How Professional Designers Organize Their Fonts

By on Nov 3, 2020 in Inspiration
How Professional Designers Organize Their Fonts

Keeping fonts organized is a very real struggle that many of us have had to deal with at some point or another. Designers have a tendency to collect, or more accurately “hoard” nice looking fonts, and as time goes on your font list can become quite an overwhelming place.

We spoke to some of our shop owners here at Creative Market to discover how professional designers organize their fonts and we discovered that there are some great tools and methods out there which can help you to manage and control your fonts, making the job of finding that perfect typeface more enjoyable again.

The Secret To Font Organization

Okay, so what’s the big secret that professional designers use to organize their fonts? What’s the quick cheat, or killer app that can fix your mess of fonts? Well, the truth is there isn’t one. Keeping fonts organized effectively takes time and effort.

Form Font Organization Habits

The most effective way of organizing fonts is simply by doing it manually, this keeps you in complete control over your collection and allows you to be very selective. Pick out and keep the very best of your fonts in custom folders and just allow the others to fall into the void of your font library. Forming good habits to organize your fonts as you go will make your job easier over time.

Educate Yourself on Type

Understanding fonts, font classifications, and their characteristics are going to help you massively when it comes to keeping your collection neat as you will need to be able to recognize the differences between fonts before you move on to the stage of manually organizing them. Some apps may do this for you, but it’s always going to be easier to store and find the right font when you have an understanding of typography basics.

Creative Market has a useful cheatsheet available to help you with the basics, and for a more in-depth typography education you could explore these 5 Fascinating Online Courses to Dig Deeper into Typography. Font style classification is also very important too, thankfully Creative Market also has a Visual Guide to Font Styles.

Structure Folders by Font Classifications

Once you are comfortable with how to identify fonts and are aware of their classifications you can start to group and sort them in different folders based on their style. This will make it easier to find them later on down the line when it comes to choosing the right font for your project.

We spoke to Letterhend Studio who told us:

"I strongly suggest that you separate the fonts between the ones you have purchased (with a commercial license), and the ones that you downloaded free from free font websites (which most of them are for demo purpose or personal use license). This is very important to make sure that we can stay away from copyright issues.

It’s best to create folders based on font categories (Serif, San Serif, Display, Script, Decorative, etc). If that still doesn't enough to narrow down your font list, you can add more subcategories for each (For example, monoline script, signature script, bold script, brush script, etc). You can also organize your font folders by your favorite shop, designer, or foundry."

So you can create folders to be as detailed as you need, but the simplest place to start is to make a new folder for all your new font downloads, and then begin to add new folders inside of here that describe different font types. To keep it simple you could use the following common category names for your folders: Serif, Sans Serif, Slab, Geometric, Script, Display, Symbols, Decorative — Add as many or as few as you need, the key is to just give yourself a way to sort through the fonts you have by their classification.

Save

It is best to keep this folder away from your main system fonts folder, so save it somewhere else on your computer. You will still have to install any new fonts after downloading them, but the idea here is to use these folders as a quick way for you to reference your available fonts when you need them and browse by category instead of having one huge unstructured list of fonts to scroll through.

You can obviously go more detailed if you like, adding even more folders and sub-folders to better classify your fonts — but these general terms are a great starting point for your folder names. When this is done right, you may not even need an app to help you beyond this step, but of-course this process does take time to set up and to keep on top of.

Create Descriptive Folders

We spoke to the owner of Snipescientist who takes this one step further and recommends adding some more descriptive folders too:

Inside the main font folder, and rename it something like “serif” or “script.” I repeat the process for every style I think you have, then look at every font file and move it into the genre folder it's closest to.

Once you have your main classification folders done, one other method you could use to make your font downloads easier to navigate would be to organize the same fonts in a more descriptive way. For example, you could go on to create a new set of folders such as Playful, Readable, Grunge, Bold, Thin, Formal, Blackletter, Futuristic, Old Style.

