1. Computer Skills

Take Control of Your Fonts in OS X

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Read Time: 9 min

Having a large collection of fonts can considerably slow down your Mac. The more fonts that you have installed, the longer many applications will take to load. Applications such as word processors, graphic design software, and even internet browsers. In this tutorial, I’ll explain what different types of fonts exist, the benefits of managing your fonts, how to manage them using Font Book as well as what professional font management software exists and what the benefits of these are.

The Different Types of Fonts Available

Fonts come in one of three main formats, each with their own benefits and downfalls. The three main formats for fonts are:

  • OpenType Font
  • TrueType Font
  • PostScript Font, sometimes known as Type 1 Font

OpenType Fonts

OpenType is the current standard for high quality typefaces and can be identified by the extension .otf. OpenType was built upon the TrueType format by Microsoft with the help of Adobe. The goal of OpenType was to take the best parts of the PostScript and the TrueType formats and combine them into one format.

OpenType has a number of distinct benefits over the older TrueType and PostScript formats. Adobe states it best when it says,

The two main benefits of the OpenType format are its cross-platform compatibility (the same font file works on Macintosh and Windows computers), and its ability to support widely expanded character sets and layout features, which provide richer linguistic support and advanced typographic control.

Breaking this statement down, we learn that the first primary benefit of OpenType is that it is cross-platform compatible. This means that you can easily move your font files between Windows, Macintosh, and most Linux distributions without worrying about whether the file will work or not.

Secondly, we learn that OpenType fonts have better language and typographic control that previous formats. This means that font designers can include not only latin alphabets, but also Cyrillic, Greek, or other alphabet sets necessary for full support of other languages.

Additionally, the expanded typographic control means that with many typefaces you may be able to choose a different form of a script letter, you may have support for small capitals, fractions, special ligatures, and more.

Glyph for ZapfinoGlyph for ZapfinoGlyph for Zapfino
Glyph for Zapfino

If we dig further into OpenType, we learn that it has another often forgotten benefit — size. Adobe states in its blog, “…on average [OpenType] font files are 20% to 50% smaller than comparable TrueType fonts.” This can be, in large font files, upwards of 5 MB worth of savings per file.


TrueType, the predecessor to OpenType, was made by Apple and Microsoft as a competitor to PostScript typefaces. It can be identified by the extension .ttf or .ttc, representing TrueType Fonts and TrueType Collections respectively.

TrueType offers much of the same features of OpenType, simply with larger file sizes, worse language support, and often fewer typographic controls.

PostScript (Type 1)

PostScript is the last major format that you will find in the typographic word. Unlike OpenType and TrueType fonts, PostScript fonts require two separate files to work. The first file, .pfb, includes the character outlines while the second file, .pfm or .ofm, contains the metrics, or spacing between the letters and other important size and spacing information.

Note: While it is less convenient to have two files, PostScript’s two files are often smaller in file size than a single TrueType font (Source).

The key advantage of using a PostScript typeface is that many printers use PostScript instructions within the machine, allowing you to get consistent results with your typefaces on most printers. Since PostScript (Type 1), PostScript has been updated first to Level 2 in 1991 and then again to Level 3 in 1997 to improve color control, shading, printers that have multiple trays, etc.

What Is Font Management Software and Why Should I Use It?

As you begin to expand your font library, you may notice that certain applications, such as word processors or graphic design software, start to slow down or even crash while using the application. This is due to the load on the system when it has to keep track of a large number of typefaces.

Luckily, the Mac ships with a useful font management software known as Font Book. Font Book’s key feature is it’s ability to activate or deactivate fonts within the system. By disabling a font in Font Book, Mac OS X will not try to load those fonts within each application, alleviating the slowing effects of having a large number of fonts installed on your machine.

Tip: By using font management software, you are able to maintain a large collection of typefaces without hindering system performance.

The Anatomy of Font Book

When you open Font Book, you’ll be presented with three columns. On the left, you will find the Collection column. This allows you to explore your installed fonts by category. By default, you will find that this has some collections already included, such as All Fonts, Computer, Fun, Modern, etc. While these are great for the defaults, there are times where creating a collection of your own can be more helpful. This can be done by clicking the + in the bottom-left hand corner of the application.

