Font Perils! What You Should Know PDF Print E-mail
Written by Miko   
Wednesday, 19 May 2010 00:00

Fonts can be nightmare-causing entities that at times are worse than computer viruses... and Mac users are NOT immune! Fonts work at a truly deep and structurally-important system level on ALL computers.  Their presence, location, use and health will contribute to how well your computer works, or if it works at all.  You never want a corrupt font.  You never want to mess with system-crucial fonts.  When you learn the havoc fonts can cause on ANY computer, you empower yourself to prevent system crashes and speed up your computer.

Many of the same fonts are found on both Windows PC computers and Apple Mac OS computers, but not all fonts can live in both places.  Opentype *.otf suffix fonts and Truetype *.ttf suffix font files should be useable on both systems.  However, three common types of fonts can only be used on Macs- Truetype *.ttc suffix fonts, dfonts, and fonts inside font suitcases.  Yuo should NOT try installing these on Windows PCs.  And while there are conversion tools to make a ttc into a ttf, I would not advise doing that.

On Windows PC computers, fonts live in one folder called "Fonts", in the Windows system folder.

On Apple Mac computers, fonts live in at least 3 locations:

  • System/Library/Fonts
  • Library/Fonts
  • Users{username}/Library/Fonts - and there's one of these for EACH user on a Mac

On both Windows PCs and on Macs, fonts can be in other places if you use font management software. Also on both Macs and PCs, it should be obvious it anything can be potentially harmful or problematic if it lives in the system folder itself. 

if you have two fonts of the same name, but different types, in a system fonts folder, or often in a non-system fonts folder that is being read for fonts, it can wreak havoc on your system.

For example, 
on a Mac, after multiple software installations (like Office programs, and desktop publishing programs), it is possible and perhaps even common to have these two fonts in your system folder:

A. lucida grande.ttc
B. lucida grande.dfont

These fonts both have the same name and they actually both think that they are the same font. They even look the same, pretty much. But they are different types of font files! And the system only really wants or needs one.

To clarify- fonts of the same appearance and the same name can come in different file types- this represents the evolution of font technology really. Fonts can be opentype oft, truetype ttc, truetype ttf, they can be in a font suitcase, they can be "dfont" files- in the old days or in some desktop publishing places they might live as two part screen and printer fonts called Type One fonts, but these are getting more rare. All the files can be very different even if they are trying to draw and represent the exact same typeface or deeply similar typefaces of the same name.

With the example above of Lucida Grande- simply having those two fonts in the same Mac system folder can and will cause these problems:

1. Dreamweaver, the web design program, will not draw the file list screen correctly and so you won't be able to upload or get web site files
2. The Apple Mail program will not make new messages appear in bold
3. Bizarre seemingly random font representation issues will occur in web browsers and other software.
4. Your system may crash or freeze

This is because Lucida is a system-preferred font. All systems have a core set of absolutely crucial fonts, and Lucida is one of those fonts. Like a member of a Mafia family- you don't want to mess with system-preferred fonts. Foggeddaboudit.

When problems arise like this, you may not know which font to use, especial if you have file extensions hidden on your system. 

On a Windows computer it may be difficult and risky to figure it out. 

Luckily, on an Apple, if you delete a crucial system font from the system folder, it automatically replaces it- immediately. Thus, deleting both versions of the font will cause the system to repair its native version- which turns out to be the ttc version.

The "Lucida Grande" issue is an example of a font issue you can have with UN-CORRUPTED fonts. Duplicate fonts in separate system-read folders, or fonts of different types of the same name in system read folders- can cause problems. try to really just have one file type version of one typeface for each font on your system. (Having said that- I haven't even perfected that art! It's time consuming to review hundreds or thousands of fonts!)

Note also that healthy fonts can be a problem if you have simply too many of them.  Miko says: That's my problem- I'm a font addict!

Some applications, like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop expend a lot of memory and CPU resources- and start-up time- loading fonts to make them active for projects, and rendering font previews in the drop-down font lists. If you have a LOT of fonts, your drop-down font lists may not even show up at ALL, or clicking on the font list might freeze your system.

While healthy fonts can cause problems, a corrupted font is a disaster waiting to happen- and one can simply, completely crash your system, whether it's a Windows PC or Apple Mac system. Many font management programs will tell you if a font is corrupted. For Windows users, you'll need to buy or download a separate program- Microsoft doesn't offer its own built-in font-health checker. However, on an Apple, the built-in FontBook program will tell you which fonts are duplicated in your font folders, and which ones are BAD. Fonts should be manually "validated" using a font validator utility.

So keep these concepts in mind. Sometimes when you think you're getting attacked by a virus- it's actually a font! (It could also be a video driver and I'm going to write an article about THAT soon)...

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 June 2010 13:26