What’s in a name? The perception of “Pro”
In the 2017 Font Purchasing Habits Survey, I asked customers the following open-ended question:
What does it mean to you when you see a font with “Pro” in the name? For example: Sarah Script vs. Sarah Script Pro
2,006 individuals gave me an answer, and I’m here today to tell you what they think! To see the demographics of the respondents, refer to my original Font Purchasing Habits Survey post here.
Naming typefaces is hard. Typeface retail success, popularity, and recognizability is largely dependent on picking a good name, among other factors. Prime example: Proxima Nova, Helvetica, Papyrus, & Comic Sans. Unmistakable! There are a lot of typefaces out there. For type designers, the typeface name is a building block that can set their fonts up for success.
A popular naming convention is attaching “Pro” to the end of a typeface’s name. Across the industry, there is no standardization. Customers can’t be sure what Pro means. Some foundries ensure that they maintain standardization across their library and name their fonts to reflect this (see Bruno Maag’s 2017 ATypI talk). For the most part, regulating font names has been impossible for large foundries and distributors at scale (so far).
Historically, the suffix Pro has been applied to typeface names to mean many things:
- Pro fonts contain a particular character set that would accommodate more languages than the non-Pro.
- Pro fonts have been re-designed and/or improved, thus implying that there is an older version out there (generally labeled Std or removed from sale).
- Pro fonts are designed for professional users and contain OpenType features.
- The type designer thinks the font is high quality, so they name it Pro.
- Marketing tactic.
- Any combination of the above.
A Brief History
Both Monotype and Adobe have long histories of using suffixes in font names to denote font features. I’ll summarize them below:
- Pro is used to designate Adobe fonts with expanded language coverage. Not all adobe fonts are Pro.
- It appears that Adobe was the first foundry to implement the use of Pro, but I haven’t found a reliable source to confirm.
- Adobe will also sell fonts that cover specific languages, with suffixes for specific languages. You can see the terminology used for their specific character sets here.
- Today, the Adobe Originals Collection on Typekit does not attach Pro to the ends of their font names at a family level, yet when you drill down into the actual font styles/font file names displayed within each family, they are named Pro. Adobe fonts sold on other retailers like FontSpring do contain the Pro or Std label in the family name.
- As with Adobe, Pro is used to designated language support. Its definition has evolved & expanded over time.
- Std, Pro, W1G, W2G, WGL, and Paneuropean (another name for WGL) are all are suffixes that relate to language coverage.
- Same as Adobe, Monotype sometimes breaks out languages into separate fonts, with the suffixes based on specific language (i.e. Greek, Cyrillic, Japanese, Arabic, etc).
- Often Pro fonts have Std versions still available for sale for backwards compatibility needs.
To properly analyze the qualitative data resulting from my open-ended question “What does it mean to you when you see a font with the word ‘Pro’ in the name?”, I cleaned all the individual text responses. This involved making the data consistent and turning it into values I could analyze.
I took the following steps:
- Corrected spelling errors
- Made all capitalization consistent
- Made British/American spellings consistent
- Disregarded all responses not in English (there were only a handful)
- Removed all non-essential words (it, a, and, I, think, font, typeface, etc.)
Additionally, I made words that had the same meanings consistent in order to properly count the frequency of use:
- alt / alts / alternative / alternate = alternates
- All variations of “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” = IDK
- a lot / a lot of / lots of / lots = many
- commercially = commercial
- languages / language = language-support
- ligs / lig / ligas / ligature = ligatures
- licensing / licensed / license / licenses = licensed
- kern / kerned = kerning
- legitimacy / legit = legitimate
As you can imagine, this took forever. Also, I was astounded by the variety of ways in which humans can express themselves. Words are amazing!
This data cleaning resulted in 7,322 cleaned keywords out of 20,931 total words from 2,006 individual responses.
The following graph shows the words used to describe ‘Pro’ that had more than 20 occurrences. This paints a broad picture of the things users expect Pro fonts to contain or that the label Pro designates.
The most popular word — used 701 times — is “more.” This is followed by language-support, used 365 times. Features, ligatures, OpenType, alternates, weights follow. The most difficult aspect to measure is ‘quality.’ The word ‘better’ was used 96 times, and ‘quality’ was used 30 times. It is likely that people consider fonts that have more stuff in them to be higher quality, without implicitly saying it.
- More, more, more
- Language support
- OpenType features
Pro fonts today are generally associated with all three historical aspects of font naming evolution mentioned in the history section. Pro fonts must have OpenType features, language support, and just more of everything.
The most interesting part of this analysis was reading the responses directly from font users. I’ve curated some of the most interesting/revealing ones for you below.
Some general quotes:
“the pro version has lots more ‘bits’”
“When I see ‘pro‘ I always hope it involves some additional weights plus beautiful ligatures and Open Type alts. When I click on a family marked ‘pro‘ that doesn’t offer these extras, I automatically decide the description is misleading.”
“When I see ‘Pro’ attached to the end of a font name I definitely trust it more and have the confidence that it’s been created by a professional designer or type foundry. I am more likely to pay for a ‘Pro’ font but I would like to see in the description why it’s labeled as such.”
“The ‘best’ in the industry.”
“Some difference, but probably not very scientifically based. Leaves the impression that the design of the font has taken into account how designers and professionals would use it.”
“Pro means that it supports a wide range of languages (expect all diacritics for western/eastern european latin languages). Can include additional ligatures and should support all types of figures. Extensive symbol support too. Essentially, I expect to be able to typeset a book in a wide variety of languages and not have to use hacks to achieve what I want.”
