Top 10 Font Tips

Practical advice on avoiding common font pitfalls on the Mac.

1. Keep a back up copy of your font library

I suppose this is obvious, but if you consider the investment you’ve made in your fonts then it makes good sense to keep safe copies of them. If you work with fonts each day, then it’s likely that your font files are a valuable asset to you. (see previous post about how to archive your fonts quickly and easily)

2. Use OpenType fonts whenever possible

OpenType fonts are a great solution to so many problems because they’ve been designed from the ground up with quality, portability, and ease of use in mind. Today most fonts are available in the OpenType format. And if you need to convert your old ones to OpenType then there’s an easy way to do that too.

3. Understand Mac OS X font folders

In the old days there was one System Folder that contained a single Font folder. Those days are long gone with the introduction of Mac OS X. A new multi-user environment and file sharing considerations have lead to no less than five different fonts folders. Understanding their locations and purposes will go a long way in helping you avoid problems.

4. Avoid applying font “style” menus

One problem occurs when you try to apply a font style (e.g. Bold, Italic, etc.) using an application’s font “Style” menu. If the font does not have the applied style available (i.e. not installed) as a member of the font family, then the software will often create an on-screen appearance of the style, even if  the style is not actually part of the font family. This situation can create printing and output problems. The trick is to just select your font styles directly from the font menu. For example, if you want a bold Helvetica, then select “Helvetica Bold” form the font menu.

5. Know what fonts you have

All of us have those random font files that have hung around in our font collection for years – who knows where they came from. It’s important to know what fonts you have. Apart from the legal concerns (do you actually own a license for the font?), knowing what fonts you own also helps you avoid buying fonts (or similar fonts) that you already have. Also, the more you know about your fonts, the more font options you have for you next great design project. (read previous post about creating a font catalog)

6. Avoid using low-quality (usually free) TrueType fonts

There are tons of free fonts available for download all over the internet. At first glance this seems great. The problems can come later when trying to print (or export to PDF, or generate an EPS, etc.) a document that uses one of these fonts. It might work just fine, but then again it might not. Why risk it? The old adage proves true – you get what you pay for.

7. Replace problematic font files immediately

You might read this and think, “duh!”, but you know how it works – you have that font that has been working for years and it seems to work most of the time, but now – for whatever reason – there are times it doesn’t. It’s sketchy. Don’t let those rogue files lurk in your font menus any longer. Don’t be lazy with this – find them, fix them, or replace them. FontDoctor can help with that.

8. Keep font files organized

Keep fonts stored in easy to locate folders within your font library. Alphabetical folders, family name folders, and foundry name folders go a long way in helping you identify and manage your fonts iles. An organized font library also helps you avoid introducing random fonts that have not been appropriately acquired and licensed. Again, FontDoctor can help get your font library organized.

9. Keep font caches clean

Font caches were introduced in Mac OS X. Cache files are special files managed by the Mac that speed performance. Occasionally, they get messed up and that creates a lot of problems. When problems occur, you need to clean out the font cache files. (read previous post about how to clean your fonts caches)

10. Use a good Font Manager

A good font manager application will help you activate and deactivate fonts as needed, will locate font problems and manage them for you (e.g. duplicate fonts, damaged fonts, etc.), and organize your fonts. Any serious designer that works with fonts will appreciate a professional font manager software product. There are a few good ones on the market to chose from (Master Juggler, FontExplorer, et al). When people ask we usually recommend Extensis Suitcase Fusion.

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