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Font is probably the single greatest cause of four-letter-word
tantrums in print production. Fonts are certainly the greatest
cause of printing-file disasters.

At my shop, we have threatened to ban every font except Helvetica.
But then we realized we have several hundred versions of
Helvetica, and we couldn't figure out which one to keep. Not that
it was a terribly practical idea of course. After all, even printproduction
operators who get burned by bad fonts on a daily
basis don't really want to live in a single type-style world.

The font-management

Why can't such a simple
thing as a set of code for the
characters of the alphabet
be made to work on some of
the world's most sophisticated
computers? One reason
is that there are tens of
thousands of fonts available,
a number that's growing
daily. Plus, not everyone
who creates fonts is completely conversant with how they should
be made”?and many are not all that concerned about whether
they can actually be output on a PostScript printer.

There are other reasons, too. Designers simply love to play
with and manipulate type in programs like Fontographer. Software
manufacturers feed font-junkie's habits by allowing them
to create increasingly sophisticated special effects. In addition,
there are fonts written for special needs (like dingbats and
braille fonts), special languages (like Japanese and Farsi), and
even special applications (like scientific and musical notations).

More insidious than font designers, however, are operating system
designers who continually upgrade the products we use
daily. The rules of the game are constantly changing. Imagine, if
you will, 10 players on a basketball court, all playing with a different
set of rules: The center is playing by New York State High
School rules, the guards and forwards are playing by NBA rules,
but anyone who comes in off the bench must play by WBA rules.
Of course, at halftime everyone must switch to a different set of
rules”?and when you are playing on the left side of the court
you use the rules adopted in 1975, and when you play on the
right side of the court, you play by 2005 rules. How would you
like to referee that game?


This is not unlike the situation that the poor developers of font management
utilities have to face. All of the players use different
rules, and the referee”?in our case, that poor font-management
utility”?needs to make everything make sense and keep the
game flowing. And, don't forget, in print production, there are literally
thousands of players, not just two teams of five.

Over the years, we have witnessed the creation of TrueType,
PostScript (and the various PS versions), and OpenType fonts”?
and we're not done yet. Apple, for instance, introduced dfonts
when it released OS X; these are essentially TrueType fonts that
have the binary code built in. If you recall Apple's System 9,
when you loaded a PostScript font you actually needed two
pieces”?one for the screen rendering and one for the printer. In
OS X, you don't need two pieces.

The great thing about the dfonts is that they are completely
cross-platform compatible, as are OpenType fonts. PostScript
fonts, however”?which are what most people in print production
actually use”?still utilize the old architecture. While OS X can
handle that problem seamlessly, there are still problems when
you try to use PC fonts (Mac PostScript and PC PostScript fonts
have a different file structure) and when you operate in Classic
mode. And when Quark 6.0 came out, there were some important
details of Apple's new font-handling scheme that Quark
didn't completely write into its code. After several false starts,
Quark 6.5 and Mac OS X 10.3.7 now combine to solve most of
those problems.

Easing your pain

A few utilities make handling fonts less painful: Extensis Suitcase,
Font Reserve, and FontAgent Pro, to name three. Font
Reserve and Suitcase have been mainstays in the prepress
front-end arsenal for Macs and PCs; for my money, the current
version of FontAgent Pro has the fewest problems, although this
is a Mac-only application. Adobe Type Manager is also a popular
type-management tool on the PC side, but Adobe chose not to
port the program to OS X”?possibly because Apple released its
own font-management utility called Font Book, even though this
isn't considered an industrial-strength solution.

For Mac users, another solution is a $10 shareware product
called Font Cache Cleaner, recently renamed Font Finagler
(available from
You may also want to consider an overall system
cleaner such as OnyX, a freeware that's available from www.tita (not related to Onyx Graphics).


A warning here to PC users: A multitude of cheap font collections
are available for PCs, as are some very inexpensive fontmanagement
utilities. While some of these may be fine, a good
rule of thumb is to avoid them like the plague. Stick with known
products and reputable font designers and studios. If you want
to spend time researching the companies you can trust, more
power to you”?but consider if you can really afford to risk all the
pain that a bad font can cause. And now that Macs can use PC
fonts, this warning also applies to Mac users.

Mac OS X users need to be aware of some other considerations
as well. For instance, when you open and close fonts, there
are little bits of data that may not follow instructions”?particularly
if you are jumping back and forth in Classic mode, or dealing
with a very large number of fonts in a variety of programs.
Think of the poor ref in the aforementioned imaginary basketball
game; it's a wonder that things work as smoothly as they do!
Mac OS X users also should get rid of the large number of
excess fonts that OS X automatically seeks to install on your
system. There are actually six locations for fonts in OS X, so the
process can be a bit involved.

A rowdy bunch

PC users should keep in mind that much of the final output is
still done from Macs, and some Mac and PC fonts are not as
cross-platform as you might think. For true cross-platform interoperability,
OpenType is a good choice. Whether you are upgrading
your font collection on either Mac or PC platforms, give careful
consideration to going with the OpenType solution.

For OS X users, a good combination would be Apple's font
management in OS X 10.3.7, a robust font-management utility
like FontAgent Pro, and a cache-cleaning utility such as Font
Finagler, and the freeware OnyX. With that package, you have a
pretty good chance of controlling what could be a very rowdy
bunch of four letter words.

Stephen Beals ([email protected]), in prepress production
for more than 30 years, is the digital prepress manager
with Finger Lakes Press in Auburn, NY.




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