The idea here is to copy and paste your fonts from their main classification folder into these folders too, so that the fonts appear in their main classification folder AND these new folders which are a little more descriptive. The goal of this step is just to have alternative folders available to browse through the same fonts to find one to fit a certain visual style or character that you have in mind for a project. For example, if you are looking for a font to use for a children's book for you can make use of your ‘Playful’ folder to find fun and interesting fonts in the right style that little bit quicker.

Remove Unwanted Fonts Fast

Once again we look to some sound advice from Letterhend Studio:

I first recommend removing any fonts that you don’t use. For the fonts that you use frequently, I recommend storing them in a hard drive or cloud storage rather than the computer itself.

We are all fans of discovering beautiful new fonts and adding them to our library, but how often do we have a clear out and start delete the ones that don’t quite work out? One easy way to stay on top of your font collection is simply to remove fonts that you are not fond of anymore. A point that is backed up by advice from designer Jonathan Ball:

The easiest way to keep track of your fonts is not to have too many.

Make it a habit to either delete fonts that you’ve grown tired of from your library altogether, or at the very least just remove them from your new fonts downloads folder so they don’t come up when you are browsing in the future.

Make Use of Cloud Storage

Johnathan Ball told us that he uses the same folder structure principle but applied this to the cloud, instead of storing fonts locally he uses Dropbox so that his collection is ready and available from anywhere:

Dropbox is my preferred method for managing my ever-growing collection of hard-copy fonts... Dropbox is especially helpful if you switch machines frequently or get a new one because all your fonts will be waiting for you in the cloud.

Using Font Managers Effectively

The folder approach that we have talked about does make it easy to keep your fonts tidy when saving new ones, but in all honesty, it might not be ideal if you have a large existing font library. If you are looking for a more effective way of working through a large collection of existing fonts you may instead need to look into using a font manager.

Rather than compare the different features of all the font managers out there, it’s more useful to understand some basic ways that you can make any font manager more useful for you. Here are some key tips that can help you control your fonts in any app you choose.

There are a number of font management apps out there, and when it comes down to it, many of them work in a similar way — the main advantage they give you is the ability to have a single screen where you can quickly scroll through and see all of your available fonts at once, from here you can put them into your own custom collections, this is essentially the same concept as our folder method from above.

Some apps have more advanced features that can automatically sort your fonts by style, weight, or classification for you, or even give you the ability to turn certain fonts off and on, but results can vary so it could be argued that the most efficient way to use a font manager is once again to do the organizing yourself.

Use Collections, Tags, or Folders

One of the most common and most useful features of any font manager is the ability to create custom collections. Depending on the app you choose this could be referred to as tags, or folders instead, but the same idea here applies and just like we did with our ‘folder structure tip’ from above, you want to create your own custom collection categories and then begin manually sorting your favorite fonts into their respective folders.

How to Make Custom Collections in Font Book

One tip that came from the Snipescientist shop suggests that this app that many people already have access to can be a lot more useful than it might seem at first glance:

Font Book on Mac is a fantastic tool. It's not just for installing fonts. It allows you to preview and organize fonts by User, Collection, or Smart Collection.

On the face of things, it doesn’t feel like Fontbook has a lot of advanced features, but when it comes to manually organizing your collection it has all you need. Although a little hidden, there is actually a small plus icon at the bottom left of your Font Book app that will allow you to add custom collections (essentially think of these as folders) which you can set up in the same way as before and then just drag and drop fonts in to match their group.

It’s simple, but that’s all you need in order to keep things neat using Font Book and it can make a massive difference to your workflow.

Save

Font Book does have the ability to add ‘Smart Collections’ which is a feature that will automatically categorize your fonts for you, but honestly, this feature doesn’t work very well. While the results are accurate in the sense that they can find the right type of fonts you ask for, they don’t seem to be able to categorize enough of the right fonts from your library — essentially the ‘smart collections’ tend to ignore or miss out a lot of fonts, so in the end, I find it more useful to simply make my own instead.

Activating and Deactivating Fonts

One big advantage that font management apps have over manually organizing your fonts is the ability to ‘activate’ and ‘deactivate’ fonts — essentially allowing you to control which fonts are on and which ones are off at any given time without actually removing or deleting any font files.

