How to Use Fonts & Special Characters

Appropriate typefaces or fonts are essential if you want to create professional-looking documents and presentations. On Macs, OS X comes with a wide selection of built-in fonts, but users can add their own and switch their various fonts on and off. Special characters, umlauts accents and other diacritics are also very important when dealing with texts.

How to Use Fonts & Special Characters

How to Use Fonts

Each font is actually a file or a set of files which reside in various special folders:

  • Your Home – Library – Fonts: These fonts are available to you, but not to other users on your Mac.
  • Macintosh HD – Library – Fonts: Fonts located in this folder are available to every user whose account has been created on this particular Mac.
  • Macintosh HD – System – Fonts: The fonts used by OS X. You must not meddle with these. If you do, your system might crash and refuse to reboot.

How to Manage Fonts

You can add new fonts to your system by simply dropping the font files into your Home – Library – Fonts folder, or into the Macintosh HD – Library – Fonts folder. Likewise, you can remove fonts you don’t like by dragging them out of these folders. However, if you have to deal regularly with fonts, you’ll find it much easier to use a font-management tool, such as Font Book, which comes with OS X and can be opened from ApplicationsFont Book is a tool for browsing, previewing, adding and removing fonts, arranging fonts in sets, exporting them, and much more.

Add fonts: Double-click any font file on your system and that file will open into Font Book. If you want that font to be installed, just click the Install Font button, and the font will be dropped into the user collection, unless you change it in Preferences.

Preview: To browse and choose fonts, choose Custom in the Preview menu, then type some sample text in the right-hand pane. Next, click on different fonts to compare. You can use the slider on the right to change the size.

User, Computer: These icons are located at the top of the Collection pane and show you which fonts are available, both to your account only and to all users. You can drag fonts from the main list to these icons.

Collections: Collections in Font Book are for grouping fonts together by subject, style, or category (just like playlists in iTunes or albums in iPhoto). This division makes fonts easier to browse, enable, disable, or export. If you want to create a new collection, press the “+” button.

Enable/Disable: With too many fonts running on your computer, font menus become impractically long, and your machine will run more slowly. To get around this problem, select fonts or collections you are not currently using, and choose one of the Edit – Disable options. You can also use the keyboard shortcut, Shift+Command Key+D, which disables selected fonts, or Shift+Command key+E, which disables selected collections. Obviously, you can enable disabled fonts again later.

Resolve Duplicates: Duplicate fonts can cause system instability. If you have more than one copy of a font installed on your system, the font in question will be marked with a little dot next to it. Select the font, then choose Edit – Resolve Duplicates.

Delete Fonts: If you want to send a font to the Trash, select it and click Remove font in the File menu.

Two-letter preview: Font file icons offer a two-letter preview in Finder, best seen in icons view, while the full font can quickly be previewed using QuickLook (Command key + Y).

Individual styles: To reveal the individual styles, such as bold and italic, click the arrow next to a font family name.

Don’t forget that Automator includes all sorts of options for Font Book, allowing you to filter, find, and otherwise speed up your type management..

Lost in Translation

When you send a document to someone, fonts are not generally included in the text. That’s why the document might look messy after it arrives at its destination. There are three common ways to avoid the mess:

  1. Creating a PDF file: The text will be displayed perfectly, but the recipient must have PDF installed, and sometimes it will be impossible to edit the text.
  2. Use common fonts, such as Arial and Times, if you want to send your recipients editable texts, no matter what type of computer they use, Mac or PC.
  3. Sending the fonts: You can send font files, and recipients can install them on their computer. This method may be convenient when you want the document to look the same on the recipient’s side. However, this may not work if the recipient has a PC, unless you are using an Open type font. You can create a new set of the relevant fonts by using Font Book and choosing File – Export Set…

Accents and Special Characters

Macs have a special-character input panel and a logical set of shortcut keys for entering accents, diacritics and other special characters.

Character Palette

Character Palette is OS X’s built-in feature which allows you to browse, find, and insert all kinds of special characters in most applications. You put the cursor where you want the character, select the character you want from the palette, and click Insert.

To open Character Palette, click the flag icon near the clock in the menu bar. Next, choose Show Character Palette. If no flag is there, open System Preferences from the Apple menu, select International – Input Menu, and then check the boxes next to Character Palette and Show input menu in menu bar.

To find a special character to match the font you’re using, select Glyph from the Character Palette’s View menu. Next, choose the font you need from under Glyph Catalog. To browse characters in all fonts, select All Characters from the View menu and browse by category. If the font doesn’t feature the special character you need, you could try to combine two separate characters if the application you’re using lets you alter the spacing (kerning) between them. You can also use Lucida Grande for a particularly wide range of characters.

Believe us, once you get used to the common special-character shortcuts, you’ll never look back.

In Microsoft Word you can use the built-in character palette. To use the palette, select Symbol from the Insert menu.

Apple Typography

These are some of Apple’s most popular fonts:

  • Myriad – used on ads, product literature, menus of some iPods, etc.
  • Lucida Grande – the system font in OS X, used in menus, windows, etc.
  • Garamond – the Mac branding font before Myriad.
  • Chicago & Charcoal – widely used in pre-OS Macs and older iPods.

If you get seriously into typography, you may want to download a third-party tool and replace Font Book.


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