Fonts on Macintosh

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This article describes current and historical practices regarding the Apple Macintosh’s approach to typefaces, including font management and fonts included with each system revision.

Fonts in Mac OS X[edit]

The primary system font in Mac OS X (all versions) is Lucida Grande. For labels and other small text, 10 pt Lucida Grande is typically used. Lucida Grande is almost identical in appearance to the prevalent Windows font Lucida Sans, and contains a much richer variety of glyphs.

Mac OS X ships with a number of typefaces, for a number of different scripts, licensed from several sources. Mac OS X includes Roman, Japanese and Chinese fonts. It also supports sophisticated font techniques, such as ligatures and filtering.

Many of the classic Mac typefaces included with previous versions are still part of Mac OS X, including the serif typefaces New York, Palatino, and Times, the sans-serif Charcoal and Chicago, Monaco, Geneva and Helvetica. Courier, a monospaced font, also remained.[1]

In the initial publicly released version of Mac OS X (March 2001), font support for scripts was limited to what was provided by Lucida Grande and a few fonts for the major Japanese scripts. With each major revision of the OS, fonts supporting additional scripts have been added.

Demonstration of alternate letters, including the full-word ligature for the name of the Zapfino typeface

Zapfino is a calligraphic typeface designed by and named after renowned typeface designer Hermann Zapf for Linotype. Zapfino utilizes advanced typographic features of the AAT "morx" table format, and is included in OS X partially as a technology demo. Ligatures and character variations are extensively used. The font is based on a calligraphic example by Zapf in 1944. The version included with Mac OS X is a single weight. Since then, Linotype has introduced “Linotype Zapfino Extra” which includes the additional “Forte” weight and even more options and alternates.

Several of the GX fonts that Apple commissioned and originally shipped with System 7.5 were ported to use Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) instead (see below) and shipped with Mac OS X 10.2 and v10.3. Hoefler Text, Apple Chancery and Skia are examples of fonts of this line of heritage. Other typefaces were licensed from the general offerings of leading font vendors.

Sample glyphs from the LastResort font.

The LastResort font is a font that is invisible to the end user, but is used by the system to display reference glyphs in the event that real glyphs needed to display a given character are not found in any other available font. The symbols provided by the LastResort font place glyphs into categories based on their location in the Unicode system and provide a hint to the user about which font or script is required to view unavailable characters. Designed by Apple and extended by Michael Everson of Evertype for Unicode 4.1 coverage, the symbols adhere to a unified design. The glyphs are square with rounded corners with a bold outline. In the left and right sides of the outline, the Unicode range that the character belongs to is given using hexadecimal digits. Top and bottom are used for one or two descriptions of the Unicode block name. A symbol representative of the block is centered inside the square. The typeface used for the text cutouts in the outline is Chicago, otherwise not included with Mac OS X. The LastResort font has been part of Mac OS since version 8.5, but the limited success of Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging (ATSUI) on the classic Mac OS means that only users of Mac OS X are regularly exposed to it.

Of the fonts that ship with Mac OS X, Lucida Grande has the broadest repertoire. This font provides a relatively complete set of Arabic, Roman, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Thai and Greek letters and an assortment of common symbols. All in all, it contains a bit more than 2800 glyphs (including ligatures).

In Mac OS X v10.3 ("Panther"), a font called Apple Symbols was introduced. It complements the set of symbols from Lucida Grande, but also contains a number of glyphs only accessible by glyph ID (that is, they have not been assigned Unicode codepoints). A hidden font called .Keyboard contains 92 visible glyphs, most of which appear on Apple keyboards.

Font management and capabilities[edit]

System 6.0.8 and earlier[edit]

Originally the Macintosh QuickDraw system software supported only bitmapped fonts. The original font set was custom designed for the Macintosh and were intended to provide a highly legible screen display. These system fonts were named after large cities, e.g. New York, Chicago, and Geneva. (See below.)

Bitmapped fonts were stored as resources within the System file. A utility called Font/DA Mover was used to install fonts into or extract fonts out of the System file. Fonts could also be embedded into Macintosh applications and other file types, such as a HyperCard stack. Fonts that were not being used were stored in a suitcase file.

