Font Management applications are the best help one can have to get control over the fonts on the mac, both the fonts you actually want to work with and the fonts the System needs to run. Few applications are available to do this task, FontAgent Pro, Suitcase Fusion and Linotype FontExplorer X. Each of them have different ways to get the work done, different looks, different features etc. But when they succeed they are actually managing the same stuff.
Full understanding in Font Management requires some reading and studying and for me – if I wanted to write about it in full, would take me days. The worst part is that only a few would read it and learn it and probably those who would read it to the end would most of them know this stuff already. In many cases much better than I do.
Instead of talking about Font Management in detail, I am going to go through the installation of one of those programs, Linotype FontExplorer X. FEX as it is often called is free and it has some very nice tools for font managing. I am not saying that FEX is better than Suitcase Fusion or Font Agent but I have used it with 20 other designers for many months and it is save to say that FEX is a very good tool.
At the end of this article you should have FEX installed properly, you will have taken some right decisions and Font Management should be working for you even if you only know bare minimum about Font Management. FEX includes a nice and short Help documents that are available after you have installed so it’s not of a much use while you are installing. When and if you read the Help file you may find out that you have not chosen the best setup to suit your needs and would have to change it afterwards or even reinstall. I hope his little article will help you with the installation and help you to take the right decisions.
Start by downloading Linotype FontExplorerX (FEX).
When the download has finished the disk image will open up and you will see the applications icon.
Drag the FEX to Applications folder. Open the Applications folder and find FEX. This is a good time to drag FEX to the Dock.Start FontExplorerX. A window of the Linotype FontExplorerX Setup Assistant opens up. There is a text in every window that explains all but I know that many will want somebody to hold their hands anyway and tell them everything is save. I will try to guide you through the installation.
First a Introduction window will appear. Hit the Continue button.
Next we are faced with the License Agreement window. Click the checkbox at “I hearby agree…” The Continue button will light up. Click it.
Now we get to the Manage font files window. We see three buttons and we need to choose only one.
The first button says: Don’t manage font files. This means that fonts you choose will be activated where they are, in your font collection or where ever you have put it.I used to like my font management to be this way, fonts activated “in place” like AdobeTypeManager and Suitcase used to do it and I hated when font management applications wanted to control where my activated fonts were. But later I changed my opinion because I discovered that the best way to manage fonts is to have a separate place where the activated fonts are kept. The main advantage is that the original font collection is untouched and the fonts in there are never “busy” when you need to reorganize or copy them.
So, let’s choose the: Manage fonts by copying files button. In short this is saying that a font you add to FEX will be copied – not moved, to a place on your computer, specified by the path in the little window below. The default path is: /Users/YourHomeFolder/FontExplorer X/Font Library. You can choose to place your fonts in a different place via the Change button. Personally I prefer the default way in this case.
A copy of every font you add to FEX goes into this Font Library folder and into subfolders organized in an alphabetical order. It’s these fonts who are activated, not the ones in your font collection. Please do not fiddle with that folder manually. This folder is for FEX only. But all the same, later if you want or need to, you can safely throw this folder into the Trash because as I said, it only carries copies from your otherwise untouched precious font collection.
For the same reason you should NOT choose the last button: Manage fonts by moving files, because you will risk loosing the only copy you have of your font.
In the next window Add Fonts, FEX shows you what font folders it has found and offers to take care of for you. Three folders are grayed out. These are the most important font folders included with the system and three of the most likely to be a source of font conflicts on your computer. There is no point dismissing them. We want font management don’t we?
If you are new to font management it’s not a bad idea to look briefly at the grayed out path. It shows you where the folders are on your computer. It is really quite logical if you think about it.
- /Users/YourHomeFolder/Library/Fonts This folder is on every users Home directory. One folder like this will appear in the list for every account.
- /Library/Fonts Fonts in this folder appear to every user of the mac and this is the folder where most of the fonts included with the system are placed. FEX can clean out this folder too, to the minimum.
- /System/Library/Fonts The system needs a few fonts at all times and they are kept in there. Actutally there are more fonts in there than needed and FEX can clean the folder for you later on.
One folder there FEX has found is not grayed out. Since I have Adobe Creative Suite 2 on my computer this font folder has been installed. Plenty of fonts are included with the suite and we want of course to be able to get some control over those fonts. That is why we should accept to include this folder.At this point we have the option to include more folders on that list. One important font folder is missing from the list if you have Microsoft Office installed on your computer. With the Office suite come a lot of fonts, among them many you may expect when you receive files from Window users. And also, there are fonts in it that may conflict with other fonts you might want to use later.
Let’s add it now, either by clicking the + button or by dragging the folder into the list window of FEX.
The path to the folder usually is:
Applications/Microsoft Office 2004/Office/Fonts.
