Snow Leopard, Adobe InDesign and Helvetica Neue

Posted by scottstoel on September 23, 2009 at 10:52 am.

The release of Snow Leopard brought a number of unexpected font issues, and one that I have been hearing about concerns Adobe InDesign, Helvetica Neue, and the system fonts that ship with Snow Leopard.

Everybody is familiar with issues of fonts activated in third-party font managers conflicting with OS X System fonts. The issue does not really become a problem until you decide to use a font that is a common design font, such as Helvetica or Helvetica Neue.

How InDesign handles the issue

Adobe InDesign offered a unique solution to this issue. Because the system fonts were dfonts, InDesign was set up in such a way that if you activated a PostScript font that conflicted with a System dfont, it would show the PostScript font and its activated styles in its font menu, and not reveal the styles offered by the dfont. It appeared that InDesign was smart enough to realize that PostScript fonts would be much preferred by designers over the dfont format, and adapted to fit a graphic designer’s workflow. Both Helvetica and Helvetica Neue, which shipped with Leopard, were .dfonts. This did not solve the issue for other applications, but InDesign, being a desktop publishing workhorse, took care of things on its end. All is well and good, right?

Then along came Snow Leopard. One of the surprises that arrived with the latest release of Mac OS X is that dfonts are virtually eliminated with the exception of Courier, Geneva, Helvetica, Monaco and Times. The rest of the fonts are either TrueType fonts or a format that has not been seen very often, TrueType Collection (.ttc). So in the case of Courier, Geneva, Helvetica, Monaco and Times, the experience using the dfonts will not change from Leopard to Snow Leopard. With those fonts shipped in Snow Leopard as True Type Collections, a new challenge awaits.

It is notable what font is no longer a dfont in the System fonts folder - Helvetica Neue. Snow Leopard ships with Helvetica Neue in True Type Collection format.

First, a little bit about True Type Collections

TrueType Collection is a TrueType format that allows combining many fonts into a single file. Fonts contained in a .ttc file have the advantage of sharing glyphs. This is helpful when you have several typefaces that would use the same glyph, such as the glyph for the copyright symbol (©), thus making the file size for the font much smaller. These fonts also were well-suited to the challenges of Asian language fonts which can use thousands of glyphs.

Apple included support of True Type Collections beginning with Mac OS 8.5.

While it is seen more often in the PC world than the Mac environment, this type of font is a rare bird. Some font managers do not even support the font format.

So? What’s the big deal?

The issue is now designers who have grown comfortable using Helvetica Neue PostScript with little or no problems in the past (at least in InDesign), are now upgrading to Snow Leopard and seeing very different behavior. PostScript styles that showed up just fine in InDesign on Leopard, now no longer show in the font menu under Snow Leopard.

If you had a full featured Helvetica Neue PostScript font, the listing of the System dfont in the InDesign font menu might look like this:


Note that the dfont has ten styles, but only four are listed because InDesign prefers the Helvetica Neue PostScript fonts that are activated in this case by a font manager, FontAgent Pro.

Below is what you will see in your InDesign font menu under Snow Leopard, even if you have a full-featured Helvetica Neue PostScript font activated.


Note: The additional styles available compared to having the dfont installed are highlighted. This will differ from user to user depending on what HelveticaNeue PS styles are activated, and if they do or do not have conflicting names. It’s also interesting that the .ttc font in Snow Leopard has one additional style compared to the dfont in Leopard - Medium.

For example if in the past you were using a font such as Linotype’s Helvetica Neue Light 45, it will no longer show because the HelveticaNeue.ttc font has the same style name. And because InDesign will only opt to prefer the Postscript over the dfont version, it displays the Helvetica Neue Light from the system and not the PostScript font, as InDesign did under Leopard.

What can be done?

Turns out not much. Snow Leopard ships with a feature that was introduced in Leopard: Protected Fonts. What happens is if you remove or replace one of these Protected Fonts, Mac OS X will automatically place them back in the System Fonts folder. According to Apple these fonts are necessary to the operation of the the operating system and Apple’s applications. Removing any of these fonts can cause erratic behavior such as crashes and bizarre display issues.

One option is…

Stop using Helvetica Neue

Honestly, if you are creating a project and you determine that there is no font that would work other than Helvetica Neue, you need to try harder. Helvetica is dead, and Helvetica by any other name (even if it is Helvetica Neue) is Helvetica. Time to move on. Apple made this font a system font in Mac OS X and if almost ten years of ranting against its inclusion as a system font has not changed their mind, nothing will.

Get a new version of Helvetica Neue

OK, so Helvetica Neue is a classic and versatile font and for me to dismiss it is not particularly cool. At least it is not Comic Sans, right?

Linotype offers a new OpenType version of Helvetica Neue that does not conflict with the version shipped with Mac OS X. The Linotype version of Helvetica Neue appears in your font lists with a tell tale “LT” after the name. This can be a god-send to those who do not want to use the system font version, but it will require you to update all your docs that use other versions of Helvetica Neue (and check for all the possible reflow issues associated with such changes), and you will have to be aware that that the system font version of the font will still appear in your font lists. But this move can be expensive, and if you already have a perfectly good version of Helvetica Neue that can be an unattractive option. But the bonus is, it solves the issue for all applications, not just InDesign.

For those who want to keep using their old PostScript fonts in InDesign, there is an additional option. Replacing the .ttc version with the dfont version that shipped with Leopard. But to so that we need to perform some Voodoo.

How to Disable Protected Fonts

We mentioned earlier that Mac OS X 10.5 up had a feature called Protected Fonts. To disable Protected Fonts for HelveticaNeue.ttc first need to navigate to the folder listed below:


and remove the HelveticaNeue.ttc font. I suggest archiving it in case you need to replace it in the future.

What you are doing is breaking the system’s ability to repair itself in the event System fonts become damaged or are deleted in error. This operation is not recommended by Apple.

Then drag the HelveticaNeue.dfont to the /System/Library/Fonts folder. You may receive an alert that the font conflicts with a font already installed. Allow the conflict.

Then remove HelveticaNeue.ttc font. You may receive an alert from the system that the font is necessary to the operation of the OS and that it will be restored. However, we have disabled this capability so it should not be able to do this.

I suggest that after doing this you clear your caches. This is not always necessary, but it might prevent another reboot if you have cache issues on restart.

To clear Snow Leopard system font caches, open Terminal (/Applications/Utilities/Terminal). Then copy and paste the line below into Terminal, then hit return.

sudo atsutil databases -removeUser

You will be prompted to enter your password. Type your password and hit return.

After the command has run, reboot.

These instructions are similar to what was done on System 10.5 to replace the Helvetica.dfont (and other system fonts) with a user preferred version, so this is not altogether uncharted territory. However, when you perform this you are doing so at your own peril.

The HelveticaNeue.dfont should be an adequate replacement for those apps that need it for their interface elements.

This does not solve the HelveticaNeue system font conflict, but from what I have seen, the environment will appear as it did in Leopard. And your Helvetica Neue PostScript fonts will be listed as they were in Leopard, at least when it comes to Adobe InDesign.