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Font Substitution and Page Layout changes in Blackboard Annotate for Word Processing Files

Date Published: Jun 09,2021

CategoryPlanned First Fix Release:Learn 9.1, 3900.0.0 Release,SaaS - v3800.21.0; Product:Course Tools,Extensions; Version:Learn 9.1, 3900.0.0,Learn 9.1 Q4 2019 (3800.0.0),Learn 9.1 Q4 2018 (3500.0.0),Learn 9.1 Q2 2019 (3700.0.0),SaaS
Article No.: 000060627
Blackboard Learn
Service Pack(s):
Learn 9.1, 3900.0.0, Learn 9.1 Q4 2019 (3800.0.0), Learn 9.1 Q4 2018 (3500.0.0), Learn 9.1 Q2 2019 (3700.0.0), SaaS
Common fonts such as Times New Roman are substituted with other, visually and metrically incompatible ones in BB Annotate. This can cause page layout changes because the fonts are 'wider' than those selected by the user. Additionally: the display libraries used to convert office files to PDF do not necessarily handle kerning and hinting identically to Microsoft applications.
Steps to Repeat:
Use a word-processing application such as Microsoft Word to create a file with several paragraphs of text in common typefaces such as Times New Roman, Arial or other normal typefaces.
  1. Save this document in three formats: DOCX without embedded fonts (default), PDF and DOCX with embedded fonts
    1. The steps to embed fonts in a DOCX file may vary by software application. To embed fonts into a DOCX file in Microsoft Word 2016 or later:
    2. In the Save As Dialog click Tools
    3. Click Save Options
    4. Under Preserve fidelity when sharing this document choose Embed fonts in the file and uncheck Do not embed common system fonts
  2. Create an Assignment
  3. Use Student Preview or test student users to upload each of the three files 
  4. View the submitted files in BB Annotate
Expected Behavior
There is no material difference to how the files appear in Annotate compared with how they appear in the word-processing application. Nor is there any difference to how the three files appear to each other.

Observed Behavior
The PDF and the DOCX with embedded fonts display correctly. The DOCX without embedded fonts is markedly different. The page layout may change and other fonts have been substituted.


Fonts in word-processor files saved with default settings may be substituted with DejaVu Serif or DejaVu Sans (Also known as Bitstream Vera Serif and Sans). These typefaces are visually and metrically different. Because the character forms are 'wider' at the same point-size, the page layout may re-flow causing additional pages to be used, unwanted line breaks, errors with spacing and similar problems.
Correct display with embedded fontsIncorrect display without embedded fonts
Screenshot of correct font display
Screenshot of incorrect display


This is an issue with the conversion process in the universal Blackboard Annotate microservice.


In October of 2020 the following fonts were added:
  • Arial
  • Calibri
  • Cambria
  • Century Schoolbook
  • Comic Sans
  • Courier
  • Garamond
  • Georgia
  • Impact
  • Times New Roman
  • Trebuchet
  • Verdana
  • Yu Mincho (Japanese)
  • MS Gothic/PGothic (Japanese)
  • MS Mincho/PMincho (Japanese)
The fix is not retroactive to documents already converted. 

At the end of October, some adjustments to kerning and hinting were also made to be more similar to the appearance of Microsoft Word. However there can still be minor variance in the conversion and rendition of typography in word processing formats which are optimized for editability to the expense of fidelity. See the table below for tips on what to expect

For fonts not in these lists, use PDF or embed the font in the DOCX or other Office file.

This fixes were was applied universally in the Blackboard Annotate microservice. There is no need to update Learn software or apply a Cumulative Update to benefit. Listed release numbers are for convenience only.


This issue might occur in other file types. 

The testing team provided the following comparison on common font and style combinations compared with Microsoft Word and based on a corpus of sample documents. It may not cover every scenario but can give users information about what to expect. Note that some style combinations produced different results. For example Bold Roman or Italic Regular "Times New Roman" was equal, but Bold Italic was assessed as slightly longer
Informal Visual Comparison of Document Length for Common Typefaces and Styles in BB Annotate and Microsoft Word
Vs. WordTotalList of Fonts and Styles
Equal20Arial, Arial Black, Arial Italic, Calibri, Cambria, Cambria Bold, Century Schoolbook, Century Schoolbook Bold, Century Schoolbook Bold Italic, Century Schoolbook Italic, Courier New, Courier New Bold, Courier New Italic, Georgia, Georgia Bold Italic, Impact, Times New Roman, Times New Roman Bold, Times New Roman Italic, Trebuchet Bold
Slightly Longer5Andale Mono, Courier New Bold Italic, Verdana Bold, Verdana Bold Italic, Webdings, Arial Bold, Arial Bold Italic, Cambria Bold Italic, Cambria Italic, Georgia Bold, Georgia Italic, Times New Roman Bold Italic
Slightly Shorter11Trebuchet, Trebuchet Italic, Verdana, Verdana Italic
Longer2Comic Sans Bold, Trebuchet Bold Italic
Shorter4Calibri Bold, Calibri Bold Italic, Calibri Italic, Comic Sans

Some font-faces do not have particular styles such as "italic" but if that formatting is applied by the user anyway, then the word processor may try to simulate the missing style by adjusting the letterforms. This can produce unpredictable results.

The amount of visual information available in the underlying DOCX file format is not amenable to absolute consistency in display. DOCX is optimized for editability. PDF files have intrinsically greater document fidelity across viewing applications. When visual, typographic and pagination accuracy is paramount: PDF may be a better choice to DOCX irrespective to the viewing application used. Annotate converts all non-PDF files to PDF, but generally correctly prepared PDF is used "as-is" where possible.

Blackboard, Inc does not endorse third party tools and products. They are mentioned as a convenience only. Blackboard does not provide support for configuration and use of specific word-processing applications.

Target Release:

Learn 9.1, 3900.0.0 Release SaaS - Fixed (v3800.21.0)

Patch Available:


The information contained in the Knowledge Base was written and/or verified by Blackboard Support. It is approved for client use. Nothing in the Knowledge Base shall be deemed to modify your license in any way to any Blackboard product. If you have comments, questions, or concerns, please send an email to © 2022 Blackboard Inc. All rights reserved


Filename Notes Last Updated
BBA embedded docx.png Sep 25,2020
BBA unembedded docx.png Sep 25,2020