Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X

Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X, a $20 electronic book available for download from TidBits Electronic Publishing. The 255-page ebook contains previously unpublished information about Mac OS X’s font handling, including details about supported font types, font storage locations, load order, managing fonts, dealing with legacy fonts, Unicode, and more. This excerpt focuses on removing fonts you don’t want.

There are two pressing issues of font removal: how to remove fonts, and which ones to remove (an art explained in Trim the Excess Font Fat ).

When you don’t want to use a font, and won’t want to use it again in the foreseeable future, you remove it. When you want it hanging around for easy access or a recurring project but don’t want it cluttering your Font menus in the meantime, you can disable it instead. (For details on disabling fonts, see the discussion in the full ebook.)

Use Font Book to remove fonts

To remove a font, select it in Font Book’s Font list, and press Delete or choose File -> Remove FontName. The font file is (usually) moved to the Trash, so if you don’t want it erased the next time you empty the Trash, you have to drag it out and store it someplace. This isn’t so draconian when you consider that a copy of the font file was placed in the target folder during installation, with the original left in place; so, you should already have a copy of any of your user-installed fonts. For system-installed fonts, you have to be more careful because there’s no easy way to get fresh copies.

I said the font file is “usually” moved to the Trash, because there are exceptions:

  • A system font—one in /System/Library/Fonts —is removed only from Font Book’s Font list; the font file is not removed from its folder. (See Remove or Replace System Fonts.)
  • If you don’t have administrative privileges, removing something from the Computer library in Font Book (regardless of whether the font’s in /System/Library/Fonts or /Library/Fonts ) removes it from the Font list, but the font file remains in its folder.
  • A font from a user-defined library remains in its original location—which seems fair, since a copy of it was never placed in any Fonts folder in the first place.
  • Even when a deleted “font” is sent to Trash, which font files are deleted—and the effect on some of your other installed fonts—depends on what you’ve selected in the Font list and what kind of file(s) are related to the selection:

  • PostScript Type 1 fonts: Removing a PostScript font moves all its printer files and the bitmapped suitcase to the Trash.
  • Suitcases: If you remove a font that’s in a suitcase (a TrueType font or a bitmapped font companion for a Type 1), all fonts in that suitcase are also removed—one of the gotchas of using suitcases with more than one family inside.
  • OpenType families: Many OpenType fonts have separate files for each typeface; selecting the family name and deleting it puts all the related files in the Trash.
  • Individual typefaces: You can use the Remove command on a selected typeface (instead of a family). If the typeface is a separate file, that’s the only one removed; if all the faces are in the same file, the entire family is removed.
  • Duplicate fonts: If you select the family name of a font with duplicates and remove it, all the copies showing in the Font list are removed. So, if All Fonts is the current library, every copy of a duplicated font is removed; if Computer is selected in the Collection list, copies in both /System/Library/Fonts and /Library/Fonts are removed; if User is selected, only the copy in ~/Library/Fonts is deleted.
  • Collections: Deleting a collection from the Collection list doesn’t remove any fonts at all, since a collection is merely a convenient way of looking at a subset of installed fonts.
  • Libraries: Deleting a user-defined library from the Collection list removes the library and its list from Font Book, and removes the fonts in the library from use. The font files themselves, however, remain wherever you’ve been keeping them because they were never installed in a Fonts folder.
  • Font removal from Fonts folders: You can remove a font directly from its Fonts folder; its absence is reflected in Font Book’s list almost immediately. But Font Book deletion is a better option because you can see whether you still have a copy of that font available in a different Fonts folder, and, in the case of PostScript fonts or OpenType families with separate typeface files, you won’t have to select the multiple files yourself.

    Tip: Un-remove the Remove warning!

    As you can imagine, during the course of writing Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X , I gave Font Book quite a workout, adding and removing many fonts many times. I got tired of the confirmation dialog “Are you sure you want to remove this font?” making every font removal a two-step process. So, I finally checked Do Not Ask Me Again in the dialog. It wasn’t long before I selected a font and, as I hit Delete, realized I had mis-clicked and selected the wrong font in the list. But Delete was already pressed, and, with no confirm dialog popping up, it was too late.

