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The font handling in Mac OS X causes trouble for a lot of people. The questions about where to place fonts and how to manage and handle them are plenty. The goal for this page is to put together as much knowledge as possible of the answers to the most common questions about this. I might have forgotten something or unintentionally left something out. I do NOT claim that this page contains everything there is to know about fonts in Mac OS X. But it might be somewhere to start understanding how it works.

This page is a try to explain where fonts live in Mac OS X and how you can handle and manage them. The page contains downloadlinks to a couple of pdf-files I've collected at various places, plus some useful links.

If you find that there are errors in my explanations or you want to add something, or want me to change something, send me a mail about it. Page will be updated with new material as I get feedback on this content.

Where do fonts live in Mac OS X?

Fonts can be found in at least three (3) different places in Mac OS X, four (4) if you also have
Mac OS 9/Classic installed. That's the minimum.

1. /System/Library/Fonts – These fonts should not be touched (and the System folder is locked to protect its content from the users) unless you absolutely have to as they belong to the system and are needed for the system and some applications that get installed with the system.

Fonts placed here can only be seen by Mac OS X applications and all users of the machine.

There are situations when you might need to touch fonts here because of font-conflicts, but if you can avoid it, avoid it, and if you are not sure as to how to best handle fonts, better do not touch anything in this folder. The fonts that can cause troubles are Helvetica, Times and Zapf Dinggbats dfonts.

If you use Suitecase for fontmanagement, Suitcase has a setting in its General Preferences where you can allow Suitcase to override system fonts. With that on you don't need to remove any fonts from the System folder as eventual font conflicts are solved by Suitcase which then overrides the system fonts when needed if there is another font with same name present that you rather use.

2. /Library/Fonts – This folder ought to be considered the main fonts folder in Mac OS X.

Fonts placed here can be read by all Mac OS X applications and be used by all users on the machine.

3. /Username/Library/Fonts – This folder is the logged in users own private fonts folder.

Fonts placed here can only be used be the user who owns this folder and no other users on the machine but by all Mac OS X applications that the user opens.

4. /System Folder/Fonts – This is the fonts folder in the Mac OS 9 System Folder if Classic is installed. Not all machines have Mac OS 9/Classic installed. If that is the case you do not have this folder.

Fonts placed here are seen by all applications in both Mac OS 9/Classic and Mac OS X. You cannot hide fonts in the OS 9 system folder/fonts to Mac OS X. These fonts can be used by all users on the machine.

NOTE It appears you CAN hide these OS9 fonts. A tip I got from Steve Harley is that for those that do use Classic, these fonts _can_ be hidden by booting Classic only from a disk image, which according to Steve, has some other advantages too (which I have no idea...).

Steve also provides three links for how to handle these OS9 fonts and says:

"I don't know of a single best link for the technique, but here are three; the first is the most "friendly", the second has good discussion, and the last adds the "shadow" technique, which can be skipped:

Link 1 | Link 2 | Link 3 "

5. Special fonts folders for certain applications – Some applications, like for instance Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator, can have its own fonts folder. That fonts folder is placed inside the applications folder.

Fonts placed inside an applications own folder can only be seen by that particular application but by all users of the machine.

Adobe InDesigns private fonts folder can for instance be used to place PC-fonts into which then can be used from within InDesign in Mac OS X. Or other fonts meant to be used only from within Adobe InDesign.

6. /Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts – Adobe has its own fonts folder that gets installed with the CS standalone applications or the Creative Suite packages. This is the place where you find the around 100 fonts that comes with the Suite or InDesign or Illustrator.

All users of the machine sees these font. BUT, only Adobes own applications can use these fonts if they stay in this folder. If you want to use these fonts with other applications than Adobes, you have to move them to the general Library, Fonts folder instead. NOTE though that you need to keep the folder named Reqrd where it is. That folder contains fonts needed by Adobes applications for the palettes and dialogues etc. All the rest can be moved. Note though that if you reinstall the Creative Suite or any of the CS applications, these fonts will again be installed into their original location.

