This section examines each of the various OS X releases (Panther, Tiger, Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks) and provides the recommended minimum list of the fonts to be stored in the System folder for that particular release of the operating system in order for it and most third party applications to run properly. These lists also include the fonts most needed for the web, iLife and iWork. The fonts listed should always be active on your Macintosh for OS X and should not be removed.
Note that this first part of Section 1 covers only fonts required in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder. There is also a root /Library/Fonts/ folder with its own set of required fonts, which will be addressed in the second half of Section 1.
From the font lists below, Keyboard.dfont, LastResort.dfont and LucidaGrande.dfont are used mainly for menus and other system font display purposes; therefore, they are the most important to the OS itself. In Mountain Lion and earlier, you must never remove Lucida Grande. Without that font, the system will not boot. If you remove it while the system is active, you will lose control of all menus (they will be blank), essentially locking you out of your Mac.
All other fonts in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder (that are not included in the lists below by release level) can be removed. You will need Administrative access to delete fonts from this folder. It is advised to save them for future use. Create a new folder on your hard drive and copy them there first. If there are any removed fonts you want to use for a project at a later date, they can always be activated with Font Book, Suitcase Fusion, FontAgent Pro, MasterJuggler, FontExplorer X Pro, Fontcase or other font manager. Note that MasterJuggler is PowerPC only, and so is suitable for use only in Snow Leopard 10.6 or older versions of the Mac OS.
Beginning with Leopard, 10.5 and up through Mountain Lion 10.8, Apple made it difficult to remove critical fonts. If you attempt to remove protected fonts from the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder, the OS will tell you that you cannot remove the font(s) and immediately replaces them from copies in another location. There are many fonts you can still remove from the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder, but some will resurrect themselves. See section 5 on how to permanently remove Apple's supplied versions of Helvetica and Helvetica Neue in Leopard, 10.5 through Mavericks, 10.9 if this is important for you. Mavericks eliminated this type of font protection, but you still need to remove the supplied fonts if they conflict with other types of fonts you are required to use.
Other than those fonts the OS absolutely requires to function, when it comes to the fonts you prefer to have on your system there is no right or wrong list. My idea of required fonts is based on years in prepress. So like most shops, the number of fonts throughout the system is kept to a minimum in the effort to make sure you will never have a conflict with the fonts a client sends with their project. Actually, the prepress and full service printers I've worked and freelanced for usually have a much shorter list than even those presented here. Sometimes the barest minimum of Lucida Grande, Last Resort and Keyboard. Such shops normally have no unnecessary software installed on their work stations; just what's needed to get production work done.
This bare minimum setup has its advantages, but you will then be missing many fonts commonly used on the web. What then happens is that your browser ends up substituting the missing fonts with whatever font is available. The result is that web pages will display so badly at times that it can be difficult (or even impossible) to navigate them. The bare minimum setup also lacks many fonts that Apple supplied applications require to operate. So for most users having only the 'big three' fonts on your system is not recommended.
You can find many different web sites telling you what the minimum font installation for each OS X release should be. Each site has its own reasons for including some fonts that I do not, and others don't include fonts I think should be active. My main decision making was to run every application OS X ships with and many major third party applications, seeing what wouldn't work if a particular font were missing. The end result is the list of fonts you find here. It's a compromise between the Spartan set most prepress shops use, and what a more fully functional OS needs along with proper display of web pages.
Special Notes About Section 1 - Presented in no particular order as each OS release changes the rules a bit. Hopefully each is organized into its own paragraph, but no promises.
Readers who have followed this article for some time will note that Times and Symbol have been added to the required font lists. They were excluded before since this article was originally intended as a guide for prepress, when the article was also much shorter in length. So the lists have been modified to represent what the majority of OS X users should have in their /System/Library/Fonts/ folder, rather than the leaning towards the needs of prepress. So Courier has been added back into the minimum font lists for the System folder. As with Times and Symbol, remove Courier if it interferes with your need to use a PostScript version.
