Keep your fonts in order

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Express yourself without grinding Windows to a halt: we face up to the finer points of managing fonts


When almost every personal page on the Web seems to use Comic Sans, you can start to long for a wider range of fonts. There are thousands of font sets, ranging from professional to the downright weird, and many of them free to download. In addition, some applications come with hundreds of fonts for you to use.

Tracking down the right font can be difficult, especially when the fonts menu becomes so long that you have to wait for the program to finish drawing in samples of every font before you can scroll to the bottom. However, when you install too many you’ll find Windows starting to grind to a halt, too.

All the fonts in your font folder take up memory in Windows and fill up the Registry, which slows everything down. In addition, there’s a limit on the number of TrueType fonts that you can install in Windows 98.

The limit isn’t a fixed number as such: it’s based on the length of the TrueType font names and file names. All the font files are stored in a single key in the Registry and a Registry key can’t be larger than 64K. Furthermore, the GDI keeps a list of fonts and it only has 10Kb for font file names. If the file names are all around ten characters and the names of the fonts themselves around 20, that gives you around 1,000 fonts. However, if you’re keeping installed fonts anywhere apart from the FONTS and SYSTEM folders, the Registry has to store the full path to the font, which takes up more space.

Over the limit?

Once you hit the limits you can keep on adding fonts to Windows, but you won’t see them all in font menus. Look at the number of fonts listed on the status bar in the FONTS folder. If that number doesn’t go up when you install a font or go down when you delete one, you’re over the limit.

There are font utilities that will help you divide your fonts into sets that you can install and uninstall, but you can also manage your fonts by hand. Start by creating a new folder with as short a name as you can deal with, like TTF, because it’s going to pad out the length of the font file name in the Registry when you temporarily install a font to use it. Copy all the files in the C:\WINDOWS\FONTS folder into the new folder – make sure you’re not hiding variants of the same typeface family with View, Hide Variations. Go through the main fonts folder and delete any fonts you don’t think you’re going to use often. It’s a good idea to have less than 500 fonts installed.

When you want to use a font that’s not in the main folder you can install it in the normal way. Rather than just dragging the files into the FONTS folder, select File, Install New Font and choose the font you want from the backup font folder. Make sure that you don’t tick Copy fonts to Fonts folder – you can delete the font when you don’t need it any more and you’ll still have a backup copy in the other folder.

This also makes it easier to keep track of which fonts you’ve installed temporarily so you don’t forget to delete them – you can just look for fonts that have a shortcut item. Alternatively, if you only want to use a font for a single document and it’s not worth taking the time to uninstall and re-install it, just double-click the font file to open it. It will show up on font menus and behave as if you’d installed it for as long as the window is open.

Specific font foldersSome programs have their own font folder that they check for fonts as well as using the Windows list. Often that’s where the fonts the program uses for its own interface are. For Photoshop it’s C:\Program Files\Common Files\Adobe\Fonts. If you want to use lots of fonts in Photoshop without loading Windows down, keep them in here, but expect the application to take a little longer to load.

Keep an eye on the FONTS folder when you install new applications as you’ll often find new fonts showing up that have been installed either as fonts for you to use or because the program uses them. It’s best not to remove fonts that a program needs for display, but if you want to trim down unwanted fancy fonts from new software, keep another folder for the core fonts you know you want, delete everything from the FONTS folder periodically and reinstall your core fonts instead.

There are some key Windows fonts you shouldn’t delete: Arial, Courier, Courier New, Marlett, Modern, MS Sans Serif, MS Serif, Roman, Script, Small fonts, Symbol, Symbol, Times New Roman and Wingdings. In general, don’t delete any fonts with a red A for the icon. These are Windows bit-mapped screen fonts designed for specific point sizes – not to be confused with PostScript fonts which have a lower-case red a instead or with a name starting MS. There’s a list of the fonts that come with various Microsoft applications at www.microsoft.com/typography/fonts/. You can always restore fonts from the installation CD, but it’s quicker not to delete them. If you’re copying font files from a CD by hand rather than using Install New Font remember to change the properties so they’re not marked as Read Only. In addition, make sure that you don’t install TrueType and PostScript versions of the same font. Not only is it a waste of space, but having two fonts with the same name confuses Windows.

Sometimes the FONTS folder loses the special commands and behaves like a normal Explorer folder instead. This might mean that the folder attributes are wrong, that the FONTEXT.DLL file is damaged or that there’s a problem with the DESKTOP.INI file. Open a command prompt and use CD \WINDOWS to change to the WINDOWS directory, then type ATTRIB +S +R FONTS to make the FONTS folder read-only and a system folder again. Shut down and restart Windows.

If that doesn’t fix the folder, restart in DOS mode and change to the WINDOWS\SYSTEM folder. Type DIR FONTEXT.DLL to check if the file is there. If it is, rename it (REN FONTEXT.DLL FONTEXT.OLD) then extract a new copy from the Windows CD and restart Windows. Do the same thing with the DESKTOP.INI file if there’s still a problem. Remember that you won’t see the DESKTOP.INI file in the FONTS folder inside Windows, but you can work with it in DOS mode. If you don’t want to do it yourself, try a font manager.

Tools to help you manage fonts

Font management tools save you time, give you a clearer look at your fonts and can make them look better too




Font managers enable you to see your fonts whether they’re installed in Windows or not. You can install and uninstall fonts, or just unload a font from memory temporarily. You can also group fonts into sets, either within the utility or by storing the fonts together in a folder. It’s not a good idea to use more than one font manager, unless you need one tool for Type 1 PostScript fonts and another for TrueType.

Even a simple, free font manager like Font Xplorer Lite (www.moonsoftware.com/freeware.asp) will make it easier to stay on top of a lot of fonts: you can browse, print, copy characters in the character map and manage which fonts are installed. If you have a copy of CorelDRAW, you get a free version of Bitstream Font Navigator that has a lot more features. You can choose the text it uses for font samples and print reports with a range of fonts in. You can also group fonts by dragging them into one window and then install and uninstall the group all at once.

If you want to work with PostScript fonts in Windows 98, you need a font renderer such as Adobe Type Manager to create screen font bitmaps from the Type 1 fonts and to print PostScript fonts on non-PostScript printers. ATM Deluxe isn’t free but it has excellent features for managing fonts. You can define sets of fonts to install and uninstall preview fonts that aren’t installed. If a document needs a font, ATM Deluxe installs it for you automatically.

Let ATM Deluxe do the hard work

If you want PostScript fonts in Windows 98 you need ATM, but if you want to manage them, then you need ATM Deluxe

Adobe Type Manager Deluxe handles TrueType fonts as well as Type 1 PostScript. You can see just the fonts that are currently active or all your fonts.

Group fonts into sets and you can install and uninstall the whole set at once, or turn on just one front within a group if you don’t need all of them.

Both versions of ATM enable you to see a font preview with various different sizes of the font, a full alphabet and sample text, to see if it’s what you’re looking for.
This material is the copyright material of or licensed to Future Publishing Limited, a Future Network plc group company, UK 2004. All rights reserved.
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Artikel-id: 835820 – senaste granskning 9 juli 2008 – revision: 1

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