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What Are Fonts
Fonts are important. These are the look of your letters. Your choice of font can say more than the words themselves. As photographer I use special fonts in my bug which is the © notice on my photos. I could use a street font like Arial. This makes me look like an amateur. Instead I use Univers 67 oblique, which comes as part of a set that costs about $150 just for the font. I love the way it looks, and it's not something that anyone else has unless they went out and paid for it.
Graphic designers and many photographers buy hundreds of fonts so we can choose the right one.
Why I Need to Manage Them
Most computers ship with a few fonts to run the computer and your browser and word processor and that's it.
Graphics people spend fortunes on fonts the same way photographers buy cameras.
Having hundreds of fonts in your computer will slow it down because the operating system has to deal with all the fonts at the same time.
Computers have no ability to select which fonts are active. You can't activate some but not all fonts. Therefore if you have hundreds of fonts installed things don't run well.
Some people try to install and uninstall fonts as they need them. This is tedious, but worse is that they can't browse through examples of all their uninstalled fonts to pick among them before installing them.
Font Management Programs
Anyone who buys enough fonts to need to manage them certainly will spend the $99 or so for a font management program instead of doing it manually.
Font management programs make it trivial to sort through and preview fonts. The program can turn on just the ones you're using while the others don't get in the way. This lets you see your fonts and use them and lets your computer run as fast as it did before you clogged it up with your fonts.
I use Extensis Suitcase. As of January 2006 Suitcase Fusion has just been announced. I still use Suitcase X1, the version from last year.
I got fooled. When Mac introduced Font Book with OSX I thought Apple had the problem solved. I had bought Suitcase for OS 9 and didn't bother to buy it for OSX. Things ran so much better in OSX I thought I was fine.
Whoops! FontBook is only a font preview program. Even when activating or deactivating fonts in FontBook they are all still active as far as the OS is concerned. My OSX system got slower and slower with time. I then asked at the Apple Store while in there for something else and the Genius noted I had all the these fonts in my fonts folder. That will and did slow me down.
I got Suitcase X1 and everything speeded up a zillion times. First I ran the included FontDoctor which did a bang-up job of finding all the fonts and duplicates I had all over my system and putting them in one place. I told it to take all the fonts except those few required to run the computer and put them aside in their own new folder not related to my system. I then fired up Suitcase, which allows me to preview and turn fonts on and off as I use them.
Even smarter, Suitcase knows to activate fonts when I open documents that need them.
Suitcase is one of those weird things that yo may never have considered. It made my machine run twice as fast.
If you have a lot of fonts you should consider getting it. You can get a free trial here.
After writing this page others have written to suggest I try this free program from Linotype. They love it. I'm told it's a little like iTunes because it works great and is hooked up to help sell you lots of new fonts.
In the old days font management programs were only available for Mac, since that's what all the designers use.
Today you can get font management for Windows computers. Just look around at the links. I prefer Mac as you can read at Why Pros Use Mac.