7. Adobe also uses some other font folders. These folders are:
/Library/Application Support/Adobe/PDFL/*/Fonts
/username/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Fonts

You do not place anything in these folders yourself and do not have to bother about these folders. They are created and used as needed by various Adobe applications. There might be more Adobe font-folders in other locations depending on how many Adobe applictions you have installed and if you have Classic/Mac OS 9 installed or not.


Apple, Discussions, Fonts in Mac OS X

Font Management in Mac OS X – a tutorial that includes the use of FontBook. Very good. Recommended.

Font Fatigue:Pruning excess fonts in Mac OS X – article at

Font Finagler (formerly Font Cache Cleaner) – download link for the application plus some fonthandlinginfo as well. FAP (Font Agent pro), Suitcase and/or Font Reserve won't fix or prevent font cache corruption. Instead you should use a dedicated tool like Font Finagler (USD10.-)

Font Management:What's New in Mac OS X Panther

Font Management in Mac OS X – article at O´Reilly. This article mentions symlinks. Also read this article about this and note that the symlink technique in the first article doesn't work consistently and is not supported by Apple (this information I got from Steve Harley who have also provided me with other very valuable information about font handling).

Apple – Mac OS X: Font Locations and Their Purposes

Managing Fonts in OS X: Tips, Techniques, and Resources at Seneca Design

Type Topics at Adobe – Managing Your Fonts in OSX with FontBook

PDFs for download

Advanced Typography with Mac OS X Tiger –Using and Managing Fonts (Apple Technology Tour
October 2005, 36 pages, 3,7 MB)

Advanced Typography with Mac OS X – Using and Managing Fonts
(Apple, October 2004, 36 pages, 2,8 MB )

Fonts on Mac OS X – pdf for download at Adobe

Advanced Typography in Mac OS X (Apple, July 2004, 4,1 MB, 35 pages).

Panther Fonts – pdf for download at Apple
Same pdf for download here (769 KB).

FontManagement in OS X (Extensis) (723 KB).

Using and Managing Fonts in Mac Os X – A Guide for Creative Professionals (Apple) (3,1 MB).

Apple Discussions – Font handling in Panther (PDF from webpage 134 KB).

Apple TechNote 2024 about fonts in OS X (63 KB).

Corrupt Font Cache Files in OS X – How to handle. PDF from Extensis (69 KB).

Adobe Forums, 211 Open Type Fonts in Creative Suite (PDF from webpage, 101 KB )

Font technologies supported by Mac OS X

Mac OS X Panther supports traditional Mac suitcase fonts like PostScript type 1, TrueType, Multiple Master (read only – you cannot manipulate MM fonts in OS X) and the new standard OpenType.

Mac OS X also supports the Mac OS X specific font-format .dfont which is not really a different format or technology but a variation of the TrueType suitcase format. dfonts can only be used in Mac OS X and should not be used in publishing unless included into a pdf. A non-Mac OS X machine cannot read and use Mac OS X own dfonts unless they are converted into a format that they understand. (This can be done, but isn't really something that can be recommended as a regular practise).

Mac OS X also supports Windows.ttf (truetype) fonts.

According to Steve Harley (who has given me very good feedback on this content), Windows TrueType fonts (.ttf) can "in principle" be moved between Mac OS X and Windows platforms but there may be character set issues with non-Unicode .ttf.

Some very old fonts from the 1980th or the beginning of the 1990th might need to be replaced and updated to newer versions to work properly in Mac OS X. You might run into a lot of problems if you try to use these older fonts as they usually lack the resources needed for todays systems and applications.

Adobes font libraries have been converted into the new platform independent font technology of OpenType. All fonts delivered with Adobe Creative Suite are OpenType fonts and can be used both on a Mac and on a Windows machine. All other font technologies are platform specific and cannot, in principle, be moved between platforms. An OpenType font can contain either a truetype font or a postscript font. Which, you won't see.

