Fix Font Book Problems – Take Control of Font Problems in Mac OS X, Tiger Edition

Chapter . Fix Font Book Problems

It’s not always easy to differentiate general font problems from those caused by Font Book (see Table 4 for help with that)—which means it’s not all that clear what you should do about them, either. If you’re convinced that you have a Font Book problem but can’t pinpoint it, solutions for nonspecific problems follow immediately after this list of links. If you can pinpoint the problem a little—it seems connected to user-defined libraries, say, or the dots that mark duplicate fonts don’t seem to make sense—try the appropriate link from this list:

Nonspecific problems or Font Book crashes on opening

Many things can cause or contribute to general Font Book problems or an on-launch Font Book crash, but let’s assume it’s not a system-wide problem (and, if Font Book’s crashing, it’s the only thing that’s crashing on opening).

Here’s the drill (feel free to combine steps like deleting groups of files, and stop at any point your problem’s solved!):

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Those simple instructions sold twice as much shampoo as anyone really needed, but you should repeat this “delete the plist, delete the font caches, restart” trilogy after each suggestion below because using Font Book while things are still going wrong can (re)corrupt its plist, and doing anything while fonts are naughty can ruin the new system font caches.

  • Check for corrupt fonts and suitcases. As usual, it’s a last-in, most-suspect situation. Take out the suspects; sequester the whole ~/Library/Fonts folder as a quick test.

  • Delete collection and library fcaches. Nothing happens to the collections or libraries themselves, as described in Collections or user libraries misbehave.

  • Delete collection and library files. If you have extensive collections and user libraries and don’t want to rebuild them, you can move them out of ~/Library/FontCollections temporarily to see if their absence improves things. The files are described in Collections or user libraries misbehave.

  • Delete files used in common with Font panel. These files, and are also in ~/Library/FontCollections.

  • Follow the flowchart in Figure 5. If nothing has worked so far, jump into the flowchart with the step Start up in Safe Mode and continue from there.

A font isn’t in the expected folder or library after you install it

This is almost always (okay, always, no almost) a user error—or at least a misunderstanding, usually caused by Font Book’s potentially confusing Default Installation Location menu or its less-than-crystal-clear Collection list:

  • The Default Installation menu: The pop-up menu (in Font Book > Preferences) includes “Computer.” If you know that the Computer item in the Collection list shows fonts from both the Library Fonts folder (/Library/Fonts) and the System Fonts folder (/System/Library/Fonts), you may think that you’re installing to the System Fonts folder if you choose Computer as your default. However, any font “aimed” at Computer winds up in /Library/Fonts. This should be easy to remember—once you’re aware of it—because you should never put any extra fonts in the System Fonts folder.

  • The Collection list: Even when you’ve figured out which fonts you’ll see listed in the Collection list (see Figure 6), where a font goes can still be confusing if you drag it directly to an item in that list (or if you drop it into the Font list), because so few of the items represent a single, specific location. Table 5 (which I “borrowed” from the companion ebook Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X), shows where fonts wind up based on the Font Book “target.”

    The All Fonts item at the top of Font Book’s Collection list lets you see all the fonts you have installed. The next three items in this picture are built-in font libraries; User and Classic Mac OS directly represent Fonts folders, but Computer shows a combined listing for the System Fonts and the Library Fonts folders. My Xtras and Newsletter fonts are user-defined libraries; the two items below the divider are Font Book collections.

    Figure 6. 

    Table 5. Font Destinations



    All Fonts

    Default install folder





    Classic Mac OS

    /System Folder/Fonts

    User-defined library

    Font file remains in original location


    Default install folder

    Font list

    Current item in the Collection list

Tip: Whoops! When You Drop a Font in the Wrong Place...

If you drag a font file into Font Book and drop it on the wrong spot, you don’t have to go back to the Desktop and grab it again. You can drag it, using the Font list, from one spot to another. This picture shows Optima already in the Computer library (note Computer is selected in the Collection list), and being dragged into the User library. As with any Font Book font installation, a copy of the font is placed in the new location, so after you drop it where you really want it, select it from the “wrong” place and delete it.

Font Book can’t see a font in a Fonts folder

You know the font is in the folder because you see it. And you looked in a Tiger Fonts folder, not an application’s Fonts folder. Assuming the font is a supported type and there’s nothing wrong with the font file itself, consider the following causes and solutions:

  • If you previously deleted the font from within Font Book: The file itself may not have been removed, but Font Book isn’t listing it because you told it to remove the font—so it removed the font from the list but not from the folder. This happens with /System/Library/Fonts, and with /Library/Fonts if you don’t have administrative privileges. You have to manually remove the file from the folder and install the font again, as described below.