    Font Book’s font removal warning

    And then came another one of those annoying little interface problems. The Do Not Ask Me Again checkbox is only in the confirm dialog; since the dialog doesn’t show up after you turn it off, you can’t uncheck the checkbox to turn the warning back on. If you’ve already made the same mistake (or do so in the future despite this warning), the solution is to quit Font Book and delete ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.Fontbook.plist. Prior to Tiger 10.4.3 with its Font Book 2.0.2, this would also make Font Book forget about any disabled fonts, re-enabling every single one of them, but that’s no longer an issue.

    Remove or Replace System Fonts

    If you’ve used Font Book to remove a system font, reinstalling it is tricky: although the font name disappears from Font Book’s Font list, the font file remains in its folder—and how do you install a font where it already exists? (And where do you get it from?). In addition, Font Book doesn’t provide any way of installing to /System/ Library/Fonts anyway; items put in Font Book’s Computer library go to only /Library/Fonts.

    Warning! Do not remove these system fonts—some of which don’t even appear in Font Book:

  • Keyboard.dfont
  • Geneva.dfont
  • LastResort.dfont
  • Monaco.dfont
  • LucidaGrande.dfont
  • Helvetica.dfont
  • The following section provides details about these, and other fonts that you can, but probably don’t want to, remove; for a roundup, see Do Not Remove or Disable These System Fonts.

    Here’s how to get a “removed” system font back in play:

  • Close Font Book.
  • In the Finder, open /System/Library/Fonts.
  • Drag the font file in question directly to the Trash. If you drag it anywhere else, a copy appears in the target spot, and the original stays in place.
  • Type your administrative password in the dialog that appears. The font goes to the Trash.
  • Open the Trash, and drag the font back into the Fonts folder. This triggers a dialog saying you can’t do it because the folder can’t be modified, but don’t worry about that because it can be.
  • Click the Authenticate button and type in your administrative password.
  • Open Font Book (or, if you skipped the first step, close it and then reopen it) and you’ll see the font back in action.
  • Trim the Excess Font Fat

    General users don’t need to strip their systems of extraneous fonts—to a general user the fonts won’t be extraneous. Pros and font fanatics, however, need to keep unnecessary fonts to a minimum, both to avoid problems and because the sheer number of fonts can become overwhelming to manage. This section describes why you need certain fonts (or not), and gives you the opportunity to lighten your font load if you didn’t do the thorough cleanup described earlier.

    The source of misinformation

    I’ve encountered a lot of misunderstanding among even reasonably knowledgeable users as to what can be safely removed or disabled, despite the fact that the list of necessary fonts is short and straightforward. One reason for the confusion is that the Mac OS X font capabilities and needs are continually evolving; the other is that, lacking reasonable documentation, users have turned to Apple’s Tech Docs and misread some of their information.

    One document “recommends” that certain foreign language fonts stay in /System/Library/Fonts; it goes on to list “required Japanese fonts,” and so on. A more careful reading reveals that they’re needed for international versions of the operating system and you should keep them because “you never know who might use your system or how it might be used in the future.” Are you worried about that?

    The more insidious problem comes from the lists of Mac OS X fonts with headings such as Essential System Software; Installed: Always (cannot be disabled) for /System/Library/Fonts. The heading actually refers to the installer process, wherein the fonts are included as part of the essential system software that’s always installed, and it’s a part of the installer package that can’t be disabled. None of the terms applies to the fonts in the list!

    The System Fonts folder

    Below, I list 12 font files that you should leave in /System/Library/Fonts. The six core fonts should never, never be removed (although one can be replaced by a different version), on pain of dire consequences. Not plagues-of-Egypt dire, but close, if you’re on a tight deadline. At best, you’ll have menus and dialogs with garbled text; at worst, your Mac might not start up at all and require a system reinstall. As for the other three fonts, one’s “essentialness” is somewhat anecdotal, and the Preview application uses two. Don’t disable the fonts in the table , either, since that often causes the same problems as removing them.

    Some of the fonts listed don’t even appear in menus or in Font Book; others are difficult to remove through Font Book, which prevents you from accidentally removing them. But when you’re serious about streamlining your font list, you may be working directly with folders in the Finder, so the Font Book safeguards won’t apply. Watch your step!

