Pros and cons of font management systems

The job you're trying to do with any font management system is to keep track of the various – and sometimes hugely complex – licensing terms for the typefaces you use, whether you're a single self-employed designer or whether you're part of a multinational agency.

That means not just knowing that you bought a font legally, but that you can do all the things with it that you need to – use it commercially, deploy it in an app, embed it in a PDF to send to a printer, or whatever.

01. Manual control

You can do this manually, by reading the terms carefully and buying a sufficient number of 'seats' (designating the number of people who can use it).

You'll need to ensure, for example, that your printers have licences too if you're bundling assets to send to them, then loading the fonts onto the relevant machines and removing them when they're not needed or you need to move your seats around.

  • Pro: Both OS X and Windows have built-in basic font managers to install fonts; the Macs can detect corruptions and duplicates when installing. This process is cheap – indeed, free!
  • Con: But this can quickly get out of hand even for companies with just two or three staff and a handful of clients, and if you are required to audit your software licensing it can be tortuous to produce a coherent, accurate report.

02: Server-based systems

Using a formal, server-based system such as Extensis Universal Type Server or Monotype FontExplorer X Server means that auditing is easy.

  • Pro: This ensures fonts are only used where they are supposed to be within their licence terms.
  • Con: Some might find they stifle the creative process a little, though, and they can be expensive and daunting to get started with.

Once you've decided on the best font management option for you, try these five tips for taking control of your fonts.

Words: Christopher Phin

This feature first appeared inside Computer Arts 237: Pick the Perfect Typeface. Have you entered your best branding to the Brand Impact Awards yet? If you've created some standout branding in the last 18 months, you're eligible... Good luck!

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