Now, one more folder you might want to add now is your own font collection. Even if you have many fonts, let’s say more than 5000 you can safely add it to the list. What your gain by adding your collection it at this stage is that all of your fonts will be analyzed against the system fonts. They will all be added to the FEX Library and can be activated quickly at any time. On the other hand, if you decide not to add your collection now or the Office fonts you can always add it later by option-dragging it later into FEX.
When you have added these folder into the list, click the Analyze button. You can watch how the folders turn red while FEX runs through the folders. When FEX has analyzed the content of the folders it starts to import the fonts.
Most likely you will get a warning sign, Import Warning saying that you are trying to install a font that is already on the system. It may be a font that was installed with MacOSX and you have a new font brought in from the Office fonts collection and FEX wants to know if you want to keep the first one or replace it with a new one.
FEX informs you what is happening and shows the paths of the already installed font and the path to the font it is trying to install. Here we have to take care.
- If you are not installing your own font collection your best bet is to click the: Use already imported font and check also: Use this setting for all remaining fonts. I advice not to check: Use this setting for all remaining imports. We want to keep all options open for the future.
- If however you are installing your own font collection too (probably because you prefer to use it and probably because they have been used in the past for your previous work), you should take notice of the path from where the fonts are coming from and make sure that if there are conflicting names there, to choose the fonts from your collection. This can be quite a work. In this case you would choose the button: Remove existing font from FontExplorer X and import new font. No other buttons are needed.
If you choose the first method you will probably want to add your collection into FEX. Then, when installing you will most likely get this Import Warning window. In that case you will most likely want to use other options like Remove existing font from FontExplorer X and import new font or even Import fonts as duplicate (not recommended). In short, this means that you choose method 1 during the installation of FEX and delay method 2 until later. This is the method I use.
When the import procedure is over we click the continue button and move over to the next panel, Plug-Ins. Here we see a list of available auto-activation plug-ins for the Adobe applications and QuarkXPress. FEX show here a list of already installed plug-ins, your version and the version it has availale. Some people may even have both CS and CS2 on their mac so here you have the option to control the plug-ins. Be sure to let all the applications have the latest version of the plug-ins. When finished, click Continue.
In the next window Updates you have the option to make FEX check for latest updates and also when checked to send information about your system to Linotype. It’s important to know that FEX is internet connected. Some people are very sensitive about this matter. The main reason FontExplorerX is free is that it offers font buying directly via the application it self in a similar way iTunes does. In my opinion, if you are buying music with iTunes, why not buy fonts with FontExplorerX? Information provided about your system to Linotype only helps to make FontExplorerX better. Click Continue when you have made your choice.
Conclusion panel. Now we have finished the install and are ready to start using FEX. There is however one option left: Clean caches. I advice you to check that box and then click the Finish button. A Restart is required after this.
I will talk about cache cleaning later on, but I think it’s best to allow it right now, because you have installed a huge number of fonts during the install and possibly done some replacement of fonts too. Older cache can hold on to a previously installed font and prevent a different font with same name from displaying correctly. You will be asked for authorization because the cache files are buried in many places where you don’t have full access from the Finder. So, clean the cache now and tolerate the restart.
As you can see on the list that appears, font caches are kept all over the place. It’s a great thing that FEX does this cleaning for us in few seconds. Cleaning it manually would require a lot of time and hair pulling permission game.
After the restart we open FontExplorer X. Let’s look briefly at what we see here. In the side window the Source we see a number of font sets.At the top is the Library, a set that shows every font that FEX is handling. If you are searching for specific font this set is the one to select.
Next one is the Store, a brilliant feature that streamlines font buying.
System fonts. These are the font folders that were grayed out during install in the Manage font files. The font folders. If you select one by one to get to know them, you’ll notice that some of the fonts have lock on to prevent you from changing their status.Tell more about what fonts to close etc what is needed etc.
Activated fonts. This is a Smart Set and what is shown in there depends on the rules that are applied to the set. Check the rule by holding the right-button off your mouse. You will see that there are many options and if you like one or two of them go ahead and make a new Smart Set.
Adobe Fonts. The Adobe folder FEX found.
Fonts. This is the fonts folder from Office. Actually the screenshot is made after I renamed it from Fonts to MSFonts. I like to know where the fonts come from.Optionally you might have added your own font collection and if so it will be there too as a set of its own.Installation is done. Next thing would be to look at the Preferences. In my opinion you should at this point only check that box that makes FEX load at startup and also set up your account for the Store if you plan to buy fonts. Even if you do not plan to buy fonts it is fun to browse the Store. Most of the other settings in Preferences are just fine but as you get to know FEX you might find something in there that you would want to change.
This would be a perfect time to check out the Help file and learn something about the abilities of FontExplorerX. It’s short but explains quite well most of the features of the program. Linotype.com also has a FAQ page that gives answers to many questions that might pop up. Linotype FontExplorer (unofficial) Discussion Board might also have answers to questions regarding some problem that you may encounter.
