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Better Font Management

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In: Articles

By Joel Sacks

Published on March 6, 2007

If your font collection is out of hand, it’s time to learn how to manage it.

Whether you are a graphic designer, typographer, or a hobbyist, you’ll benefit from better management of your fonts. Experimenting with fonts, downloading free fonts, and purchasing new fonts all contribute to a growing collection and, before you know it, you have more fonts than you know what to do with. Even without the potential for confusion, all of these fonts can drain your computer’s resources—in short, you need a solution to manage your collection.

Font management can be accomplished in a variety of ways. First, your operating system has some built-in font management capabilities. Next, free font management programs are available on the internet. And finally, commercial font management programs will offer professional functionality, but come at a cost.

Depending on the type of user you are, the features that you need will vary. Hobbyists will be satisfied with a font manager that allows them to perform basic management steps such as previewing fonts and installing and un-installing them with ease. Graphic designers will want greater control and features, such as detecting and repairing corrupt fonts, missing fonts, duplicate fonts, and PostScript errors. In addition, the ability to deactivate unneeded fonts will help your computer perform better if it has an extensive collection of fonts installed. Also, font managers with server-enabled versions are ideal for a networked environment.

Built-in Font-Management Tools (Windows)

You can see a list of installed fonts in Microsoft Windows by going to the Control Panel and choosing Fonts.

The Fonts section of the Control panel provides only limited functionality; you can view a list of installed fonts, preview fonts, and add and remove fonts. You can also group similar fonts by choosing View, Sort by similarity. This option allows you to see your fonts in a list that groups similar fonts together. When you see your fonts listed in this way, you can make decisions about eliminating duplicate fonts.

To preview a font, simply double-click it, and a new window will open showing samples of the font in various sizes. Clicking on the Properties button will show you more information about the font, including its name, author, version, and licensing information.

For Windows Vista users, accessing the Fonts section is slightly different—go directly to the Control Panel and type Font into the Search box to immediately get a link to the Fonts folder, with sub-links such as Install or remove a font and View installed fonts. Or of course, you can choose Classic view and then click on the Fonts icon to manage your fonts as you did in Windows XP.

To install a new font, right-click the Fonts folder and choose Install new font from the shortcut menu.

Built-in Font Management Tools (Mac)

Macs also come with built-in font management tools. For Mac users with OS X 10.3 and above, the Font Book tool comes as standard. It allows you to preview and install fonts, group fonts into collections, activate or deactivate fonts and collections, check the integrity of font files, and export collections to be used on other computers. OS X also comes with Font Panel, a tool that you can use from within applications to select and group fonts, and style your text.

OS X also allows you to store your fonts in four locations. You can store your fonts in the system fonts folder (/System/Library/Fonts, for Mac system fonts), the local fonts folder (/Library/Fonts), user fonts folder (~/Library/Fonts), and if you’re on a managed network, your Mac will find fonts in the network fonts folder, as well. This allows greater flexibility for Macintosh users, especially on a shared system or network.

Just like the Windows built-in tools, Macintosh font utilities are basic tools for users to begin managing their fonts. You can use them to organize your fonts, group them, and make minor alterations,but that’s about it. If you want more robust features for managing your fonts, you need to upgrade to a tailor-made font management program.

Free Font Managers

You’ll find that font management programs come in all kinds of flavors on both Mac and Windows: free and trial versions, and commercial apps. We’ll take a look at free font management programs for both platforms first, and then we’ll move on to commercial versions.

Free and shareware programs are plentiful, with offerings from bare-bones viewers to sophisticated management utilities. In many cases, free means free forever, but in the case of shareware, it can mean free for a trial period, or free but with limited functionality. Pay attention to the details before downloading.

Here are a few examples of free and shareware programs you might consider:

Free programs for Macintosh are also available:

Commercial Font Managers

While free programs can provide the basic features of font management, heavy users such as graphic designers and typographers need higher-end tools with advanced features for managing their collections. There are several software programs designed for the professional market:

Choosing the tool that’s best for you requires some research, but it will be time well spent. Look for tools that give you reliable results, provide font management features that you need, eliminate conflicts, sniff out corruption, and take the guesswork out of working with your fonts by providing you with detailed information.

Make sure the font management tool you are considering is compatible with your favorite graphics software programs, too. If you mainly work with Adobe Illustrator, but your font management tool doesn’t support it, it may be of little use to you in your day-to-day operations.


If you are a beginner or hobbyist, you can likely find a free font management application to meet your immediate needs, or simply stick to your operating system’s font tools. As your skills and font collections grow, you may find that you need more features, and want to upgrade to a professional font management program.

Whether you are a Windows or Macintosh user with either advanced or beginning font management requirements, there’s a font management program that will fit the bill. Once you get control of your fonts, you’ll be able to find the font you want with ease, and work more efficiently. Your productivity will increase, and that’s great for the bottom line.

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Related Topics: Information Design, Typography


Joel Sacks works for, and knows quite a bit about fonts and font management - features over 8,000 free font typefaces. Originally from South Africa, Joel currently lives in Canada.

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