The ImageWriter printer supported a higher resolution mode where bitmap fonts double the size of the screen resolution were automatically substituted for 'near letter quality' printing. (For example, a 24-point bitmapped font would be used for 12-point printing.) This feature was sometimes called two-times font printing. Some later Apple QuickDraw-based laser printers also supported four-times font printing where bitmaps quadruple the screen size were used for letter quality output.

With the introduction of the LaserWriter and support for PostScript-compatible printers, the Mac system software initially supported outline fonts for printing only. These outline fonts could be printed in letter quality at any size. PostScript fonts came with two files; a bitmap font was installed into the System file, and an outline font file was stored in the System Folder. Some of the bitmapped “city” fonts would be automatically replaced by PostScript fonts by the printer driver. Commercial typefaces such as Times and Helvetica began to be distributed by Apple, Adobe Systems, and others.

The widely-used Adobe Type Manager (ATM) system extension allowed PostScript outline fonts to be both displayed on screen and used with all printers (PostScript or not). This allowed for true WYSIWYG printing in a much broader set of circumstances than the base system software, however with a noticeable speed penalty, especially on Motorola 68000-based machines.

After the release of System 7, Apple added System 6 support for TrueType outline fonts through a freely available system extension, providing similar functionality as ATM. Apple also provided TrueType outline files for the bitmapped 'city' system fonts, allowing letter quality WYSIWYG printing of those fonts.

A reboot was required after installing new fonts unless using a font management utility such as Suitcase, FontJuggler, or MasterJuggler.

System 7 – Mac OS 9[edit]

A highly touted feature of System 7 was integrated TrueType outline font support, which also received industry support from Microsoft. Fonts were still stored in the System file but could now be installed using drag-and-drop. To install new fonts, one had to quit all running applications.

Despite this, Adobe Type Manager and PostScript Type 1 fonts continued to be widely used, especially for professional desktop publishing. Eventually Adobe released a free version of their utility, called ATM Light.

In System 7.1, a separate Fonts folder appeared in the System Folder. Fonts were automatically installed when dropped on the System Folder, and became available to applications after they were restarted. Font resources were generally grouped together in suitcase files. However, rules for storing printer fonts varied greatly between different system, printer and application configurations until the advent of the new Fonts folder. Typically, they had to be stored directly in the System Folder or in the Extensions Folder.

System 7.5 added the QuickDraw GX graphics engine. TrueType GX supported ligatures and other advanced typography features. However very little software supported these features, and PostScript remained the standard for desktop publishing software.

Starting with Mac OS 8.5, the operating system supported data fork fonts, including Windows TrueType and OpenType. In addition, Apple created a new format, called data-fork suitcases. At the same time, support was added for TrueType collection files, conventionally with the filename extension '.ttc'.

System versions 7 to 9 supported a maximum of 128 font suitcases and each suitcase could store multiple fonts.

Starting with version 7.1, Apple unified the implementation of non-roman script systems in a programming interface called WorldScript. WorldScript I was used for all one-byte character sets and WorldScript II for two-byte sets. Support for new script systems was added by so-called Language Kits. Some kits were provided with the system software, and others were sold by Apple and third parties. Application support for WorldScript was not universal, since support was a significant task. Good international support gave a marketing edge to word-processing programs such as Nisus Writer and programs using the WASTE text engine, since Microsoft Word was not WorldScript aware.

Beginning in 1996, Apple included Microsoft's Core fonts for the Web, which included common Windows fonts as well as new ones, resolving cross-platform font issues. In 8.5, full Unicode support was added to Mac OS through an API called ATSUI. However, WorldScript remained the dominant technology for international text until Mac OS X, because few applications used ATSUI.

Mac OS X[edit]

Mac OS X supports a wide variety of font formats. It supports most of the font formats used on earlier systems, where the fonts were typically stored in the resource fork of the file. In addition to the data-fork version of TrueType and the Adobe/Microsoft OpenType fonts, OS X also supports Apple's own data-fork-based TrueType format, called data-fork suitcases with the filename extension '.dfont'. Data-fork suitcases are old-style Mac TrueType fonts with all the data from the resource fork transferred unchanged to the data fork. The system also supports the instances created using the "multiple master" PostScript variant.

