Donald Knuth at the Desktop Publishing Pioneers meeting laments that converting to pdf using his fonts yields pdf files without searchable text. Is this fixed yet?


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    Thanks for posting that link. The fonts that Knuth is asking about are explicitly Type 3. Regarding whether a PDF file containing Type 3 fonts is searchable yet, my guess is that it is not. Type 3 fonts are by definition bitmaps and bitmaps can contain anything, so I don't see much enthusiasm there from the "industry" to make it happen. (I suspect it could be done by post-processing by a good OCR scanner.) If you watch the rest of the video, it's clear that everyone else is talking about the mass market. Mathematics remains "penalty copy". Commented May 21, 2019 at 22:42
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    Not exactly, the Type 3 font is a user defined font, but it's not a requirement to use bitmaps and most Type 3 fonts are probably vector. The effect is the same that they can contain anything. But at heart it's still a font so the thing has a fundamental purpose to map letters and numbers (in some encoding) to the shapes that visually represent them. Somehow these fonts forget this mapping, and that smells like some stupid happened somewhere. Commented May 22, 2019 at 9:20
  • Thanks for the correction/clarification. Commented May 22, 2019 at 15:06
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    Type 3 may not have a requirement to use bitmaps, but as @barbarabeeton says, it's a requirement for Knuth to use bitmaps as he wants control of the rasterization. Anyway, going by section 9.10 ("Extraction of Text Content") of the PDF 1.7 standard, it does not seem to be fundamentally impossible... the font dictionary would just need an Encoding dictionary or ToUnicode CMap, both of which are supported for Type 3 fonts (see 9.6.5 "Type 3 Fonts", Table 112 on p. 259). Missing feature in pdfTeX, maybe? Commented May 23, 2019 at 22:20
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    See Tomas Rokicki's solution from TUG 2019. So the answer is yes, they are now searchable (as you can verify by downloading PDFs that Knuth has uploaded recently to his website). Commented Jan 4, 2020 at 22:11

2 Answers 2


Type 3 fonts can be given encoding vectors as of the pdftex in the 2018 release, thanks to Pali Rohar.

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    Will, Latin Modern is simply not a replacement for Computer Modern. We extensively looked into the idea of using LM pfbs (to get the improvements) with CM tfms, but there are just a few discrepancies in the metrics, mostly relating to accent positioning. But any discrepancies at all are too many, and Jacko did not want to change LM. (Even less so at this late date, I'm sure.) So bluesky pfbs remain the only usable set. <paragraph no idea how to do that> as for xetex and luatex, they are nothing like drop-in replacements for pdftex, let alone knuthian tex, so they aren't the answer here either.
    – Karl Berry
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 22:45
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    i did discover that apparently dvipdfmx creates searchable pdfs. i suppose only for basic ASCII, but that's better than nothing. i didn't experiment beyond echo '\relax hello\end' | tex; dvipdfmx texput.dvi, but it's interesting. <paragraph> i believe that knuth wants to use dvips, though (since he knows the code), so it's not an answer either. <para> anyway, bb and i asked tom rokicki, who set up Knuth's system (ubuntu), to consider options. maybe it'll be a topic at the conference :).
    – Karl Berry
    Commented May 26, 2019 at 22:49

The fix for this would be for Latin Modern to be updated to match the preferred shapes, and to use it in an up-to-date TeX variant such as xe(la)tex or lua(la)tex.

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    Since it's Knuth asking, this isn't an option for him. Some of the shapes in Latin Modern (e.g. the \ss) are noticeably different, and Knuth explicitly said he wants to keep using fonts that are under his control. Also, Knuth does not and will not use LaTeX. Commented May 22, 2019 at 15:08
  • Okay, xetex and luatex then --- surprised by the font shape issue --- I'd thought that the Latin Modern fonts were done to match the latest Computer Modern shapes. Was there an update to the Blue Sky Research fonts to make them acceptable? If not, didn't Richard Kinch make a set of Type 1 fonts derived from CM? Isn't there some tool which will take a .ps file with Type 3 fonts CM fonts and replace with the matching Type 1s?
    – WillAdams
    Commented May 23, 2019 at 1:55
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    The Blue Sky Computer Modern is Type 1; those were updated by Y&Y to agree with Knuth's shape changes. But apparently Knuth prefers to use the original Metafont set, which will never be anything but Type 3. Commented May 23, 2019 at 2:58
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    Sorry, this is not an answer to this question. If you use Latin Modern then you're no longer using Knuth's fonts; you're using someone else's approximation of the Computer Modern shapes. Not only do they often give poorer results, more importantly for Knuth the rasterization is no longer under his control as it's up to the PDF viewer to rasterize the shapes on-the-fly depending on the screen resolution and zoom level and whatever, rather than rasterize (convert to bitmaps) once, check the results, and make sure that always the same bitmaps are used. Commented May 23, 2019 at 22:08
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    BTW the tool which takes a .ps file with Type 3 CM fonts and replaces them with corresponding Type 1 fonts is pkfix originally by Heiko Oberdiek, and it's great for casual users. (Type 1 fonts have many advantages for on-screen reading, after all.) But as the fonts are not exactly matching and as they are no longer pre-rasterized fonts, it's not an answer to this question. Commented May 23, 2019 at 22:32

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