5 Font Issues—And How to Prevent Them

Editor’s Note: The following piece on design problems that can happen with fonts was contributed by Jim Kidwell of Extensis.

Fonts are the backbone of most creative projects. They give life and form to our creative work. Whether that work is the next big campaign for a global brand, or a quick one-off project, having fully functional fonts that are right for the project is critical.

When something goes wrong with a font, it can totally derail a project, leave you stuck with a project that doesn’t turn out as intended, and even keep you from finishing a project altogether.

Below are five of the most common font issues, and some techniques you can use to prevent them.

Font Issue #1: Missing fonts

It’s happened to us all at least once. You get handed a project, open up the design file, and get that dreaded “Missing Fonts” dialog box with a list of all the fonts that you don’t have. After some select epithets, you begrudgingly move on to the task of texting, emailing and tweeting the previous project owner to have them search for fonts.

This is actually a fairly easy fix through the implementation of a few best practices. First and foremost is to start using the Package feature whenever saving, archiving or sharing a project.

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The Package feature is built into Adobe Creative Cloud applications and does a great job of pulling all of the assets required for a project, including fonts. Fonts required for the document are automatically put into a Document Fonts folder at the same level as your Adobe document file.

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If you use applications that don’t have a similar feature, many font managers such as Suitcase Fusion have a Collect for Output feature that works in much the same way. In your font manager, create a set of the fonts used in your project, right click on the set and choose Collect for Output.

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This creates an organized folder of fonts that you can send along with your document.

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So, with just a little bit of planning, it’s easy to prevent the missing fonts dialog from slowing you down.

Font Issue #2: Corruption

Fonts are one of the few pieces of software that could have been created literally decades ago, and still be in use today. Those of us who have been collecting fonts for years likely have massive collections from years ago, in many different font formats: PostScript, TrueType, Multiple Master, dfont, OpenType, bitmap and more.

The problem with font files is that all of the transferring between media—hard disks, floppy disks (remember those!), CD, DVD—there’s always the chance for some digital bits here or there to be flipped the wrong way. Hey, it’s not your fault, sometimes these things just happen.

The best way to check for corruption is to use a font manager with corruption checking to scan your collection and report any issues. There are so many ways for fonts to become corrupt, it’s best to leave it to the tools to tell you what will work, and what’s going to make your vector drawing program go up in flames.

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Font Issue #3: Improper font licensing

This one should be a no brainer, but sometimes there can be confusion, so it’s worth going over. Font files are licensed exactly like any other piece of software on your machine. When you license a font, you need to ensure that you’re buying enough licenses to cover all of the people who will need that font in your team.

You also need to ensure that you’re buying the right type of license. Type foundries who create fonts often have many different types of licenses available that cover many types of use: multiple user packs, licensing for use as a web font, for use in packaging, single character use in logos, and more. Because licenses can vary so much, I recommend delving into the licenses that you’ve purchased to decipher the details.

One important note to understand is that many “free” fonts are only truly free for personal use. When you start using them for commercial purposes, an additional license often must be purchased. Your best bet is to always check before downloading and keep your font collection clean with fonts where the usage rights match your needs.

Font Issue #4: Low-quality fonts

While there are many creative ideas for typefaces out in the world, not everyone has the talent for pulling together a professional-quality font.

You’ve probably run into the issue where you get all excited about a font, only to find that it is critically flawed in one way or another. Perhaps it only contains just an uppercase character set, is missing critical accented characters, or is kerned so horribly that you need to work for hours just to make it look right onscreen.

Any one of these issues can slow down your productivity, or even make your final project lower quality than you or your clients would want.

Your best bet is to purchase fonts only from reputable foundries on the web. This will ensure that your fonts are fully developed, tested, and that you have someone to contact in case you ever run into issues. Fonts are software after all, and all software has bugs.

Font Issue #5: Font conflicts

A font conflict happens when a font required for a job is different than a font that is already in use on your system.

Using the precise font for a job that was used in the job’s creation is important because a different font can have a different kerning, character set, and potentially even more issues.

The best way to ensure that you’re using the correct font is to implement a font management solution that identifies and activates the correct font for the job, while simultaneously deactivating font currently in use.

Font managers typically do this through the use of font auto-activation plug-ins. The plug-ins work in conjunction with professional design applications to identify the correct fonts for use in a document, activate the correct versions of the font required, and then embed identifying information into the document for future use.

Keeping font problems from interrupting your workflow and your creative output is fairly easy. If you take the a few precautions listed above, and implement a few straightforward font utilities, you’ll prevent the most common font issues from ruining your day.


In this look at how fonts really look on screens, Monotype’s Dan Rhatigan looks at new typefaces developed specifically to enhance the experience of reading text on screens, as well as the features that you should considering when evaluating and specifying type for digital projects.

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