Man who made Helvetica famous dies

“It is not a letter that’s bent to shape; it’s a letter that lives in a powerful matrix of surrounding space,” Mike Parker said. “It’s — oh, it’s brilliant when it’s done well.”

Mike Parker, considered the “godfather” of the Helvetica font, died on Sunday, February 23.

NBC Universal in trouble with fonts again

It seems that NBC Universal is in hot water again concerning unauthorized use of fonts.

According to the Hollywood Reporter article, Brand Design alleges that its records show NBCU subsidiary Oxygen Media purchased a “basic, 36 workstation (users) license to use the CHALET typeface font software.”

While they had a basic license, they did not have the rights to use the typeface on their websites, and used Font Squirrel’s utility to convert the font for web use.

NBC Universal is being sued for $3.5 for allegedly breaching copyrighted font software on the its websites.

Read more about this story here.

FontGeek on Computer America

I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest on Craig Crossman’s Computer America August 5th. We covered a lot of basics during my hour and a half stint. To listen to the show, visit Craig’s archive page and click on the Friday, August 5 link.

Safari vs. your font manager

With the release of Lion, some users are encountering a seemingly bizarre font problem where the text is replaced with a series of “boxy” letters like the example below:


In the past when we have seen this issue, it was usually attributable to corrupt font caches, but that can be easily remedied in most situations by clearing font caches with an app like Smasher.

This new issue with Safari appears because Webkit (the engine under Safari and Chrome) now has “sandbox” restrictions that allow read-only permissions to certain folders. This in and of itself is not harmful, but most often the locations where most font mangers store their fonts are not included in the list.

The “boxy” letters are actually characters from the font Last Resort. Last Resort is a Mac OS X font that is invisible Mac users, but is used by the system to display glyphs that are not available in any other font activated on the system, thus the name Last Resort. The symbols provided by Last Resort place glyphs into categories based on their location in the Unicode system and provide a clue to the user about which encoding is required to view the unavailable characters. The glyphs provided by Last Resort are square with rounded corners with a bold outline.

It appears that when a user activates a font in their font manager, Safari is aware of the activation of the font, and attempts to use it, but because the application does not have read permissions to the font, it displays Last Resort. Safari does not have access to the font file for proper display.

What this means is that if you are using a font manager to handle activation and deactivation of your fonts, any font activated by the manager can exhibit this annoying behavior in Safari if the page viewed includes any of those fonts.

What to do?

To resolve this issue, FontGeek suggests switching to another browser, such as Firefox, that does not hobble your workflow.

It is ridiculous that an application like Safari cannot allow display of fonts activated by the user though a third-party application. There are few in the design profession that don’t use a font manager, and most regard the tool as absolutely necessary for their work. This is probably the biggest slap in the face to the graphic designer community since the insistence of the inclusion of Helvetica as a required system font.

A workaround…

If you wish to continue using Safari you can edit the preferences of the application using the instructions below.

Note: Proceed with caution. Editing the default preferences of an application is not recommended. If you are not familiar with editing preference files this may cause unintended consequences. Also, the example listed below is for FontAgent Pro. If you use a different font manager, insert the path to where your font manager stores its fonts.

Edit the file listed below. You will need administrative privileges to perform the operation.

/System/Library /PrivateFrameworks/WebKit2.framework/

After the line that contains the text below:

(home-subpath “/Library/Fonts”)

insert the text below:

(home-subpath “/FontAgent Pro Fonts”)
(home-subpath “/Library/FontAgent Pro”)
(subpath “/Library/FontAgent Pro”)

Quit and restart Safari, and text in the browser should now appear as intended.

A special thanks goes out to fellow FontGeek Erik Tollefsrud for nailing down this issue.

Can Comic Sans make you smarter?

Comic Sans has more than a few detractors, but according to this article, it may improve learning.

The article claims that harder to read fonts significantly improve readers ability to remember the content of material they read. It goes further to say that easy to read fonts could make your brain lazy.

Something tells me that this won’t silence any of the typeface’s critics. But as a designer, I am going to find an “ugly” alternative to Comic Sans as soon as possible.

Find fonts used in a InDesign document using AppleScript

One of the challenges in a font-based workflow is the difficulty determining what fonts are used in a document without launching the document. Many times in InDesign you can use the Package command, which will save a report of the assets used in the creation of the document. This command is commonly used when collecting document assets for a service provider, but not used in most designer’s day to day operations.

Unless you integrate that feature into your workflow, you are required to launch InDesign, open the document, and use the Find Fonts command to access a comprehensive list of the fonts used in the document. Depending on the size of the file, this can take a while. If your document uses many fonts the Find Font dialog window does not expand so you can easily examine the whole list.

AppleScript offers us another way. In this post we are going to instruct you on how to use a script we developed at FontGeek that allows you to get a list of all the fonts used in an InDesign document without having to launch the document, or even have InDesign installed on your system, and then save a report if you wish.

First download the compressed AppleScript application here, then unzip the file.


Then drag and drop an InDesign doc onto the script icon. You will be prompted with the message below:


Click OK and the script will search through the InDesign document, gather the fonts used into a list and display them for your examination.