Users should be aware that not all font managers, and possibly other utilities, will list font names exactly as you see them here. For example, Suitcase Fusion's interface lists Keyboard and Helvetica Neue Desk UI as having a period preceding their names, even though they are not listed as having a period as part of the name by the OS. Not even if you do a file listing in Terminal. Font Book also hides some fonts in its listings from the user in Snow Leopard and later, such as LastResort and Keyboard. But you shouldn't be removing those fonts anyway.
Beginning with Lion, and likely from here forward, I would suggest users give up trying to use any Type 1 PostScript versions of Helvetica. Apple has tied their conflicting versions of Helvetica so closely to the OS, and in so many places, it is no longer easy to manage them. If you haven't already, purchase Adobe's or Linotype's new OpenType PostScript Helvetica fonts if you prefer, or require PostScript fonts for your output. They do not conflict with Apple's Helvetica fonts, so you don't have to fight with the OS supplied fonts as to which ones are active. Use Type 1 PostScript when you have to accurately reproduce a standing older project (see section 5 if this applies to you), but otherwise, avoid them.
One thing to be aware of when you disable Apple's Helvetica.dfont and HelveticaNeue.dfont, is that you are disabling quite a few fonts. This is because a .dfont is a suitcase which can contain any number of individual fonts. The following list is based on Mavericks. Mountain Lion and Lion do not have all of the Neue fonts listed here.
Helvetica: Regular, Bold, Bold Oblique, Light, Light Oblique, Oblique
Helvetica Neue: Regular, Bold, Bold Italic, Italic, Light, Light Italic, Medium, Medium Italic, Thin, Thin Italic, Bold Condensed, UltraLight, UltraLight Italic, Condensed Black, Condensed Bold
Apple's Grapher program is not something normally used in prepress, which relies on the fonts Times and Symbol. As clients frequently use other versions of Times and Symbol, the Apple supplied versions can be excluded from the lists below if you need them out of the way. See section 2 for more on Grapher.
A note on the MM fonts in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder. Since Lion, OS X has continued to install these Multiple Master fonts. Also since Lion, a Terminal command named fontrestore has existed, which attempts move all third party fonts out of the system and main library folders. Run with the -n option, it pretends to go through the steps without actually doing anything; though it still does create the folder Fonts (Removed) in both the main /Library folder, and the /System/Library folders. When the Terminal command is run, it produces this "error" message:
These fonts are not part of the default system install. They would have been removed to 'Fonts (Removed)':
/System/Library/Fonts/Helvetica LT MM
/System/Library/Fonts/Times LT MM
The message is wrong since a default install of Lion, Mountain Lion or Mavericks will install these files. Font Book runs the Unix command fontrestore under the option Restore Standard Fonts. When run, it does indeed remove all of the MM fonts. Proof enough for me they're dead. For this reason, they are no longer included in the list of required fonts in Lion or later. The initial purpose for these fonts was to duplicate the Adobe Reader's built in MM fonts for use in Preview. These MM fonts no longer exist in the Adobe Reader, and it appears Apple has followed suit, but hasn't cleaned up the OS installers.
Starting with Lion, 10.7.x, Apple made the decision to hide the Library folder in the user accounts. Most tech writers presume this was to make it more difficult to locate and delete files a person shouldn't be digging through (without knowing what they're for). In order to see the Library folder of your account, Apple's method involves (1) being at the desktop, (2) hold down the Option key and (3) choose Go > Library from the menu. For advanced users, this gets really old since it's surprising how often you do go into your Library folder for various reasons. To make it permanently visible, open Terminal and enter the following command:
chflags nohidden ~/Library
This will make the Library folder visible for the account you are logged into at the time, so the command will need to be repeated for each user account as you log into each one. This change will also be reset if you reinstall the OS or apply any updates. You will then need to repeat the process.
In Mavericks, Apple has made showing your home Library folder much easier. Open your user account by double clicking the icon of the house within the Users folder. It must be the active folder in the Finder in order for this to work. Then choose View > Show View Options. There will be a check at the bottom labeled Show Library Folder. If your user account folder is not open and selected, you will not see this check box.
Required fonts in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder.
