Better Font Management

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:

  • The PigFontViewer is a program that is multi-platform compatible. It doesn’t matter if you’re on Windows (XP or Vista), Linux, or Macintosh, this little piggy can help you manage your fonts regardless of your operating system. It is mainly a viewing program that lets you preview, display, and install fonts into the appropriate folders; in addition, you can edit sample text and add or remove fonts quickly and easily.
  • Font Xplorer 1.2.2 is another free tool for the Windows platform (although it does not currently run on Vista). This utility is designed with both the beginner and the professional in mind: You can browse installed (and not-yet-installed) TrueType fonts from your hard disk, use compare mode to quickly search and find the perfect font, load and unload fonts, install and un-install fonts, rename fonts, save bitmap images, view font information such as copyright information and available character sets, search for duplicate fonts, filter fonts, and much more. In addition, a built-in repair wizard helps you solve common font-related problems.
  • The beta version of Font Agent Pro for Windows is free. Font Agent Pro has long been a powerful manager for the Macintosh platform and is expanding into the Windows world—you can take advantage of the features and the free price tag as they continue to develop for the new OS. This software allows you to optimize your Fonts Control Panel for better system performance, as well as organize your fonts. (Windows XP only.)
  • The Free and Easy Font Viewer is another freebie that lets you view installed fonts and experiment with their various styles. You can preview your fonts, install and uninstall fonts, and view detailed font information.

Free programs for Macintosh are also available:

  • Font Explorer X from Linotype is a powerful font manager designed specifically for Macintosh. Install, manage, and maintain fonts for free. Discovering fonts, shopping for new ones, and sorting your collection are just some of the highlights.
  • Font Sampler allows you to view all your fonts at once, and you can manipulate colors and styles as you preview.
  • Font Safari has several views, including a list, a character map, and a single character view that shows Unicode name, as well as UTF-8 and UTF-16 mappings and Mac Roman encoding.
  • Adobe Type Manager (ATM) Light is a free PostScript viewer and /files/includes/print.csser utility that Mac users (except OS X and above) can use to view and /files/includes/print.css their PostScript fonts.

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:

  • SuitCase ($99.95) is a product from Extensis, and is one of the major commercial players with a large share in the professional market. This font manager has been around since the early days of desktop publishing, and has evolved with the times. It is cross-platform compatible with versions for Windows and Macintosh, and boasts a user-friendly interface and built-in troubleshooting tools; it also comes in a server edition.
  • Font Agent Pro ($99.95) is another professional tool. It is primarily geared for Mac OS X users, but they are developing a Windows version (currently available for free, see above). It comes in a workgroup version, a server edition, and the standalone version. Font Agent Pro actively works to optimize fonts and system performance. In addition, it features automatic font activation and plug-ins for popular graphics programs such as InDesign, QuarkXpress, PhotoShop, and Illustrator.
  • MasterJuggler ($89.95) is designed for Mac OS X 10.1 and above. It allows you to store your fonts anywhere, including on network drives, and you can organize fonts into sets, activate and deactivate your fonts as needed, view font information, glyph maps, and more. The program also has a built-in repair utility, the Font Guardian, for examining fonts for corruption and preventing computer crashes.
  • Typograf ($35) is a commercial program that allows users to view and preview TrueType, OpenType and PostScript Type 1, raster, and /files/includes/print.csser fonts. It also lets you see a font’s properties, compare fonts, learn about typefaces and typography topics, /files/includes/print.css fonts, and manage your fonts by grouping them or accessing them in a database. The ability to catalog fonts in databases is helpful for those with large collections of fonts.

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.

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.