“Pro indicates to me that kerning is superb, it automatically flows effortlessly, every character has been considered. Multi-language support is well set and it has intuitive diacritics. A full set of weights, perhaps 18–32 considering extended and condensed.”
“From the name alone, seems to be more legitimate/worthy/verified by a typographic organization. I have no idea, I don’t think I pay enough attention! It feels more serious.”
“Legitimacy, high quality”
“Gives it more gravitas”
Potential Bias Present
It is possible that people using the term OpenType were talking about either OpenType features or the OpenType font format.
It is also possible that people who say they don’t care about “Pro” actually are subliminally influenced by the label. As always, what people say and what people do are not always the same.
People seemed to associated Pro with licensing for commercial use. The word “commercial” was used 45 times, and the word “licensed” or an equivalent term was used 24 times.
“The font is used commercially or has specific licensing requirements for purchase.”
“That the font is available for purchase to use commercially.”
“The pro one would have a commercial license.”
“Never thought about it. Comes with a license?”
Free vs. Paid Fonts
Pro was associated with having to pay for fonts, and often that there may be a free equivalent.
“To me, seeing “Pro” at the end means that it’s the paid version. I’ve seen so many times where people have lifted and re-listed typefaces for free download and I have scooped them up not realizing they were meant to be paid for and then I’ve stumbled across them in the font libraries at work and they’re listed as Pro. Or that there are two versions and the free one that I had scooped up didn’t have all the glyphs and ligatures and small caps and fun stuff that comes with the Pro version that is not free.”
“That the one without Pro was a demo/free version. Or alternatively that by using the Pro version I’d gain access to alternates and glyphs etc.”
“seems like there may be a free version with less stuff”
“I might think there is a free version of this font and the pro has a ton more options to it.”
“I assume that the Pro the full and complete version, with all the alternates, ligatures, weights and all the other options that are available (small caps, italics, etc), whereas the regular (non-pro) version is the free version available on sites like dafont. And, of course I assume that the Pro version includes commercial use. I’d be very upset if I bought a font only to find out that there was a “better” paid version of the font. I’d feel cheated and would NEVER again buy from that designer or site.”
Eight people specifically referred to Adobe in association with Pro. Some actually referred to Adobe fonts, while others talked about fonts that can be used in Adobe software.
“That it was developed by a well-regarded typography company like Adobe or Hoefler.”
“Pro means open type features, and it’s built for industry standard programs (adobe products etc) non pro I would expect to use in word or PowerPoint without as many special features”
“Nothing. Probably a paid font, but then again Adobe’s Source Code/Sans families use “Pro”, too.”
“It doesn’t mean much to me unless I’m familiar with the specific foundry’s naming practices. In all cases I would assume the pro font has a larger character set, but whether that indicates more extensive language coverage (as adobe does) or a more extensive set of alternates wouldn’t be apparent so I would definitely look for an explanation before purchasing.”
and four people just typed “Adobe” in without any other explanation.
Some people think that it’s ‘just marketing.’ 19 people used the word ‘marketing.’
“Lazy marketing technique.”
“In theory: OpenType features? In practice: probably a meaningless marketing term.”
“A marketing gimmick that makes you makes you feel like the version you have is outdated…”
Or, that it means nothing at all. 138 people used the word ‘nothing.’
“Very little. The naming of fonts has been at best ‘idiosyncratic’ so it makes no difference to me.”
“nothing. this terminology is completely inconsistent from foundry to foundry, so it has become completely meaningless.”
“Nothing. It’s 2017.”
“Nothing, since there is no standard for it.”
“Nothing anymore. ‘Pro’ used to designate a font with a larger character set, covering more languages. But today, font software makes it so easy to add those extra characters, there is usually no good reason for every font not to contain the same characters found in what used to be called a ‘Pro’ font. My expectations for any font are higher now.”
“Not a lot. I’ve looked up what this means and I don’t even remember. Presumably it didn’t seem very relevant to my needs — I just made a mental note that I can do without the Pro version.”
“It happens all the time so I perceive no extra value”
“It doesn’t mean much to me, due to many brands and products using “Pro” in its name. Not speaking of typography exclusively, but in general. A lot of things carry a “Pro” in its name just to impress people, not offering real “pro” qualities.”
“Absolutely nothing. This type of naming drives me crazy.”
Other interesting quotes:
“font weights are in digits rather than names”
“Contains more than 1,000 characters”
“Created by a team of professionals, rather than by a single designer.”
“That the printing company I work with probably has that font.”
“It makes me question if it is truly the font I’m searching for, or a re-designed counterfeit.”
“I’m hopeful that it is both Mac and PC ready and I don’t have to buy separate fonts for each. I also assume it will come with all of the weights and ligatures necessary to complete a job.”
“It has multiple versions all wrapped up into one font file.”
“All variations in one file”
“That it’s available with subscription and not on free trial”
“It means it might be slightly different so I better be sure I have the right one.”
“I literally have never thought about this”
“haha. what makes it pro? like seriously”
So, what do we (as a community) or as individual type designers do with this information? This question is purely exploratory. My big-picture hope is that the quotes and info here get people thinking about how customers think about Pro. I was really surprised by a lot of the quotes, and some of the themes that rose to the surface out of the information. Much more must be done to understand our customers.
A general assumption that can be made is that the distinct categories used by type designers and those working in the type community are not necessarily similarly separated in the minds of customers. Many respondents didn’t separate the expectation for commercial licensing from the design of the font; language support went hand-in-hand with features like ligatures, alternates, and extras. When it comes to Pro, customers want it all.
Did you find this article helpful? What else would you like me to explore further related to typefaces and font purchasing habits?