To begin explaining what PUA encoded fonts are, I first want to break down fonts into three distinct categories.
- Fonts that come with no additional hidden characters.
- Fonts that come with additional characters using Open Type
- Fonts that come with additional characters using PUA Encoding
Okay, so lets rewind a little. Why do fonts come with additional hidden characters at all? Well simply put there are only so many characters or letters on your keyboard. When a designer wants to include two versions of a particular letter, they insert the second as an additional character. Using the two images below, we can see a great example of additional characters in use.
Notice anything different between the two examples? Example one is only using standard characters. An uppercase T and everything else in lowercase. In the second example, we have edited the uppercase T to the alternate uppercase T that was included within the font file. Ultimately additional characters are created to give users more flexibility when designing.
But how do I access hidden characters?
Now we all know how to access upper and lowercase characters for any font right? Simply install the font as normal, select the font in your chosen program and type out your desired word. Super simple right? But what about when you want to access those additional hidden characters?
As noted above, there are two alternate methods used by designers when creating fonts. These are called Open Type Features or PUA encoding. But whats the difference?
Open Type Features
Open Type was created by Adobe and Microsoft in the mid 1990’s as a way to be able to include more glyphs or characters in a single font file. Open Type supports something called Unicode, which essentially allows the inclusion of up to 65,000 different characters in any one single font file.
Using Open Type Features each font file can now support hundreds of alternate languages and additional characters within a single file. Making the distribution and storage of fonts much easier.
The main drawback with using Open Type based fonts is the additional hidden characters are only accessible if the program you are using supports Open Type Features.
Examples of programs that support Open Type Features
- Adobe PhotoShop CC,
- Adobe Illustrator,
- Adobe InDesign
- Corel Draw.
Examples of programs that DON’T support Open Type Features
- Microsoft Word
- Microsoft PowerPoint
- Silhouette Studio
- Cricut Design Space
- And many others
To clarify all standard characters (accessible via your keyboard) for Open Type based fonts are still 100% accessible. It is only those additional characters which require a specific program. In the “Together” examples shown above, only the standard characters used in example one would be accessible to users operating a program that does not support Open Type Features.
PUA Encoded Fonts
PUA stands for “Private Use Areas”. Unlike Open Type based fonts, PUA encoded fonts include additional characters that ARE accessible via any program that supports fonts.
Now I won’t bore you with the technical details of how and why this works, let’s leave that to the designers. The main benefit is that when you use a font that is PUA encoded, you are able to access every single one of the glyphs or characters included and not be restricted by the program you are using. These types of fonts are often preferred by crafters using programs such as Silhouette, Cricut or similar.
When browsing for fonts online, be sure to check if the font is PUA encoded prior to purchase, should it contain additional characters. Designers often refer to these fonts as “100% accessible”.
How to Access Hidden Characters for PUA Encoded Fonts
Right, let’s get down to the important bit shall we? How to actually use PUA encoded fonts to gain access to those lovely alternate characters.
- Click on the start button and type “Character Map”.
2. Load up Character Map, and locate the dropdown “Group By” which should be situated somewhere near the bottom of the box.
3. Once the new pop up appears select “Private Use Characters”.
4. The character map will now show all the additional PUA characters included for the selected font.
5. To use these characters simply open your chosen program in the background. Select the text tool and select the chosen font you are going to use. Now go back to your Character Map and simply copy and paste the characters from your character map, into your chosen program.
6. Hey presto, you are now able to access all the swirly, curly flourishes and alternate characters your heart desires.
- To begin with you need to open your Applications menu and locate the application “Font Book”. Alternatively you can click on the magnifying glass in the top right of the screen and search “Font Book” then click on the correct drop down when the search completes.
- Your font book should look something like this
3. Next select the font you wish to use from the dropdown.
4. Now at the very top of your screen, select View and click “Repertoire”. This will ensure your Font Book displays all characters included within this font and not just the standard letters.
5. Next open your chosen program in the background. Select the text tool and the chosen font you are going to use within that program. Now go back to Font Book and simply copy and paste the characters one by one from your font book into your chosen program. You can either use the short cut CMD + C or click on the “edit” menu at the top and then click Copy. Both ways work the same. Likewise when pasting you can use the short cut CMD + V or click on the edit menu followed by Paste.
6. And that folks is it.
I hope you are have enjoyed reading our guide on PUA encoded fonts. I promise after a little time practising this will become second nature. If you have any questions or comments, please write them in the comments area below.