How to Manage Fonts Within Mac Apps the Quick and Easy Way

I’m certain that a good number of my readers know all about changing text fonts and font styles in their OS X apps when writing is involved. However, from my interactions with many Mac users over the years, I’ve observed that when it comes to simple font selection and management directly from within an app, a good number of them have been oblivious to all the convenient tools provided.

I am not talking about the OS X utility app called Font Book which is pre-installed on every Mac and located in the Applications folder. This is an advanced tool for full management, installation, troubleshooting and repair of system and user fonts. That’s the subject of another – and probably much longer – article.

Instead, I want to show you how to use something called the Font Panel or Font Window that almost all modern OS X apps provide where text editing is involved. Think of the Font Panel as a subset of the aforementioned Font Book utility. It contains some really neat and easy to use font customization and organizational tools – available to you right from within the app.

Although I use the Pages app for the purposes of illustration, what I am about to explain here is applicable to most modern apps that run under OS X. Look for a menu called Format in your app. It’s present is not a requirement necessarily, but a very common gateway to the Font Panel. The typical path is Format > Font > Show Fonts.

The Format menu in Pages

The typical Format menu found in many OS X apps

The Font Panel

The Font Panel is a window into your store of System and User fonts. To make changes to your text formatting, you have a few options: you can use the quick commands under the Font menu, you can utilize the various buttons and pop-up menus in the app’s toolbar, or you can activate the Font Panel.

The OS X Font Panel

The OS X Font Panel

What’s nice about using the Font Panel is that you have access to most of your typical text formatting options, all your installed fonts plus other features that let you customize various aspects of font management in OS X.

Font Collections

Let’s first look at how you can organize your fonts so that your favorite ones are categorized to your liking and are easily and quickly available to you. 

Within the Font Panel, you have access to font subsets called Font Collections. To get you started, you are given a few by default. For example, check out the Fun font collection. I am one of those rare crackpots who happens to like using the Comic Sans font on occasion. As you can see, it’s right there listed for me in the Fun collection. It’s little buddy, Marker Felt, is there as well.

The Font Panel

The stunningly beautiful Comic Sans and other goofy fonts are found in the Fun font collection.

Look at the Favorites font collection. This is a special collection that cannot be deleted. However, this is where you can pick and choose your very favorite font – by typeface (styles like bold, oblique, etc.) and size – and congregate them into the Favorites collection for easy access.

The Font Panel

The Favorites Collection allows you to organize a set of your most used typefaces and styles

You can create your own customized font collections, too. This is much like what you see in iTunes where you can create personal playlists. Creating albums of photos in iPhoto is another example. In the Font Panel, create a Collection by clicking on the + button at the bottom-left, and give it an appropriate name. You can then select the All Fonts collection, scroll through the list of installed font families, then drag the desired font to one or more font collections in order to assign that font to those collections.

The Font Panel

My personal font collections with samples of a few of my favorites

As you can see in the illustration above, I have created collections for my horror and sci-fi fonts which I use as occasional fun fonts to add a little spice to my Keynote presentations used in my cinema courses. By the way, I’m in the habit of preceding custom collections with my initials. It’s just a way for me to quickly distinguish and sort my own collections from the preconfigured ones.

Text Effects and Other Controls

The Text Effects Bar at the top of the Font Panel is where you can select various styles of text underlining and strike-through, as well as text color, and background color. Here, you will also find controls for assigning shadow effects to your text. This is a holdover from font formatting utilities that were available in the old Mac OS prior to OS X. Nevertheless, shadow effects can be useful for the occasional headline on flyers and newsletters, for example.

The Font Panel

The shadow effects portion of the Text Effects bar let you apply a bit of depth to text

To apply shadow effects, select the text in your document, bring up the Font Panel, and click on the Text Shadow button. It will turn blue when enabled. Finally, make your fine adjustments by using the Shadow Opacity,  Blur, Offset and Shadow Direction controls.

To change Font Size, you have three choices: you can select an exact size from the vertical list of presets, type in the exact size in the editable field at the top of the presets list, or use the slider on the right to visually help you select the right size.

Our Macs come with dozens of pre-installed fonts. Other apps, like those from Microsoft and Adobe, may install additional fonts. You might even download fonts that are available free or for purchase. Instead of scrolling through the All Fonts collection, you can take advantage of the search bar at the bottom of the Font Panel.

The Font Panel and the Emoji Character Panel

The Action Menu takes you to additional options as well as special characters

The Action Menu

Finally, you’ll notice a little gear pop-up menu button located at the bottom-left corner of the Font Panel. Clicking on this opens the Action Menu, which provides you with a few handy options: 

  • Add a font/typeface style to your Favorites collection
  • Show/Hide a preview of a selected font. The Preview appears at the top of the Font Panel
  • The Effects bar can be hidden temporarily
  • Set and change color options'
  • Bring up a number of pop-up menus allowing easy selection of special characters, such as Emoji – which is now built into OS X Mavericks. When these menus appear, you can drag them away from the Font Panel to create stand-alone panels for easy access. 
  • Advanced typography and font size editing
  • Direct access to the aforementioned Font Book Utility– the Font Panel’s grand-daddy – where you can perform more detailed font management, including font installation and removal, font disabling, font troubleshooting and validation. You can also experiment with some really nice font preview options in Font Book.

One final tip for you: iWork apps, as well as many others, will allow you to add a Font Panel quick-access button to the Toolbar located at the top of document or application windows. In Pages, for example, go to View > Customize Toolbar. In the tool selection panel that drops down, locate the Fonts tool and drag it up to your toolbar, then click Done. This means no more time wasted pulling open a menu and sub-menu to get to the Font Panel.

In conclusion, I’ve shown you yet another example of some of the built-in hidden tools and features that many are apt to ignore in OS X. If you like using a number of fonts and styles and tend to switch around between them often, try using the Font Panel (and Font Book) to help you with your text processing workflow.