At this point you can dismiss the dialog, or save a copy of the report to the location of your choosing with any name you wish. The report can be read with most any text editor.

This script does have some limitations, such as only processing one document at a time. Also if no fonts are used in the document, the script simply lists no fonts. In short, this script could be made both “smarter” and “prettier” but it is still a very useful tool to bring more transparency to your workflow.

The script is provided as is, which means you are using the script at your own risk, and I will not answer emails for support. I am happy to answer any questions you might have and you can reach me at my email,

Stay tuned to FontGeek for more about using AppleScript to automate font-related workflows.

Installing TTX for the command-line challenged

In an earlier post, we showed you how to use TTX, an open source font editor, to rename a font in order to avoid font conflicts. This can be helpful because your operating system and your applications recognize fonts by name and name alone, and on occasion you may need to activate a font which conflicts with an installed system font. So even if you have two very different versions of a font, but they have the same name, the operating system cannot discern between them.

The biggest hurdle for most people, is that TTX is a command line tool, which adds one layer of difficulty, but the method of installation, which is very obvious to those acquainted with Python, is not readily apparent to the technologically challenged. But once the steps are explained, and carefully followed, you will get access to a powerful tool for editing fonts.

Why TTX?

First, TTX is free.

Secondly, when you process your fonts using TTX, there is no behind the scenes mystery to what is happening with the fonts. TTX is a tool to convert OpenType and TrueType fonts to and from XML. You could use tools like FontLab Studio or Fontographer to make changes to your fonts, but it is not always transparent what is happening to your fonts during this process. In short, changes made in those applications may include something you not readily apparent in the processed font. TTX is the least invasive option for those seeking to make simple (and sometimes very complex) changes in your font files.

Getting started

First you will need to have Xcode installed, and a download link to the version you require can be found here. Make sure you download the correct version for your OS, as the development tools for Snow Leopard cannot be installed on Leopard.

Then download TTX. A link to the files needed can be found here. Once downloaded, decompress the file and move the folder to the root level of your hard drive.

Next, launch Terminal, which can be found in the Utilities folder in your Applications folder.

Then at the prompt type “cd” (no quotes) and a space, then drag the fonttools folder onto the Terminal window. Terminal will automatically add the path to the folder, which saves us from possible typing errors. What you entered should look something like the line below:

cd /fonttools-2.3\ 3

If you would like to see a list of the contents of the folder in Terminal, just type “ls” (once again, no quotes) at the prompt, or just open the folder in Finder.

Now in Terminal, type the line below (or copy and paste)

sudo python install

What this command does is run the installer in the fonttools folder ( The command “sudo” (pronounced soo-doo) means you are running the command as the superuser, which is a special user account used to administer your Mac (or any Unix/Linux system). Because you are running the command as the superuser, you will be required to enter an administrator password. The item “install” is an option telling the setup script what to do.

After you have the command inserted at the prompt, hit return, then enter your password and hit return again.

If all is well, the Terminal will spit back a bunch of information describing what the script is doing, mainly that it is moving files to the locations needed to run TTX.

You are ready to roll

Once installed, your are ready to run TTX. To find out the options you can use with TTX, just type in “ttx” (still no quotes) in Terminal and it will list them all.

There are a lot of things you can do with TTX, including the post mentioned earlier on how to rename fonts with TTX here.

Hopefully, this article lowered a barrier of entry for those looking to work with TTX. It is a powerful tool, and like all powerful tools, it gives you the capability of really messing things up, so always back up your font files before getting too deep in editing them.

Top 50 Font Countdown

As a designer, I am always interested in what other fonts people are using and what is new in the world of type. offers two different lists for you to find out what is hot in type. They are a pair of Top 50 countdowns, except instead of music, they show what the best selling typefaces are.

The first is a Top-50 list of their best-selling fonts from the previous month. As expected there are a lot of classics in that list including Helvetica, Swiss and Frutiger. While this is interesting it certainly does not get us close to the leading edge of font design.

They have a second list however, Hot New Fonts, that lists the best selling fonts new to MyFonts in the last 50 days. On this list are some fresh offerings from smaller font foundries that you may not have seen.

If you are looking for some fresh faces (typefaces, that is) for your latest project, this is a great place to start.

Are open source fonts an option for designers?

One of the most challenging font issues facing designers and enterprises today is licensing. Many don’t understand or realize that a fonts, like any piece of software, is licensed and how fonts are used are often part of the terms of that license

Font licensing is not standard across foundries and the terms of the license are often byzantine requiring a team of lawyers to help you decipher how a font can be used.

But what if there was a way around dealing with font licensing issues all together? This is where open source fonts come in.

In the past many fonts offered as open source were, to put it kindly, not ready for prime time. But as the open source font movement has matured the quality of fonts under these licenses is getting better all the time.

What does open source mean?

The Open Font License was created to make collaboration on font projects easier for academic and linguistic communities. But one of the side benefits for end users is that these fonts can be used anywhere, free of charge.

