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 simple dropping the font files into your Home – Library – Fonts folder or into Macintosh HD – Library – Fonts folder. Likewise, you can remove fonts you don’t like by dragging them out of these folders. If however you have to deal regularly with fonts, you’ll find it much easier to use a font-management tool, such a Font Book which comes with OS X and can be open from Applications. Font 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 it 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 the way in Preferences.

Preview: To browse and choose fonts, choose Custom in the Preview menu, type some sample text in the right-hand pane. And then 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 they show you which fonts are available, both to your account only and to all users. You can perfectly drag fonts from the main list to these icons.

Collections: Collections in Font Book are for grouping fonts together by subject, by style or by 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 “+” 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 shortcuts 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 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, italic and so on, click the arrow next to a font family name.

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

Lost in Translation

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

  1. Creating a PDF file. The text will display perfectly, but the recipient must have PDF installed and sometimes it will be impossible to edit the text.
  2. Using common fonts, such as Arial and Times, if you want to send your partners editable texts, no matter what computer they use, Mac or PC.
  3. Sending the fonts. You can send font files, and the recipients will install them on their computer. This method may be convenient when you want the document 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 fonts. 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 lets you browse, find and insert all kinds of special characters in your favorite fonts into 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. Then 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 in-built character palette. To use the palette, select Symbol from the Insert menu.

Apple Typography

These fonts are or used to be uppermost in Apple’s own font sack:

  • Myriad – used on ads, product literature, menus of some iPods, etc.
  • Lucida Grande – This is the system font in OS X, used in menus, windows, etc.
  • Garamond – This was 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-part tool and replace Font Book.


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