The center column of Font Book shows all of the fonts found in the currently selected Collection. This view is also used to identify fonts which are enabled or disabled by the system. Those that are disabled will have the word Off written to the right of the font and the font’s name will be a light gray.

Below the center column are the two buttons which make Font Book so powerful. On the left there is a + which will allow you to select and install new fonts on your machine. To do so, click the + button, navigate to and select the fonts you would like to install in the navigation window that appears, click the Open button in the bottom-right hand corner of the navigation window.

On the right of this + button is a button with a box that may or may not have a check mark in it. If a currently selected font is activated, the box will have a check mark in it, giving a visual indication that the font is activated. If the currently selected font is deactivated, the box will be empty. This button is used to toggle whether a font is activated or deactivated.

The Anatomy of Font BookThe Anatomy of Font BookThe Anatomy of Font Book

Tip: If your machine is loading applications slowly or applications are crashing due to having too many fonts, deactivate fonts on your machine to speed up the load time and increase system stability.

The right column, or the preview pane, will show an example of what the A – Z alphabet and 0 – 9 numbers look like. In this view, you can adjust the size of the preview as well, by changing the Size from the dropdown in the upper-right corner of the preview window.

Validation and Duplicates

Sometimes, font performance issues aren’t simply due to having a lot of fonts enabled. Sometimes, there may be a corrupt font, or the system has found duplicates. To help solve these issues, Font Book can validate and look for enabled duplicates on the machine. Apple explains each of these very well in their support, so I will be including the steps directly from them.

Validate Problematic Fonts

Font Validation in Font BookFont Validation in Font BookFont Validation in Font Book
  1. Log in as an administrator user if you want to use the Remove Checked button described below. Non-admin users can also validate fonts, but only remove ones in their home folder.
  2. Open Font Book.
  3. Click All Fonts in the Collection column.
  4. Choose Validate Fonts from the File menu.
  5. If Font Book identifies an issue with fonts, you can click the alert icon at the bottom of the window, then click the Remove Checked button to remove problematic font(s). You should then re-install the affected fonts from the original source. If the font still does not pass validation, contact the creator of the font or the company, from whom you obtained the font, for further assistance.

Find and Resolve Duplicate Fonts

  1. Open Font Book.
  2. Click All Fonts in the Collection column.
  3. Choose Edit > Look for Enabled Duplicates. Duplicate fonts are highlighted in the Fonts column.
  4. To resolve duplicated fonts: Click Resolve Manually or Resolve Automatically.

When Font Book Just Doesn’t Cut It

When you start getting into the thousands with your fonts, it’s possible Font Book just won’t cut it. If you work heavily in design applications by Adobe or Quark, a more full featured font manager will be able to activate the fonts you need when you open a file without having to take care of this manually allowing you to focus on your work and not the tools. In these scenarios, a few other companies have some great options available to you. While these are not the only font management software available for the Mac, these are ones that I have run into and would recommend beginning to look at.

First, and my personal favorite, is Extensis who is the creator of the recently released Suitcase Fusion 5 ($99.95 USA) and Universal Type Server 3. Suitcase Fusion 5 is aimed at the professional and hobbyist font managers while Universal Type Server 3 is aimed at enterprise and teams who need to manage fonts across multiple machines.

Extensis Suitcase Fusion 5Extensis Suitcase Fusion 5Extensis Suitcase Fusion 5
Extensis Suitcase Fusion 5

Second, would be FontExplorer X Pro ($89.00 USA) which similarly boasts options for Mac, Windows and Server applications. Like Extensis, the server product is a separate product from the single user, making it important to consider your needs before purchasing to ensure you get the right product for your needs.

Last would be Fontcase ($29.99 USA) which while not being as full featured as the two previously named applications, is a great step up from Font Book where you may just want an easier way to view and sort through your fonts.


Fonts are fun ways to make your print work come to life. You can quickly differentiate yourself from others and add some of your personallity to a document. With this though comes the risk of performance issues when too many fonts are installed or activated. I explained, in this tutorial, the different types of fonts, font management software, how to use Mac OS X’s built in manager, Font Book and the other options available if you need a more powerful font manager.

Let me know, in the comments below, what font management software you use and how you use it in your daily life.

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