    In addition to the absolute necessities, you should keep these fonts because they are common on the Web and in cross-platform documents:

  • Courier
  • Times
  • Symbol
  • Zapf Dingbats
  • Do not remove or disable these system fonts

    Core Fonts: Do Not Remove Under Any Circumstances

    Keyboard.dfont (*), LastResort.dfont (*) Keyboard holds many characters necessary for menus and dialogs (such as the symbols for Shift and Option). The cleverly named LastResort is a fallback font for when a needed Unicode character isn’t included in any of your available fonts.
    Monaco.dfont, Geneva.dfont Removing either of these fonts through Font Book triggers the “This is a system font… are you sure…” dialog, but you’re allowed to remove it—ostensibly, because while it disappears from the Font list, it remains in the Fonts folder. ^
    LucidaGrande.dfont This should be named LucidaMuchoGrande, because it contains so many different scripts—alphabets for different languages. It’s used if a character isn’t in the current font. If you try to remove it with Font Book, you’re ignored; Lucida Grande remains in the Font list.

    * These fonts don’t appear in Font Book or in font menus. ^ Although these fonts remain in the Fonts folder after being removed from Font Book’s list, the operating system can no longer access them.

    Core Font: Do not remove unless immediately replaced with another version

    Helvetica.dfont Font Book treats this the same as Geneva and Monaco: try to remove it and it disappears from the Font list but not the Fonts folder. ^ You can remove this Helvetica as long as another version of Helvetica is available to your system.

    ^ Although these fonts remain in the Fonts folder after being removed from Font Book’s list, the operating system can no longer access them.

    Core Fonts? Maybe, Maybe Not—But Leave Alone

    AquaKanaRegular.otf, AquaKanaBold.otf (*) AquaKana is not on Apple’s list of “do not remove” fonts. However, anecdotal evidence indicates that this font is needed even if you’re not using any foreign language system. It doesn’t appear in font menus; why would it be hidden unless you’re supposed to leave it alone?

    * Font doesn’t appear in Font Book or in font menus.

    Fonts For Preview

    Helvetica LT MM/, HelveLTMM (*), Times LT MM/, TimesLTMM* The operating system doesn’t need these, but Preview does; new in Tiger, Preview uses them to render approximations of missing fonts in PDF files. You needn’t worry about their conflicting with other versions of Helvetica or Times, since they’re not included in the font-use hierarchy.

    * These fonts don’t appear in Font Book or in font menus.

    Hell-vetica and other publishing favorites

    Tiger supplies dfont versions of five stalwart standbys of the publishing business: Helvetica, Times, Courier, Symbol, and Zapf Dingbats. If you’re a professional, you’ll want to remove the dfont versions in /System/Library/Fonts to minimize the chance of their being substituted for your PostScript Type 1 (or, eventually, OpenType) versions. Put your replacements in /Library/Fonts or ~/Library/Fonts to minimize the changes you make to /System/Library/Fonts.

    This is the Font Book Info view with and without Helvetica available.

    Of these fonts, only Helvetica is essential to your operating system, but any old version will do, as long as it’s in one of the system’s Fonts folders. (The Classic folder doesn’t count, nor does an application Fonts folder.) When you’re replacing the system Helvetica, you have to replace it right away—think Indiana Jones swapping the bag of sand for the golden idol. In fact, put the new version in before you take the system version out; so many things go wrong when Helvetica is gone that it’s difficult or impossible to get anything done.

    The ubiquitous Helvetica stands out from this lineup in another way: it causes more problems than any other font in computer history. Helvetica’s troubled history is due to its very popularity, which resulted in dozens of versions being produced ( cheaper! better! ), which caused hundreds of font substitution problems ( reflow! reprint! ), which led to thousands of headaches ( oy! ow! ). But, come on, stop relying on Helvetica (yes, I’m talking to you font professionals): it’s 50 years old, it’s tired .

    The Library Fonts folder

    The Library Fonts folder ( /Library/Fonts ) is where Tiger puts nonessential fonts; so, by their very definition, all the fonts can be removed. But that doesn’t mean you should get rid of them all.

    Keep common Web fonts: These fonts are ubiquitous on the Web because they’re cross-platform and, with the exception of Times New Roman, easy to read on the screen:

  • Comic Sans
  • Georgia
  • Trebuchet MS
  • Times New Roman
  • Verdana
  • You need either the Tiger-supplied or the Microsoft-supplied version someplace to keep your surfing smooth. Even if you’re a font professional who’s fanatic about getting rid of non-essentials to avoid conflicts, there shouldn’t be any problem with these: you’re not likely to be working with an OpenType or Type 1 version of any of these fonts for some professional job. (In addition, Office applications require Verdana for the definitions in its Reference Tools.) Note that for viewing Arabic-language Web sites in Safari, you need the Tiger version of Times New Roman (and Arial).

