The Metafont system is very different from the Postscript or Truetype systems that store the entire font outlines in quadratic and cubic splines, respectively. Metafont font outlines are, I believe, not even splines themselves anymore (I could be mistaken), but in any case those outlines are not calculated as such to render a Metafont font. Metafont produces bitmaps from basic font shapes and a multitude of font parameters.

That is why, in contrast to Metafont text, the Postscript and Truetype systems make it easier to be "rendered to spline outlines": For example, WPF allows to typeset a paragraph of text given a supported font not only into a bitmap, but also into the outlines as quadratic splines.

To have text "rendered into splines" is helpful when you want to do something further fancy with it, such as building 3D extrusion models from it. I would even argue that with SVG, XAML and a plethora of other spline-based vector graphics systems the spline representation of text has become a pretty standard interchange format besides simple bitmaps.

So my question: Does anyone know if it's possible to get TeX to render into splines in such a fashion? Or, put differently, to get an SVG/XAML/AI/Inkscape representation from the text?

I understand that it might be necessary for Metafont font outlines to be represented by splines as an approximation, but that would be absolutely fine.

Can anyone contribute something clever to this? Has some bored soul done some magic that makes this possible?

  • Almost all the common TeX fonts originally made in metafont are available as type1 or opentype outlines now. Do you have a specific font that is being used as a type3 bitmap font in the pdf? Jun 18, 2014 at 17:41
  • @DavidCarlisle I don't only want the font - even more important to me is the actual typesetting. When I make pdfs from TeX (if that's possible), they are still bitmap pdfs, right? They don't contain spline outlines, do they?
    – John
    Jun 18, 2014 at 17:47
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    Unless it shows as type3 it is a spline outline font not a bitmap. all the standard computer modern fonts will be type1 by default with any reasonably new pdflatex configuration. Jun 18, 2014 at 17:48
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    No, it'll use various sorts of fonts but mostly they will be type1 (outline). If it uses metafont generated bitmap (pk) fonts they will be exposed in postscript and pdf as "type3" font. But as bitmap fonts render poorly in many pdf readers the default configuration prefers type1 versions if they are available as they are for all the common fonts. Jun 18, 2014 at 18:45
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    You can try an experiment or two with the pstoedit tool for conversion of your PostScript files. We use it sometimes to get a file suitable for further editing in Metapost. I used this tool several times to get a PDF file with outlines only converting text based on fonts. If you are dealing with a font created in Metafont, try MetaType1 tool. These days, FontForge is No. 1 for font manipulation.
    – Malipivo
    Mar 27, 2015 at 10:06

1 Answer 1


Unless you are using an uncommon custom metafont font, the default configuration of pdflatex in any reasonably modern TeX distribution will be to use Type1 fonts (using PostScript Spline outlines), as all the main computer moder variants are available in type 1. So you do not need to do anything special to generate a document using outline fonts. You can always check using the acrobat font menu or pfffonts command line utility what fonts are in the generated PDF. metafont generated bitmap fonts will be listed as "type 3".

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