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By Mike Rankin |

A Brief Introduction to Font Management


In this article, I’ll review some of the basic information about fonts and how to manage them for best results, with information from my course Font Management Essential Training.

Many of us think of fonts as simply the text-styling tools in our font menu—things like Helvetica Light, Cooper Black, Arial Narrow, and Zapf Dingbats. But fonts are much more than choices in a menu.

Ellen Lupton said, “Typography is what language looks like.” If this is true, then fonts are the tools we use to make language visible and enhance its meaning in type. And what amazing tools they are!

We live in a golden age of type, when we have a seemingly endless variety of fonts available to us. And every application on your computer—including the operating system—needs fonts in order to work. Whether you’re an accountant working in spreadsheets, or an artist working in Photoshop, you work with fonts every day.

In the past, fonts were physical things carved in wood or cast in lead. Today, each one is a complex piece of software, carrying instructions for drawing hundreds or thousands of characters onscreen and in print. And easy access to them means that most of us accumulate a lot of fonts—hundreds or even thousands—without trying.

So … how do we manage them all?

What Is Font Management?

Font management is about keeping all your fonts in working order so you can use them with a minimum of effort and trouble. It includes

Keeping your fonts organized so you can quickly find any that you need to use. Organize them in whatever way makes the most sense to you—by name, client or job, foundry, classification, and so on.

Keeping your system running smoothly. It’s important to know which fonts came with your operating system and major software packages, so you can choose which fonts to keep active, and which you can safely discard or deactivate. Each active font uses a little bit of your computer’s resources—so by only keeping the fonts you need active, you can make your computer and applications run faster and work more efficiently.

Fixing problems caused by conflicts and corruption in fonts and their associated cache files. When you work with a lot of fonts, it’s only a matter of time before you have to cope with duplicate fonts, conflicting fonts, or damaged fonts. Knowing how to solve these problems quickly can mean the difference between meeting or missing a deadline.

Staying in compliance with your font licenses. Like all software, fonts come with user licenses, and the terms of those licenses spell out what you are (and are not) allowed to do with the fonts. These terms can include the number of computers where the fonts can be installed, whether the fonts can be modified or distributed, and what kinds of output are allowed. Ignore your font licenses at your peril—some companies have been forced to pay major fines for violating the terms of their font licenses.


Fonts come with licenses that you need to read, understand, and abide by.

Choosing an Approach to Font Management

Almost all of the tasks mentioned above can be done manually, or with the help of font management software. Both Mac and Windows offer some basic font management features.

The Manual Approach If you don’t work with a lot of fonts on a regular basis (and being organized comes naturally to you), you might do just fine managing your fonts manually. The main benefit of manual font management is it’s free. The downside is you’re on your own; you have to keep track of everything, move the font files around on your computer, know how to activate and deactivate fonts, and be able to recognize font problems.


You can successfully manage your fonts without any third-party software, but you need to know which fonts must be left alone, like the ones in the Mac System Fonts folder.

Using Font Management Software Investing in font management software will cost you. But in exchange, you get powerful features to take the time, effort, and guesswork out of font management.

Almost all font management solutions allow you to organize your fonts into sets, which can be activated or deactivated with a single click. Many solutions also offer autoactivation, so when you open a particular application or document, the correct fonts are already activated.

Font management solutions also offer tools that can scan fonts for problems, and fix font conflicts and corruption. These applications also offer features for previewing fonts onscreen or in print to help you find the right font for a job.


Suitcase Fusion locks the fonts that must remain active for your system to operate properly, so you can’t deactivate them.

Suitcase Fusion by Extensis is a powerful font management solution for both Mac and Windows, which includes all the features mentioned above and more.

With Suitcase Fusion, you can efficiently manage a huge collection of fonts, and take advantage of autoactivation with Adobe Creative Cloud applications like InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. You can even manage Google Fonts and fonts from Adobe Typekit. And if you need help choosing fonts for a project, Suitcase Fusion has a feature called Fontspiration that allows you to browse a Pinterest collection of outstanding typography.


Fontspiration in Suitcase Fusion lets you browse examples of great typography right in the same window where you manage your fonts.

Font Management Essential Training In my lynda.com course, Font Management Essential Training, I cover all the points mentioned in this article in detail, and much more, with chapters dedicated to helping you understand the different types of fonts, where to find high-quality fonts, how to fix font problems, and how to manage your fonts manually or with a dedicated solution like Suitcase Fusion, on both Mac and Windows. Plus, there’s information on how to identify mystery fonts, where to find inspiration, and several methods for creating your own fonts.

No matter how you choose to go about it, the effort you put into understanding fonts, organizing them, and managing them can pay big dividends on a daily basis.

You’ll save time and trouble, you’ll achieve better results with type, and your computer may even run faster and more efficiently.

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