A font is listed in the User library but not in All Fonts

This is, of course, logically impossible, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen; Delete Font Book’s plist.

The Font list shows a double listing for the same font

This is not the same as a duplicate font; this is a problem that lists exactly the same font (you can check the file location in Info view) more than once. If simply closing and reopening Font Book doesn’t fix it, Delete Font Book’s plist.

The preview area displays the wrong font

Sometimes this is just a window refresh problem, and a previously selected font remains in the preview area: just click another font and then come back to the one you really want to see. If the problem persists (Figure 7), Delete Font Book’s plist.

When a Sample view doesn’t match the font you’ve selected in the Font list, Font Book is very confused. This screenshot shows part of the Info view in this situation: the font is identified as Lucida Handwriting Italic (which was selected in the Font list), but the full path in Location shows the file being accessed is Gloucester MT Extra Condensed, the font that was showing in the Sample view.

Figure 7. 

The preview area shows nothing in Sample view, and you can’t type anything in Custom view

Since the sample view shows the basic Roman alphanumerics, it displays nothing when you select a font without these Roman characters. Unless you switch to an appropriate input keyboard for a non-Roman font, you’re typing nonexistent Roman characters in Custom view. So, nothing is actually wrong—this is the way it’s supposed to work.

The Classic library isn’t listed

If Classic is installed on your Mac but there’s no Classic library in Font Book’s Collection list:

  1. Quit Font Book.

  2. Go to the Start/Stop tab of the Classic preference pane.

  3. Click the Start button.

  4. Close Preferences.

  5. Relaunch Font Book.

There’s no Removal confirm dialog

If you use a Remove command or hit Delete, and fonts, collections, or libraries disappear without your Mac double-checking with you, then the remove warning has been turned off. You turn it off by checking Do Not Ask Me Again in the confirm dialog when you remove a font; then, of course, you can’t uncheck it because the dialog never shows up again. The fix is to Delete Font Book’s plist.

Your disabled fonts are re-enabled

If you open Font Book and find all your disabled fonts have become enabled again, it’s not necessarily a problem with Font Book—it could be a feature. Two standard troubleshooting routines result in all fonts being re-enabled:

Both procedures erase your user account’s font caches. As a result, Font Book no longer knows which fonts were disabled, and on your next startup, which should follow immediately after each of these procedures, everything’s enabled. (In initial versions of Tiger’s Font Book, deleting Font Book’s plist also re-enabled all disabled fonts.)

You can’t prevent this, but you can make it easier on yourself if you create a Font Book collection that holds all the fonts that you usually keep disabled, so you can turn them all back on in one fell swoop.

A TrueType font is marked as disabled in Font Book but shows up in Font menus

This happens with older TrueType fonts in “multifamily” suitcases: font files with more than font family inside. The fonts in these mixed suitcases can’t be disabled reliably. See Excerpt 2: Update Legacy Fonts for more information about organizing suitcases properly.

Duplicate-dot dilemmas in the Font list

Sometimes the dot-marked duplicates in Font Book don’t seem to make sense but, in fact, are working perfectly. (Font Book doesn’t mark every copy of a duplicate font as a duplicate: it considers the one it’s using as the original, and any additional copy is a duplicate.)

  • When a family or faces are marked as duplicates but only one copy is listed, you are likely looking at a subset of your font collection. In this picture, Computer is the selected library so the duplicates in the User library aren’t shown in the Font list.

  • This listing, with All Fonts selected, presents a puzzle: two different typefaces are showing, yet one is marked as a duplicate. This is a result of some misnaming in older font files. Note the font name is Arial Rounded Bold, which means the base font face is already bold. The older file’s embedded information identifies the face as Bold, while the newer file correctly identifies it as Regular. Despite the differing naming conventions, the fonts are the same, so one is correctly identified as a duplicate.

  • This triple Courier listing is confusing for two reasons: one font file has more typefaces than the other, and it also identifies its base font by a different name. Two of these three Courier copies have only Regular and Bold faces; these happen to be the ones marked as duplicates. The active font has two additional faces—Bold Oblique and Oblique—and identifies its base font as Plain rather than Regular.

