I have not used Adobe Illustrator much the past few years and certainly don’t use it enough to justify buying a Creative Suite subscription that only lasts 12 months. Recently a localization project came in where I needed to edit the original Illustrator file data text. The printer sent me their Illustrator print files and I blithely opened the file with a name that ended with ‘OL’.
As soon as I clicked the body text I realized what OL meant: outline. All the text in a 2 page document with lots of text had been converted to outlines via the Illustrator convert text to outline feature. I couldn’t edit anything. I contacted the printer and received a backup file with the text intact that had not been converted to outlines.
I reflected on this basic Japanese designer practice of converting all Illustrator file text to outlines before sending work files to the printer. It took me back to my days setting up some of the first Japanese PostScript DTP production lines for print companies in Shizuoka. Any printer or high end print service like Lithmatic (a great service company by the way) always requests designers to submit Illustrator work files with all the text data pre-converted to outlines. I hate doing this because it strips away all the font hinting. Font hinting is now only thought of as a screen display thing, but printer font hinting was necessary back in the days of 300~600 DPI PostScript laser printers.
Maybe printer font hinting is no longer necessary in this era of high resolution CTP (computer to plate) on-demand small print runs. Even so, to my eye, stripping out the font hinting reduces the Japanese typographic quality of smaller printed kanji text with their complex glyph strokes. Why is it necessary in this age of PDF workflows to even bother converting text to outline anymore?
It all goes back to the many original sins of the first Adobe Japanese PostScript fonts, the biggest sin being they could not be downloaded to the printer on a job basis…they had to reside on the printer. And they were not cheap: ¥300,000 a pop (back in 1990 when that kind of price was a lot heavier on the wallet) for a single unlimited resolution Japanese PostScript printer font. Not only that, early Japanese PostScript print drivers sucked. They were slow and print jobs would often trip up the RIP job with a memory error or something arcane. Like it or not, print job managers learned to read voodoo tea leave PostScrip error codes to decipher problems, fix the Illustrator file and run the job again. Late work nights were common for production staff.
Usually it was just easier to convert text to outlines which was the godsend feature that arrived with Illustrator v5 along with Japanese Adobe ATM. Instead of buying expensive printer fonts and dealing with incomprehensible PostScript output errors, it was easier (and cheaper) for print service bureaus to require all Illustrator file text data be converted to outlines. This was a time when Illustrator was the workhorse choice for DTP designers in Japan.
All of the PostScript problems were eventually fixed with OpenType fonts and PDF workflows, PostScript fonts themselves will officially die on January 2023. But the PostScript font damage done in Japan will never be fixed. There’s just too much legacy data out there, both in data files, and printer fonts still installed on high end output devices. And Morisawa will always provide legacy OCF fonts for their Passport customers that need them, no matter what Adobe says.
PostScript fonts may be going away, but the ghosts of PostScript fonts, the fine art of outlining Illustrator text data, will be haunting Japan for a very long time.