Double trouble

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You may not realize it, but chances are you have multiple versions of the same font installed on your drive. In many cases, this is a minor issue that can be ignored. However, it can be a source of trouble. It could, for example, result in an older version of a font that’s not compatible with OS X ending up in a document. It could also mean using a TrueType version of a font, when you wanted to use PostScript. In any case, it’s a waste of disk space.

How do you so often wind up with duplicate fonts installed in your system? The answer is simple: OS X has multiple Fonts folders and it’s easy for the same font to end up in more than one. To resolve duplicate fonts, then, you need to know where the duplicates are located, how location determines the use of a font, and how to disable or delete the fonts you don’t want.

Where the Fonts Are

There are three main Fonts folders in Mac OS X and some additional ones you might encounter:

your user name /Library/Fonts: Every user has one of these Fonts folders, but only the logged-in user’s will be active. These fonts are only accessible to the account owner. If you log out and another user logs in, he or she can’t see the fonts in your Fonts folder.

• /Library/Fonts: All users can access these fonts and most third-party fonts get installed here. Any administrator can add or delete fonts here.

• /System/Library/Fonts: Most of the fonts OS X installs live here. Many of these fonts are essential for running OS X. That’s why (with a few exceptions), you should never mess with the fonts in this folder. Deleting an essential one can render OS X un-bootable.

• Optional Locales Assuming you have Classic installed, it also has a folder to hold its fonts (/System Folder/Fonts). These are the only fonts Classic applications can access. However, fonts in this folder are accessible by OS X applications. If you’re connected to a network server, there may also be a Network Fonts folder (nested in the Servers directory in the Network window). It contains fonts accessible by all users connected to the server.

• Application-specific Fonts Some applications install fonts outside the standard Fonts folder locations. Typically you can only access these fonts when you’re running the application. They also don’t appear in Font Book. One notable example is Microsoft Office 2004. It stores fonts in its Office/Fonts folder (although it may also create a duplicate set in your ~/Library/Fonts folder). Another example is the Adobe applications. They store fonts in /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts. To avoid potential problems, it’s usually best to leave application-specific fonts alone.

Which Duplicate Should You Deactivate?

In general, if OS X spots duplicate fonts, it’ll use the one found at the “lowest” level of the Library folder hierarchy, ignoring the others. For example, if you have two copies of the Arial font, one in /Library/Fonts and the other in your user name /Library/Fonts, OS X will use the one in your user name /Library/Fonts by default.

If you’re trying to decide which copy to disable, ask yourself: Do I want to restrict access to the font just to myself or do I want all accounts on my Mac to have access to the font? If it’s the former, disable the one in the /Library folder. If it’s the latter, disable the one in your Home directory.

Sometimes, you’re better off basing your decision on the font’s format or which font is the more recent version. For example, you may have two variants of Helvetica: a TrueType and a PostScript version. (The font file names in the Finder may be a bit different, although both will be include the name Helvetica.) If you want to use the PostScript version (because it’s required by the printing service where you’ll send your document), disable the TrueType font wherever it’s located, even if it is in /System/Library/Fonts. Despite the general warning not to modify fonts in the /System folder, in this case you should be OK as long as at least one version of Helvetica remains active for all users.

How to Do the Deed

The easiest way to resolve duplicates is to use Font Book (in your Applications folder). To do so, find a font with duplicates by looking for one with a bullet after its name. Click the disclosure triangle to the left of the font name to display all the installed variants of the font. Move the cursor over each font and wait for a tool tip to appear; the text will indicate the font’s folder location. Highlight the name of the font you want to keep and select Edit: Resolve Duplicates. All unselected version(s) of the font will be disabled. Related versions of the font (such as italics and bold) will also be disabled (See screenshot)

You can similarly disable a font via Font Book’s Disable Font command, which works whether a font is a duplicate or not. Just highlight the font and click on the Disable button.

Notice that I’ve consistently said “deactivate” not “remove.” While there is a Remove Font command in Font Books’ File menu, I recommend disabling fonts via Resolve Duplicates or Disable Font, unless you’re absolutely sure you’ll never need the font again. Disabled fonts can be re-enabled later if you wish. Removed fonts get shunted to the Trash where they get deleted and disappear forever.

Font Book is your main ally in the hunt for doubles. Here it reveals three copies of Arial Black. The Tip Tool text shows the path where one of the copies is hiding.
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