One thing I have not seen discussed anywhere is best practices. I guess the reason is that people tend to make their own personal system on how they organize fonts in a font management application or even as I see most often – use no system at all. Just open fonts when they are needed and never turned off again.No matter how easy and fun the font management application is, it will become a burden to see the font menus of the applications get longer and longer with fonts that you are not using. FontExplorerX is a nice tool to preview fonts before you decide to activate them. Applications like Illustrator, InDesign or Word take much longer to open if they have to index a long list of fonts each time they are opened.
Here is a simple three folder system with subfolders you could try out to organize your fonts. You can then make your own variation that suits your needs.
- In the Sources List (the left side window) make a folder called Clients or Customers. Inside it make a folder for each client you work for. Just make it as it comes to you. This takes minimum of time – don’t try to do folders for all the clients you remember of. Inside these folders you import the fonts used for this client, either from the Library or as a new import/open. This means it’s easy to deactivate the client’s fonts later on if you are not dealing with him for some period of time.
- Make another folder with A, B, C.. folders inside. Call it Alphabetical or what ever you feel like. Into these folders you can add fonts not specified for any job or client. Just a nice collection of fonts you like to keep handy.
- Another folder I always make is Test folder. Here I allow me to be messy and disorganized. Throw anything in, downloaded free fonts, fonts included on cd’s with magazines, what ever. You can close everything inside the folder in one click. And when the time comes you can simply right click and choose: Remove Folder and contained Sets and Fonts and start a new Test folder.
You get the idea.
Make many macs with the same setup.
It is not so complicated to set up one mac just as described here above. After you have set up one you might want another or maybe many macs to have the same setup. Obviously you would start by copying your font collection to all the macs you are installing on. Also: Put FontExplorer X into the Application folder. The items we need to move are (not a bad idea to .zip or .sit the folders before you move it):
- FontExplorer X Font Library. The folder is by default on the users home area: /Users/YourHomeFolder/FontExplorer X/Font Library.
- FontExplorer X database: /Users/YourHomeFolder/Library/Application Support/Linotype/FontExplorer X. The database is inside this folder but copy it all.
Move both of these to the new mac and put the files in the same place on the second mac. If you had Font Explorer X on that second mac you will have to overwrite the old folders, so be sure FEX is not open when you overwrite.
- Start FontExplorer X.
- Make sure you have Conflicts set on: View>Show Conflicts. Select the Conflicts View. As you see all of the fonts appear in red.
- Just under the red fonts list, set: Conflict: Fonts listed in FontExplorer X but deleted in Finder
- Select one font and note down the path to it. Current Path: /Users/YourHomeFolderOnYourPreviousMac/FontLibrary/… etc. You see that the path points to the first mac. This is what we have to change.
- Select all the fonts, command+A. We now get two input fields. In the first we put the path of the first mac: /Users/YourHomeFolderOnYourPreviousMac/FontLibrary (note that this is not the full path of the one font we chose before)
- In the second field we put a new path that fits the second mac: /Users/YourHomeFolderOnYourSecondMac/FontLibrary
- Click Apply
Not so difficult, was it?
Tools of the trade.
It is the users job to keep things clean and working efficiently. Although FEX is a good tool it can not prevent all possible illness that your fonts may have or may cause. But FEX has some built in tools to help you solve problems that may pop up from time to time.
Under the Tools menu you will find an arsenal of powerful tools to do the job. A good description about these tools is in the Help file but I am going to run briefly over few of the items in the menu and explain in short what they do.
- Clean System Fonts folders… All kinds of applications install fonts on your mac and most of them put it into the Library/Fonts folder. This menu command clean out such fonts and puts it into a folder on your desktop called FontsRemovedFromSystem, plus the date. Now, since you may possibly still want to have access to some of those fonts, the best practice is to move that folder into your font collection, then option-drag it into FEX. Then activate those fonts in the folder you need.
- Clean Manage folder… A bit confusing, but The Manage folder is the Font Library located at: Users/YourHomeFolder/FontExplorer X/Font Library. If you have been opening and closing fonts a lot, it’s very likely that you still have in this folder left over fonts that you have disabled and don’t want to use any more. This menu command cleans out these fonts after having compared with the FEX database.
- Clean System font caches… It’s happening from time to time: The System caches “remembers” fonts that are long gone and that memory may be in the way for a new font you are trying to install. Or some cache has become garbled and fonts in menus are twisted around. It’s good to
- Clean application font caches… Similar as above. Applications cache holding on to wrong information about previously activated font, often with the same name you are trying to install.
- Optimize database. This menu command it to rebuild FEX database so it holds only information about currently installed fonts.
Use these commands when you get into trouble and it is also a good practice to do the cleaning as a part of regular maintenance of your computer even nothing is apparently going wrong. Just as you should do Repair Permissions every other week or so.
The final curtains
This article is based on my experience using Linotype FontExplorer X for about a year. Please comment if you see something obviously wrong here. Also, as English is not my native language you are welcome to comment on how things might be better said. Or what ever…