Fonts in the /System/Library/Fonts folder and the /Library/Fonts folder are available to all users. Fonts stored in a user's ~/Library/Fonts folder are available to only that user. Mac OS 9 applications running in the Classic Environment can only access fonts stored in the Fonts folder in the Mac OS 9 system folder. Those fonts are also made available to native Mac OS X applications.

Mac OS X includes a software rasterizer that supports PostScript. Thus eliminating the need for the Adobe Type Manager Light program. The built-in text editing supports advanced typesetting features such as adjustable kerning and baseline, as well as a few OpenType features.

Support for QuickDraw GX fonts was dropped in Mac OS X in favor of TrueType fonts using AAT features. Bitmap fonts are only used on screen if there is a corresponding vector form (which is always used in printing).

Since Mac OS X v10.3 (Panther), a utility called Font Book has been included with Mac OS X allowing users to easily install fonts and do basic font management.

Third-party font managers[edit]

As desktop publishing took off and PostScript and other outline font formats joined the bitmap fonts, the need for unified font management grew. A number of third parties have created tools, such as Suitcase, for managing font sets. For example, they allowed enabling or disabling fonts on-the-fly, and storing fonts outside of their normal locations. Some even allow the use of Windows .ttf font files natively on systems prior to Mac OS X.

Font technology[edit]

TrueType and PostScript[edit]

Main articles: TrueType and PostScript

TrueType is an outline font standard developed by Apple in the late 1980s, and later licensed to Microsoft, as a competitor to Adobe's Type 1 fonts used in PostScript, which had come to dominate the field of desktop publishing.

The outlines of the characters in TrueType fonts are made of straight line segments and quadratic Bézier curves, rather than the cubic Bézier curves in Type 1 fonts. While the underlying mathematics of TrueType is thus simpler, many type developers prefer to work with cubic curves because they are easier to draw and edit.

While earlier versions of the Mac OS required additional software to work with Type 1 fonts (as well as at least one bitmap copy of each Type 1 font to be used), Mac OS X now includes native support for a variety of font technologies, including both TrueType and PostScript Type 1.

Microsoft, together with Adobe, have created an extended TrueType format, called OpenType. Apple, however, is continuing to develop TrueType. A 'Zapf' table, for example, maps composite glyphs to characters and vice versa and adds other features. The table was named, with permission, after typeface creator Hermann Zapf.

Proprietary technology[edit]

QuickDraw GX was a complete overhaul of the Macintosh graphics system, including the font system, which was rolled out for System 7.5 in 1995. QuickDraw GX fonts could be in either TrueType or PostScript Type 1 formats, and included additional information about the glyphs and their purpose. Advanced features, such as ligatures, glyph variations, kerning information and small caps, could be used by any GX enabled application. Previously, they had typically been reserved for advanced typesetting applications.

Microsoft was refused a license to GX technology and chose to develop OpenType instead. GX typography and GX technology as a whole never saw widespread adoption. Support for GX was dropped in later versions of the system.

Apple Advanced Typography (AAT) is a set of extensions to TrueType which cover much of the same ground as OpenType, developed independently but concurrently with the Adobe/Microsoft format (circa 1995), and is the successor to the little-used QuickDraw GX font technology. It also incorporates concepts from the Multiple Master font format, which allows multiple axes of traits to be defined and an n-dimensional number of glyphs to be accessible within that space. AAT features do not alter the underlying characters, but do affect their representation during glyph conversion.

AAT is also supported in IBM’s open source ICU library, which is being used to implement support for AAT fonts under Linux and other open source operating systems.

Hinting technology[edit]

Hinting is the process by which TrueType fonts are adjusted to the limited resolution of a screen or a relatively low resolution printer. Undesired features in the rendered text, such as lack of symmetry or broken strokes, can be reduced. Hinting is performed by a virtual machine that distorts the control points that define the glyph shapes so that they fit the grid defined by the screen better. Hinting is particularly important when rendering text at low effective resolution: that is, with few pixels per character.