Damaged or incomplete fontsets (=missing its suitcase or missing its postscript description part of the font), cause the same kind of troubles in Mac OS X as they did in Mac OS 9. These fonts need to be reinstalled from their original disks so both suitcase and postscript description of font are present at the same time and on the same level where they are placed.

Duplicate fonts can cause problems as you might not know which version of a font is getting used and the one that the system or an application automatically grabs might not be the one you intended to use.

One of the most common problems with fonts in Mac OS X is that some of the system fonts have the same names as commonly used postscript or truetype fonts, like for instance Helvetica, Times and Zapf Dingbats. If you use a font management application you can choose which one to use. If not, it fast becomes more complicated. Some of the links below have information about how to handle those situations.


With Mac OS X 10.3 Panther came a fonthandling application from Apple called FontBook.

With FontBook you got back the ability to doubleclick on a font suitcase to see its fonts and to preview fonts onscreen. In versions before Mac OS X 10.3 Panther you could not do that unless you used a font handling application like Suitcase.

FontBook is aimed at users that do not have lots and lots of fonts to manage and to activate and deactivate. It has NO auto-activation. It can group fonts into sets so you can activate and deactivate groups of fonts together, but no automatic activation like Suitcase and other font management application do.

For the use of FontBook, see some of the links in the links-section on this page and FontBooks own Help files.

With Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger FontBook was updated and given some more features. Among the new features is a possibility to check if your fonts are damaged or not and to validate the font before installing it. It also generally became a bit more useful, but it is not all that different from FontBook in Panther.

WARNING! If you are using Suitcase (or any other font management application) to activate and deactivate your fonts, do NOT also activate and deactivate fonts with FontBook. Use one or the other for that task, not both at the same time. You can LOOK at fonts in FontBook even if you use Suitcase, but should refrain from doing activation in both simultaneously. It can lead to real font mess and to some of Apples applications to stop functioning.

Font Management Tools

When you use a font management application, it is very important to remember to NOT use more than one font management application at the time to handle your fonts. With "use" I also mean install. If you have Suitcase, do not install any of the other applications without first de-installing Suitcase. If you have Font Agent Pro do not install any of the other font management applciations at the same time without first de-installing FAP. And so on.

ATM Deluxe is discontinued for Mac OS X. You can still use it in Classic for Mac OS 9 if you need to, but it should not be used there either if you use Suitcase in Mac OS X.

ATM Light needs to be used in Classic/OS9 if you use older applications that has no font smoothing on screen, like QuarkXpress 3.32 – 4.11 – 5.x. Without ATM Light fonts look really bad on screen. ATM Light can be downloaded here. Scroll to end of page to find the Macintosh and the Windows versions of it.

Font smoothing on screen is built into the system in Mac OS X and not needed except for applications run in Classic/Mac OS9.

Adobe Type Reunion (ATR) is discontinued for Mac OS X. Type grouping into families is done from within each application and there is no need for any separate application to do the font-grouping in Mac OS X.

If you need an application to check if fonts are damaged and to do some font-repair, there is Font Doctor. More info about Font Doctor can be found here.

If you need a font management tool – which you do if you have lots of fonts and need auto-activation and de-activation and possibilities to group together font sin sets – there is Suitcase. More info about Suitcase can be found here. (I personally use Suitcase and am satisfied with it).

An alternative is Font Agent Pro which is praised by many. You find more info about Font Agent Pro here.

Another alternative is Font Reserve which was acquired by Extensis a couple of years ago. Extensis also does Suitcase. The information then was that Font Reserve and Suitcase eventually would be merged into one application. This has not yet happened. You can find more info about Font Reserve here. (I have tested Font Reserve extensively and I really, really dislike how it works... But that's me.).

A new player on this arena is the free tool from Linotype called Linotype FontExplorer X. Requires Mac OS X 10.3.9 or later. It is brand new and not all that tried yet. Those who have tested it have various opinions about it. Some find it good, others get annoyed by it. If you want to try it yourself, you find more info about it and download here.


Page last updated 2014-01-03


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