that you use frequently – for example “join for knitting in the round, making sure not to twist”.
  • how you define repeats – do you use (brackets) or [brackets] or *asterisks*?
  • do you say “round” or “rnd”?
  • numbers – 1, 2, 3 or one, two, three?

Every time you write a pattern you should use this to check against, to make sure it is consistent, not just within itself but also with your other patterns.  It will mean that your regular customers will be able to recognise your style.

Remember, this is all about your style; there is no right answer, you choose.  A style sheet will make it easier to stick to those choices.

Helping you create your style sheet is one of the services I offer.  If this is something you are interested in, then please get in touch.

Read about my full range of technical editing services here.