Overly-strict font name max length recommendation in naming tutorial

This is a cross-post from a FontBakery issue on GitHub:
FontBakery Issue #2179: Check 163 is overly-strict

My question for Georg/Ranier

In your tutorial Setting Up Instances, you say:

Keep your style name short to avoid problems in Windows. How short? Well, you are on the safe side if the combined length of family and style name does not exceed 20 characters. If the name is too long, Windows may think the font is invalid.

Is “20 characters” a real, hard limit derived from a specific software limit you know of or have documentation of, or is it simply a general, easy-to-remember, approximate guideline?

Currently, that guideline is being used a a QA check in FontBakery, the Google Fonts QA tool, but based on my research, it doesn’t seem to be the actual limit for font names. More information below.

Thanks for any input!

The Issue from GitHub

Observed behaviour

Check 163 is overly strict, as far as I can tell. This will make unnecessary work for people to figure out abbreviations for font naming. The check says:

Combined length of family and style must not exceed 20 characters.

…and bases this off a GlyphsApp tutorial recommendation.

Here’s the issue this was first brought up in: Issue 1488. It references this tutorial, but the tutorial doesn’t substantiate its claim.

Expected behaviour

I propose three changes to the check:

  1. I think the test should be changed to 29 characters (or 27 at the very minimum).
  2. The test check the value in nameID="4" , rather than do a simple concatenation of family and style names ( nameID="1" + nameID="2" ).
  3. The test should also check the value in nameID=6 to verify that it is a maximum of 29 characters.

In this TypeDrawers thread, Mark Simonson describes how he keeps nameID 4 to 31 or fewer characters, in order to keep it working on MS Word 2011 for Mac. For what it’s worth, this is also the value I’ve heard from other professional type designers, but specific references are difficult to locate.

In this Adobe Font Naming Issues PDF, the PostScript name ( nameID 6 ) must have no spaces and be limited to 29 characters for old postscript printers (see page 8). If someone somehow had a super-long family and style name with no spaces in either, we couldn’t count on spaces being removed for ID 6 (e.g. Supercalifragilistic SemiBold would become Supercalifragilistic-SemiBold , and thus my recommendation of 29 characters for both IDs 4 and 6 .

The most strict naming limitation I’ve been able to find a reference for anywhere is this IE9 bug, which describes that IE9 can handle only up to 31 characters in a font-family declaration, meaning that after possible quotes and a semicolon and/or commas, the maximum working length of a name is 27 characters. If the GFonts CSS is automatically generated using ID 4 , we could potentially limit ourselves to 27 characters instead of 29.

Is there anything concrete I’ve missed that really specifies 20 characters being a true limit, and where in what software there are problems beyond that? If so, we can follow that limitation. However, I believe the GlyphsApp tutorial may just be throwing that low number out as an easy guidline to remember, not as a verified limitation.

Why it matters to be accurate

Especially in fonts which have widths and weights (e.g. Encode Sans), a limit of 20 characters is unecessarily difficult to achieve.

One of the font instance currently hosted on Google Fonts has a nameID 4 of Encode Sans Semi Condensed ExtraLight , which is 37 characters. That would need to be abbreviated in nameID 4 to show up in IE9 or in MSWord2011 for Mac. Right now, both cases are very likely failing.

To shorten that to 20 characters, it has to be something very cryptic, like EncodeSans-SmCndXLgt . It’s hard to think of what characters to take out, and the problem would only be worse for something with a longer family name. If the check is this strict, people might end up ignoring it.

If we increase the limit to 29 characters, the same font could be something like Encode Sans SemiCond ExLight , which uses 28 characters (counting spaces) and is much more readable.


If no one objects to this update, I’d be happy to try updating the Font Bakery check according to my proposal. I just wanted to document my findings and get potential feedback before editing any code.


What you’re aiming for, is to install the font in Windows, and not have an error. I had errors triggered with combined lengths of names that were just above 20. I do not remember exactly anymore, but I think it was 22 or 23. I had longer names work in Windows, but I believe that is reflected in the way I formulated it in the tutorial. It can happen, it doesn’t have to. You still have to test-install it in Windows.

Edit: I will update the phrasing of the passage.

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Windows 7 refuses to consider an OpenType CFF font valid during installation when the font Family Name is longer than 29 characters. I recently ran across that again when testing preliminary versions of some fonts with long names that included versioning in the name. (I have not tested with TrueType fonts in that situation.) fyi.


Okay, thanks so much for these responses! I’ll test install on Windows and see what happens.