Switcher Sensei: A knowledge of font

David Braue
9 October, 2010
View more articles fromthe author

Given Apple’s history in typography and publishing, you’d think Mac OS X had a wealth of font management features that you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Well, sort of: its underlying architecture does a beautiful job of managing all kinds of fonts, but for recent switchers who only want to add fonts, the process is not entirely removed from what you’d have been doing in Windows.

On a Mac, fonts live in the Macintosh HD > Library > Fonts folder. Copy your font files in there, and the font will be available in your applications for use. Lesson finished.

Or, perhaps, not. Because while it’s easy to add fonts, Mac OS X offers a number of features that make it even easier to manage large font collections. If you’ve ever spent far too much time scrolling through endless lists of fonts, this can be a godsend.

One example is QuickLook: select a .TTF or other font file in Finder, then hit the spacebar, and Mac OS X will display a sample sheet showing the appearance of every letter and number in the font.

When you’re in an application, you use Apple’s standard Fonts dialogue – open an application such as TextEdit and type 1-T to see it – to manage a hierarchy of fonts with Collection at the top, Family below it, Typeface below that, and Size at the bottom. A Collection contains one or more Families, and each Family contains one or more Typefaces.

Families may actually consist of multiple individual font files: Arial, for example, comprises 11 different Typeface files that Mac OS X groups into five different Families based on their similar names. A Typeface is a single instance – bold, italic, regular or bold italic.

If you regularly use a certain number of fonts, you can make your own Collections for easy grouping and recall. To do this, start up the Font Book application in your Applications folder. You’ll see three panes with Collections on the left, Fonts in the middle, and a preview on the right.

The preview pane can display a full alphabetical preview (1-1), a list of all characters in the font (1-2), or any custom text you care to enter in the Custom (1-3) field. Adjust the font size with the slider on the right.

To make a new Collection, click the + sign and give your new Collection a name, then click All Fonts and drag the fonts you want to access onto your Collection. Go back into your text editing application, and you’ll see the Collection is now available for your use.

Mac OS X also maintains a special group called Favorites. If you use a particular colour, size and style font quite often, click on the gear and choose Add to Favorites, and an option for that specific combination of attributes will be available whenever you’re choosing a font.

Font Book allows you to maintain multiple Libraries, which are collections of actual font files on disk. When you click All Fonts, you’re opening a pre-built font library from which you allocate files to Collections. Make and name a new library (Option-1-N), then choose 1-O to open a separate folder of fonts and they’ll be available to add to Collections to your heart’s content.

This article originally appeared in the September issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us