Hinting is part of the TrueType specification, but Apple held three patents in the United States relating to the process:

  • US5155805: Method and apparatus for moving control points in displaying digital typeface on raster output devices (filed May 8, 1989)
  • US5159668: Method and apparatus for manipulating outlines in improving digital typeface on raster output devices (filed May 8, 1989)
  • US5325479: Method and apparatus for moving control points in displaying digital typeface on raster output devices (filed May 28, 1992)

Until it expired, Apple offered licensing of these patents. Microsoft had access to Apple's TrueType patents through cross-licensing. However, these patents have proven problematic to developers and vendors of open source software for TrueType rendering, such as FreeType. To avoid infringing on the patents, some software disregarded the hinting information present in fonts, resulting in visual artifacts. FreeType has developed an automatic hinting engine, but it is difficult to beat the explicit hinting guidelines provided by the typeface designer. The problem of lacking hinting could also be compensated for by using anti-aliasing, although a combination of the two produces the best result.

Subpixel rendering[edit]

A sample of text rendered by the Quartz engine in Mac OS X, using traditional and subpixel rendering. Expanded version, with explanations.

Apple has started using subpixel rendering in recent versions of Mac OS X. Version 10.2 introduced subpixel rendering of type and Quartz vector graphics. This feature is enabled using the System Preferences panel "General" (10.2) or "Appearance" (10.3), by setting the font smoothing style to "Medium — best for Flat Panel". Mac OS X 10.4 introduced an "Automatic" setting which transparently chooses either "Medium" or "Standard," depending on the type of main display. The quality of the rendering compared to Microsoft's ClearType and FreeType is contested, and is largely a matter of reader preference. However, Apple's approach differs from that of ClearType and FreeType in that TrueType hinting instructions are discarded for all but the smallest type sizes. This results in more consistency of rendering on Mac OS at the expense of allowing type designers a level of fine tuning through hints.

Fonts of the original Macintosh[edit]

With the sole exception of Bill Atkinson's Venice typeface, the fonts included with the original Macintosh were designed by Susan Kare, who also designed most of the Macintosh's original icons.

Original Mac fonts.png

The Macintosh was an early example of a mainstream computer using fonts featuring characters of different widths, often referred to as proportional fonts. Previously, most computer systems were limited to using monospaced fonts, requiring, for example, i and m to be exactly the same width. Vector-based fonts had yet to make an entrance in the personal computer arena, at least for screen use, so all the original Mac's typefaces were bitmaps. Fonts were available in multiple sizes; those sizes installed on a system would be displayed in the font menu in an outline style.

From System 1 through Mac OS 7.6, the default system fonts for Mac OS were Chicago for menus and window titles and Geneva for Finder icons, and they could not be customized. In Mac OS 8 and Mac OS 9, the default system font was changed to Charcoal menus and window titles, but it could be customized in Preferences.


After designing the first few fonts, the team decided they needed to adopt a naming convention. First, they settled on using the names of stops along the Paoli, Pennsylvania, commuter rail line: Overbrook, Merion, Ardmore, and Rosemont. Steve Jobs had liked the idea of using cities as the names, but they had to be "world class" cities,[2] and so the naming convention of using the names of world cities was chosen.


Mac font variants.png

A number of different variants of each font were algorithmically generated on-the-fly from the standard fonts. Bold, italic, outlined, underlined and shadowed variations were the most common, though some applications also included subscript and superscript.

Outline, shadow, and underline are not always supported by modern software and fonts.


Apple's fonts, and the Mac OS Roman character set, include a solid Apple logo. One reason for including a trademark in a font is that the copyright status of fonts and typefaces is a complicated and uncertain matter. Trademark law, on the other hand, is much stronger. Third parties cannot include the Apple logo in fonts without permission from Apple.[citation needed] Apple states in the MacRoman to Unicode mapping file that:

On regular US QWERTY keyboards, the logo character can be typed using the key combination Shift Option K (⇧⌥K). In MacRoman, the Apple logo has a hex value of 0xF0. The Apple logo has not been assigned a dedicated Unicode codepoint, but Apple uses U+F8FF () in the Private Use Area.

Note that the logo does have a unique PostScript name in the Adobe Glyph List - /apple, mapping to F8FF.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fonts supplied with Mac OS". Microsoft. 2001-05-29. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  2. ^ "World Class Cities". Retrieved 2008-07-17. 

External links[edit]