Note: Duplicate Fonts Are Not Identical

Except sometimes. As far as Mac OS X is concerned, if two fonts have the same name, they’re duplicates. One might be a TrueType and the other an OpenType font. One might be version 1.0 and the other 3.4. It doesn’t matter: if they have the same name, they’re duplicates. (Changing the file’s name usually makes no difference—the “real” font name is embedded in the font—which means that files with different names might still be treated as duplicates.)

Resolving duplicates disables every copy of a font

If you use Font Book’s Edit > Resolve Duplicates command with a font family name selected, it correctly disables all but the copies uppermost in the font-use hierarchy (see The font access order). But the command acts on all selected typefaces in a family, so if the family name is expanded and you select all the typeface copies, or if you’ve used Select All in the Font list and some (or all) of the families are expanded, you’ll wind up with all copies of a font disabled.

Multiple fonts or typefaces disappear when one is removed

Two situations trigger this seeming bug (but it’s a feature, really):

  • You had a typeface selected, but it was part of a file (usually a Mac TrueType) that included several other typefaces.

  • You deleted a PostScript Type 1 file whose bitmapped suitcase companion (deleted along with it) had more than one font family in it.

In both cases, removing the one font you selected in the Font list moved the entire file and all its contents to the Trash.

A font doesn’t show up in Font Book (or menus) after you’ve added it to a folder that you’ve defined as a user library

The issue here is that you can’t define a folder as a user library—you can only define fonts as part of a user library. If you dragged a folder from the Finder into Font Book to either create a library or add fonts to an existing one, it’s only the fonts that count, not the folder. So, adding a font file to that folder does nothing as far as Font Book is concerned.

Drag the font file directly to the User library in Font Book’s Collection list to add it to the library. You can do this before or after you put it in the folder, since Font Book keeps track of user-library font files if you move them.

Library contents disappear when the library is renamed

This one’s not a feature, it’s a bug. The library contents are not lost, however; closing and reopening Font Book displays them again.

Collections or user libraries misbehave

These symptoms can vary widely, and may be limited to a single collection or user-defined library, or affect many of them. Collections are more prone to problems because they’re altered more often. Symptoms include:

  • The collection/library doesn’t display newly added fonts.

  • The Font list for the collection/library changes even though you haven’t added or deleted anything.

  • A collection/library name disappears from the Collection list, intermittently or permanently. (If this is the only symptom, check Collections or user libraries disappear..., next.)

  • Selecting a collection/library displays the fonts from a different collection/library.

  • Clicking on an item in the Collection list makes Font Book quit.

If you Delete Font Book’s plist the problems might clear up, but it’s likely you need a more targeted fix.

Font Book stores library and collection information in ~/Library/FontCollections. There’s a .library file for every user-defined library, and a .collection file for each collection. In addition, there’s a .fcache file for any library or collection that’s frequently changed. Any of these files can get corrupted and cause all sorts of problems. These files affect only Font Book organization; deleting them does not affect your fonts in any way.

The (almost) sure cure is to trash this entire folder—a new one is created as soon as you open Font Book again—but you may not want to lose all your Font Book organization if it’s not necessary. In that case, you can try to solve the problem in a tiered fashion:

  1. Quit Font Book.

  2. Remove all the .fcache files from ../FontCollections and test Font Book again. If it works, you’re done. Otherwise continue with:

  3. Remove the .collection or .library files from ../FontCollections that are related to the specific collection or user library that’s giving you trouble. If that works, you’re done. But, if the problems persist:

  4. Bite the bullet and get rid of the ../FontCollections folder.

If you use the Font panel in Apple applications and want to preserve its Favorites and Recently Used lists, leave the folder in place and delete all the files except and

Note: Odd Icons in FontCollections Folders

The icons in ~/Library/FontCollections are supposed to be unadorned, generic, corner-folded-down document icons. Installing Adobe Creative Suite 2 changed all my .collection icons in the FontCollections folder to this attractive but misleading icon. There’s no effect on how the files function, so if you see something like this, be annoyed but don’t be worried.

Collections or user libraries disappear from the Collection list

When a collection or user library disappears from the Collection list, it could be a privileges problem with the folder where they’re stored:

  1. In the Finder, select the folder ~/Library/FontCollections.

  2. Chose File > Get Info (Command-I).

  3. Under Ownership and Permissions, make sure Read and Write is selected.

If your permissions were not set to this privilege before, your Collection list should behave properly after this. Otherwise, verify that you didn’t mistakenly delete the folder ~/Library/FontCollections. If that’s not the problem, you might find help in the previous entry, Collections or user libraries misbehave, about dealing with specific collection and library files in this folder.