Use Your Own Choice of Notes Font – Mac Kung Fu, 2nd Edition

Tip 60Use Your Own Choice of Notes Font

Many OS X apps try to look like real-life equivalents. For this reason the Notes app defaults to a font called Noteworthy, intended to look like handwriting, but which many people find irritatingly hard to read. There are two ways to change the typeface, depending on your needs.

  • While writing a note, you can switch to any font you’d like by hitting Command+T, which will open the Fonts palette, where you can also choose bold and italic text if need be. This will affect only the note you’re currently writing.

  • To change the default font used to display all notes that have had no text formatting applied, which will be nearly all of them, you can click FormatFontDefault Font and choose from three choices: Noteworthy, Marker Felt (a similar handwriting style font), and Helvetica.

If you find the default choice of fonts to be not to your tastes, you can personalize them by tweaking a configuration file, as outlined next. This allows any font to be used as the default within Notes. The steps modify system files, and this tip therefore affects all users of the computer. Ensure you have an up-to-date Time Machine backup. Like all tips that involve hacking system files, you might find your changes reverted to the defaults if you install a major operating system update. The solution is simply to repeat the steps.

Changing the Default Display Font

Here’s how to alter the choice of default fonts. Start by quitting Notes if it’s open, and then follow these steps:

  1. Open Finder, and then hit Shift+Command+G. In the dialog that appears, type the following before clicking the Go button:


    In the list of files you see, hold Command, and then click and drag DefaultFonts.plist to the desktop to create a copy of it.

  2. Create a separate, second backup copy of the DefaultFonts.plist file somewhere safe on your hard disk. We’ll revert to this file should anything go wrong or if we want to restore default settings later.

  3. Then double-click the DefaultFonts.plist file on the desktop, which should open it in TextEdit.

  4. The file looks complicated, but don’t worry about it. We’re going to swap one of the three default choices mentioned earlier for a choice of our own. I assume you’re reading this tip because you’d like to swap out the default Noteworthy font, so that’s the one we’ll change! Therefore, move the cursor to the eighth line from the top, which reads as follows:


    And over-type the font of your choice, although you should type the font name without any spaces between the words. For example, should you want to use the American Typewriter font, you should change the line so it reads as follows:


    You can hit Command+T to open the Fonts palette, which will list all the fonts by name (although don’t attempt to change the font of the file you’re editing!). See Figure 14, Editing a config file to change the default Notes font for a completed example from my system, where I’ve specified the Lucida Grande font (that is, the same font used by OS X for its icons and menus).

    Figure 14. Editing a config file to change the default Notes font
  5. If you want, you can also alter the point size mentioned two lines beneath this in the <integer> field. A replacement value of 20 will make the font slightly larger.

  6. You can also alter the style of the font to bold or italics, assuming the font includes such a character set (most do). Just type either Bold or Italic after the font name, separated by a dash (if the font offers choices like Narrow or Condensed, you can specify these too in the same way). For example, if I wanted to change the font to Bold Arial Narrow, I’d change the line to read <string>ArialNarrow-Bold</string>.

  7. Save the file, close TextEdit, and then drag and drop it over the Finder window you opened earlier, showing the en.lproj folder. You’ll be asked to authenticate, so type your password when prompted. You’ll also have to select to replace the original file when the dialog box appears offering the option.

Start the Notes app, and the changes should take effect immediately. Remember that you can still switch between fonts using the FormatFontDefault Font option, although the choice of Noteworthy will now be replaced by your personalized choice.

Restoring the Original Font Choice

The default font choices can be restored by quitting Notes and following these steps:

  1. Navigate to where the backup DefaultFonts.plist file is stored, select it, and hit Command+C to copy it.

  2. Follow step 1 in the earlier instructions to open the en.lproj folder, and then tap Command+V to paste the original DefaultFonts.plist file back into place. Again, you’ll be asked to confirm you want to overwrite the original and also asked to authenticate by providing your password.

As before, the changes should take effect immediately, so restart Notes. Your choice of font might still be visible, but you can finish restoring things to the default settings by selecting Noteworthy from the FormatFontDefault Font menu. Once you’re sure things are working correctly, you can then delete the backup of the DefaultFonts.plist file.