What are Unicode fonts and why should I use them?

You might know that some fonts are better for print and others are better for viewing online. But, did you also know that some fonts are better than others for translation?

Fonts can be classified in many ways—serif or sans-serif, proportional or monospace. However, the most important font distinction for translation purposes is Unicode or ASCII. For the best translation experience, you want to use Unicode fonts. They can ensure that your translated content is as polished and professional as your source content.

The usefulness of Unicode fonts and the problems with ASCII

A Unicode font includes characters from the Universal Coded Character Set (UCS)—a comprehensive set of characters and glyphs from multiple languages—encoded in a way that ensures those characters appear the same across platforms and systems. A non-Unicode font, such as an ASCII font, is specific to a certain language or character encoding and contains only a small subset of characters. It might look pretty in English, but it can be pretty limiting if you’re thinking in terms of translation. For example, because English doesn't include accented characters, when you translate your content using an ASCII font, any accented characters won't appear. In those cases, a missing character often appears as a question mark or square box in the text. Not only does that look unprofessional, but if there are enough of them, it might also make the text unreadable.

While a single Unicode font can’t include all possible Unicode characters—there are over 136,000 characters currently in the UCS, with room for over 1.1 million–Unicode fonts strive to be as comprehensive as possible and certainly include a much wider range of characters than non-Unicode fonts.

Non-Unicode fonts can also be platform-specific, limiting their usefulness. Unicode fonts work across Windows, Mac, and other operating systems, so you can share or reuse translated content easily. It doesn’t matter if someone loves the versatility of the Windows platform or is a hardcore Apple fan, a translated document using a Unicode font just works.

The standardization, range of characters, and compatibility across platforms all help to ensure that you have the letters, glyphs, and symbols that you need in translated content. Using Unicode fonts also ensures that you have support for languages that have extended character sets, such as Asian or Eastern European languages, and left-to-right languages, such as Arabic. Unicode fonts even allow you to create a single document with multiple languages in it, extending your options for delivering translated content effectively.

How can I make sure my preferred font is a Unicode font?

The good news is that many of the popular fonts in common software programs, such as Arial, Tahoma, and Times New Roman, are Unicode fonts. Check with your software provider to see if they have a list of the Unicode fonts that they support. For example, the Microsoft website lists the fonts that it supports, with details about the Unicode support for each.

If you are using a non-standard font, you might have to go to the font developer to see if it is a Unicode font. Before settling on a final Unicode font choice, try it out in a few languages. While it might technically follow Unicode, there is nothing to say that all the glyphs for the various characters will look nice together.

Unicode fonts are universally the best choice for translated content

Ideally, the best solution is to find a Unicode font that works for all the languages that you want so you have a uniform look across your content. Verify that your translations won’t be missing any characters and they can be viewed on any platform. Best of all, you can take advantage of Pairaphrase’s unique ability to return a translated document with all the formatting preserved. When you put the two together, your content translation projects will be successful—and easy—every time.

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