    Keep common cross-platform fonts: Arial and Arial Black may be overused, but you’ll probably need them if you exchange documents with PC users.

    Watch for application-installed fonts: Applications sometimes install fonts into this folder; they’re still typically expendable but you should check the application’s documentation.

    Mind your manners: If you’re on a multi-user Mac, keep in mind that this is the folder all users share; be polite and politic about removing these fonts.

    The User Fonts folder

    The OS doesn’t put any files in ~/Library/Fonts; the bulk of User fonts comes from Microsoft Office. While you can remove all of them because they’re not essential to Office operations, that’s not necessarily the wisest approach; the Microsoft versions of Tiger-supplied fonts are better in most cases.

    The other fonts in this folder are, presumably, the ones you put there, so they can be removed, too, assuming that you have copies someplace, should you ever wish to put them back.

    The Classic Fonts folder

    If you have Classic installed on your Mac, these fonts must stay in /System Folder/Fonts:

  • Charcoal
  • Chicago
  • Geneva
  • Monaco
  • Without these fonts, Classic applications, and the Classic environment itself, won’t run properly. Font Book doesn’t consider them system fonts, however, so you won’t get any warning when you try to remove them.

    Some argue that you need only Charcoal, despite Apple’s admonitions about retaining these fonts; and that, furthermore, if you also remove Charcoal, the Classic environment will access a version that’s buried in the OS 9 system file. I say: What’s the big deal? Are you planning an award-winning graphic design piece, or even a letter to your mother, using any of these four fonts? Leave them alone. You can disable the entire Classic Mac OS group in Font Book, anyway, because it won’t affect how the fonts behave in Classic applications.

    The Adobe Fonts folders

    How you handle the wealth of fonts supplied with Adobe applications depends on your general font usage. You may want to add to or delete from the Adobe Fonts folder, or even share the fonts with your other applications. However, the issue at hand is which fonts you can dump. If you have Creative Suite, you have two main Adobe “private” folders, one of which has an important subfolder, while installing only Adobe Acrobat creates a single Fonts folder:

  • /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts holds most of the fonts that come with Creative Suite; you can remove any or all of them. But don’t remove the folder because it has to hold the all-important subfolder described next.
  • /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts/Rqrd/Base/ is a subfolder in the Adobe folder I just described. “Rqrd” means required and the fonts inside really are: some of the CS applications won’t even run if these fonts are unavailable. The crossover in fonts between this and the main Adobe fonts folder—Courier, Minion, and Myriad—is surface only, because one set is PostScript Type 1 and the other OpenType. Leave them alone.
  • /Library/Application Support/Adobe/PDFL/7.0/Fonts (or 5.0 or 6.0) comes along with Acrobat Professional (which is also part of the Creative Suite). There’s lots of crossover between this folder and the Rqrd folder, but since different, specific applications access them, there’s no problem with duplication. Leave them all alone if you value your Acrobat PDFs.
  • Outdated Adobe folders: If you have a /Library/Application Support/Adobe/PDFL/7.0/Fonts in use, you might also have an outdated 6.0 and perhaps even a 5.0 version that can be trashed.

    The Microsoft Fonts folder

    The Microsoft folder /Applications/Microsoft Office 2004/Office/Fonts is somewhat of a red herring, because although it looks like an application Fonts folder, it’s not: all its fonts are merely copied into a User Fonts folder the first time an Office application runs.

    While you don’t need this folder or its fonts, you should leave it in place, in case you set up a new user account as a troubleshooting procedure or need to reinstall the fonts for any other reason—for instance, if you deleted some of them in favor of the Tiger versions and realize the error of your ways.

    Outdated Microsoft Office fonts: When you install a new version of Microsoft Office, it makes a special folder to store the fonts that came with the previous version. Look for ~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Old Fonts and get rid of the whole folder; even if you keep and run the previous Office version occasionally, it won’t need those fonts.

    [ Sharon Zardetto Aker has been writing about the Macintosh professionally since 1984, including nearly a thousand articles in Macintosh magazines and over 20 books; her latest is Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X ( TidBits Electronic Publishing, 2006). ]

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