This applies only to fonts that use this license. It is not safe to assume that any font offered as “free” is automatically under this license. Many fonts offered as “free” are offered free for personal use and if you wish to use it commercially you need to buy a license. You will need to read the fine print, but in most cases sites offering open source fonts are very up front about their licensing. You can do an online search for “open source fonts” and see what I mean. But if a font has an Open Font License, there is no limit to the way you can use it in your graphic projects.

So what are the downsides?

As mentioned earlier the quality for open source fonts is vastly improved. One of the more vocal proponents of the open source font movement, The League of Moveable Type, offers 12 very nice typefaces (and is looking to add more) including several display and text fonts.

But in a world where designers are used to typefaces with 30+ different styles such as Adobe’s Myriad Pro, which covers the gamut from regular to semi-bold-semi-extended-italic, the breadth of styles offered by most open source fonts is lacking. Many offer only one style, or if you are lucky, a roman and an italic font. For projects that call for a nice display font, you may find a good open source alternative. If you need more versatility in your typefaces, you might be hard pressed to find on in the open source world.

But as the movement continues, and because of the collaborative nature of the open source fonts, we will see more full-featured fonts. It is only a matter of time.

Using TTX to rename fonts

One of the most problematic issues associated with font management is how to manage font conflicts. Font conflicts come about when you activate a font with the same name as a font that is currently activated. If you have seen an alert like the one below you know what I am talking about.


Your operating system and your applications recognize fonts by name and name alone. So even if you have two very different versions of a font, but they have the same name, the operating system cannot discern between them.

This font name has nothing to so with the font in question’s file name. If the issue were that easy we could rename fonts in the Finder and the problem would be solved. It just isn’t that easy.

There are tools available that allow you to rename a font, such as FontLab Studio or Fontographer, but those tools can be cost prohibitive and oftentimes might not be worth the investment to make changes on just a handful of fonts.

There is an option in the open source world that can help. FontTools/TTX is a tool that converts OpenType and TrueType fonts to XML and back again. You can download FontTools/TTX here.

FontTools/TTX is a command line tool that once set up can be very easy to use. In our example we are going to use an OpenType version of Helvetica Neue Roman.


Ordinarily, activating this font in a third-party font manager would result in an alert that the font conflicts with the Helvetica Neue font that resides in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder. What we are going to do is change the internal name of the font so it will no longer conflict with the system version of the font and can appear in our font menus, along with the system version of Helvetica Neue.

Since TTX is a command line tool, we will need to launch Terminal, which is found in the Utilities folder in your Applications folder.

Once you launch Terminal, type “ttx” (no quotes) and  space, then drag the font from the Finder into the Terminal window. Terminal will automatically add the path to the font file. The results in in the Terminal will look like the screenshot below:


Once the path is added, hit return. TTX dumps the font tables into XML and saves the file in the same folder containing the original font.


This new .ttx file can be viewed in any text editor. In our example we are going to use TextEdit.

Once the file is open in TextEdit we need to find the name of the font. The quickest way to find this is to search the document for “fullname” (no quotes). If your search is successful you will find a line like the one below:


This is the name of the font as it appears in the font menus.

The next step is to carefully select the font name inside the quotes. Then, we want to replace all the instances of where the previous name is referred to with our own. I opted to annotate the name with two letters “FG,” so the new font will be named “HelveticaNeueFG” and appear in our application’s font menus as such.

In order to do this we use TextEdit’s Find and Replace feature to change every instance of the name as shown in the screenshot below:


Once you have entered our search and replace criteria, select “Replace All.”

Note: If your font has a name that would commonly be used in a font file such as “Glyph” or “Asterisk” you may get some unwanted text replacement and possibly produce an unusable .ttx file. In these cases you should manually scroll through the font file and replace the instances where the name listed.

Then save the file. Make sure it is saved as plain text with the extension .ttx. I also opted to change the font file name in order to differentiate the font from the original in the Finder.


Because TTX is smart enough to know the difference between a font file and an XML file, we can run the same command we used earlier to convert the XML file to a font. To do this, Open Terminal, type in “ttx” (no quotes) at the prompt with a space, then drag the newly created .ttx file into the Terminal window.


TTX converts the XML to a new OpenType font file in the same folder as a .ttx file.


The newly created font can be added to one of your system font folders or to a third-party font manager and be activated without conflict.

The font will now also appear in your font menus under it’s new name, as it appears in Adobe InDesign in the screenshot below.


While this is not an ideal solution, and there are certain problems that will be created  if you rename fonts in this manner (such as possibly violating the terms of your font license agreement), this is one way to address issues such as one reported in an earlier FontGeek post concerning Snow Leopard, InDesign and Helvetica Neue.

Note: I mentioned earlier in this post that TTX is easy to use once it is installed. I did not have any luck using the binary installer available on the download page and only got the app installed after downloading the source files, running the python install script, then running TTX and moving the files to the locations required on the drive as I ran into error messages. While this was somewhat difficult, I did get it to finally run.

Another Note: Since this article was posted, we have added a new post that guides you through the steps of installing TTX that hopefully will take some of the pain away. That post can be found here.