The Fickle Folders of Fonts, January 19, 2011

The Fickle Folders of Fonts

by Brent Brotine
Photos by T. J. Hine

Do you really need to manage fonts on a Mac? Absolutely — to prevent font conflicts, slow performance and workflow inconvenience. And while
proper font management can seem daunting, fifteen C 3members learned just how easy it can be at our Font Management FMO on Wednesday,
January 19 at T.J. Hine’s studio. Our guide through the world of suitcases, libraries and glyphs was Gino Generelli, owner and lead technician for the MacHero support and consulting firm in Chicago. Gino is an Apple Certified Support Professional, a member of the Apple Consultants
Network and all-around good guy when it comes to keeping Macs at their peak.

Gino started off by explaining how font technologies have changed over the years, starting with Adobe’s PostScript in the 80s, followed by Apple and Microsoft releasing TrueType fonts in the 90s, and then the cross-platform OpenType from Adobe and Microsoft becoming the new standard in 2005.

Macs come with a set of system fonts located in system/library/fonts; these are generally best left alone as they are the fonts that make your Mac work. The “AllUser” font folder, where you can place fonts available to everyone using your Mac, is/library/fonts. User fonts, those for your use alone, can be placed at~/library/fonts (the tilde represents the user’s home.). All of these font technologies are supported by Mac OSX.

Font management programs create sets (front collections you identify for a specific purpose) and libraries (physical folders where actual fonts are stored.) Your font manager will auto-activate fonts, so if a document you open needs Gil Sans and you don’t have it loaded, the tool will sense that and turn on the font. Most will also detect and repair corrupt fonts.

If you don’t have a lot of fonts and are a casual font user, Apple FontBook, the free font management program built into OSX, is a good choice. However, if you depend on your font collection (and if you have more than 1,000 fonts on an IntelMac) a third-party program is better suited for production needs.

The three top names are Font Agent Pro from Insider, Font Explorer XPro from Linotpye, and Suitcase Fusion 3 from Extensis. Each has their individual pluses and minuses; the tried and true leader is Suitcase as it’s been around for a long time, works well and reliably deals with font conflicts. All of these programs offer full-featured 30-day trials, so Gino recommends experimenting to find the one that best fits your personal work style.