This is a fantastic way to ensure that the list of fonts in your available design tools stays nice and small, as you can deactivate the majority of your unused fonts fairly easily and just keep a smaller group of your favorite fonts active. Combining this feature with an already well-organized collection of fonts will give you the edge when it comes to fast font selection.

Save

The beauty of this approach is that once you’ve cut your library down to size for the first time and your app is showing only your very best active fonts, it becomes much easier to manage which fonts stay, which ones go and which new ones come in. You essentially end up working with a rolling, temporary collection of fonts made up of your best, or most relevant fonts for that moment in time, instead of overwhelming your apps with all available fonts.

There are a number of font management apps that claim to have the ability to activate or disable fonts, here are a few suggestions for your consideration, many of which have a free trial:

RightFont
From $35 (free trial possible) ‘RightFont 5 is an innovative, beautiful and professional font manager app for Mac, helping designers preview, install, sync and manage their font files.’

Font Explorer X
From $100 (free trial possible.) ‘For seasoned typographers, or designers just starting out, FontExplorer® X is a font manager for macOS that gives you AI-powered organization and smart automation, saving you valuable design time.’

FontBase
Free. ‘Font management. Perfected. All platforms. Professional features. Beautiful UI. Totally free. FontBase is the font manager of the new generation, built by designers, for designers.’

Typeface App
From $25 (free trial available.) ‘Font manager for macOS that helps you pick the perfect type for your designs. A minimal interface and total focus on your fonts make browsing your collection exciting and easy.’

FontExpert (Windows only)
From $50 (Free trial available.) ‘FontExpert Font Manager enables you to preview and manage fonts, create Library, font groups, attach font collections, search for fonts in Library and collections, and examine your system for font errors.’

There are many other features available across these different font management apps, but each app is different and the usefulness of each feature is up for debate, but these core organizational tips can be applied to any app in order to keep your font collection neat I would argue that these steps can do more than any feature or tool — at least for now.

Share your tips for organizing fonts

I know many of you probably read this article expecting some kind of magic button that could organize a messy font collection for you, but the reality is, top designers who have their font collection in order simply put in the time and effort to manually organize everything. Once you make these steps part of your process your font collection will undoubtedly become much neater and easier to work with.

That said if you have any further tips that you use to help you sort, organize, categorize or control your library of fonts that you’d like to share we’d love to hear them in the comments below.

Finally, we'd like to give a big thank you to Letterhend Studio, SnipeScientist & Jonathan Ball for taking the time to share their tips and tricks with us!


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8 Comments

  1. Jacquelynn

    I do use Fontbase and I absolutely love it. Organizing the fonts into categories is painless and it's also easy to activate and deactivate fonts.

  2. sumoncps

    Thank you! It's beneficial. I am the designer, and my sets of font acquisitions and all the tedious scrolling is daunting. That is the move I wanted to save time. I discuss this with other designers so that they, too, can benefit from you!

  3. LaurelD

    Good information, thank you! I have a question that I can't seem to find the answer to. How do I reset the font list in InDesign. The drop-down menu shows every font I ever installed, even if I've removed or disabled the font in Font Book. Thanks!

  4. newnoz

    My biggest headache is uninstalling fonts. I'm looking for another font manager. I have a tonne of them.
    Also, most programs just sort fonts alphabetically which is no help at all most of the time. I'd love a method to sort by large classifications Serif, Sans serif, script etc. Why would I wish to scroll past dingbats when I am looking for a brush script?

  5. laurabusche
    • Staff

    Hi @Laurel Doucet ! Adobe has this font troubleshooting resource that seems helpful in your case. Perhaps it's a font cache issue? https://helpx.adobe.com/fonts/kb/troubleshoot-fonts-illustrator-indesign.html

    Definitely annoying, @Nora Gainey Some of the tools Liam shared above do allow for that type of classification, fortunately! 😅 You can build your own "Smart Collections" in Font Book and have it include all fonts where, e.g., the "Design Style" variable equals "Serif".

  6. WilliamRodg

    It sounds funny, but one of my friends that works in https://grademiners.com/ once told me that he used to be a designer. That experience helps him a lot in his writing. He sees a lot of similarities between writing and design approaches.

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