The following lists, arranged by the release level of OS X, are the minimum recommended fonts.
OS X, 10.9 Mavericks
Apple has shifted fonts around again in Mavericks. The Avenir, Palatino and Optima fonts, which were in the /Library/Fonts/ folder in Mountain Lion are now in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder. The system Thonburi .ttf fonts have been combined into a single .ttc font.
Apple Gothic no longer appeared to be a required font, but a change in 10.9.2 has brought it back. The Messages app now fails if this font is missing. The default font for Notes is now Helvetica, so MarkerFelt is also no longer needed. You can easily change the default font for Notes back to MarkerFelt if you wish. Leave MarkerFelt on your system if you prefer to use that font.
The keyboard viewer has changed in Mavericks to use the font AppleSDGothicNeo. It will display very strangely if this font is not active.
Be extremely careful when removing fonts in Mavericks. There is no longer a ProtectedFonts folder. If you remove a critical system font and delete it, it's gone and will need to be replaced from a backup, or by reinstalling the OS if you have no backup.
In all previous versions of OS X, the loss of Lucida Grande would make your system unusable. What Mavericks does differently as a form of font protection is to use the first available system font (not including Apple Color Emoji) for the menus. I had already minimized the fonts in my System folder, so when I removed Lucida Grande, Mavericks switched to Courier, which was next in the list. If I removed that, the menus switched to Geneva. Mavericks will continue to move down the list of available fonts alphabetically.
The minimum fonts recommended for Mavericks in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder are:
Apple Color Emoji.ttf
Fonts updated in 10.9.2
Apple Color Emoji.ttf, AmericanTypewriter.ttc, ArialHB.ttc
OS X, 10.8 Mountain Lion
See the font list under Lion, 10.7. The minimum font list for 10.8 is almost identical to 10.7. AppleGothic.ttf is in the /Library/Fonts/ folder in Mountain Lion. It likely wasn't intended to be, but that's where it is. Be sure to keep AppleGothic.ttf when doing any purging of the /Library/Fonts/ folder. Otherwise, all other fonts are the same in Mountain Lion for the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder as they are in Lion.
The only other semi font related difference is that Notes has been separated from Mail as an individual app. As in previous versions of OS X, the default font for Notes is MarkerFelt.ttc.
OS X, 10.7 Lion
At first glance, it appeared Lion had eliminated Helvetica Light and Helvetica Light Italic from its required fonts. They are still there and have been moved into the Helvetica.dfont package. HelveticaNeue, which was a .ttc font package in Snow Leopard, is now once again a .dfont. So .dfonts aren't as obsolete as it once appeared Apple was going to make them.
MarkerFelt.ttc has apparently been forgiven of some transgression by the rest of the fonts in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder and has returned there from its banishment in the /Library/Fonts/ folder of Snow Leopard. If you use an email program other than Mail, you can remove Markerfelt.
I really don't know why HelveticaNeueDeskUI.ttc is a protected font. From the name, one would guess that DeskUI stands for Desktop User Interface. I've removed it from the system entirely in testing, and Lion didn't seem to care in the least that it was gone. It's also one of those fonts that Suitcase displays beginning with a period. In fact, even the names of the four fonts within the TrueType Collection start with periods. Because of that, even when active, they don't show up in any application. They're not hurting anything to be in the System folder, and Apple must have some purpose for them; I just can't see what that may be.
While you may never use it, Apple Color Emoji.ttf must be left in the System's Fonts folder. It will only cause a problem if you open the Character palette and click on the Emoji heading, but then the Character palette will be royally stuck.
Previously, you could remove Apple's Helvetica fonts and permanently use Type 1 PostScript versions in their place. Not any more. Address Book is one app which will not launch if Apple's version of Helvetica is missing. So for prepress, designers or others who must use Type 1 PostScript versions of Helvetica or Helvetica Neue, it is now a requirement to copy Apple's Helvetica fonts to a non Fonts folder location, remove them from the System and ProtectedFonts folders, and then set up separate sets in your font manager for Apple's Helvetica fonts, and another for your third party Helvetica fonts. Then turn on whichever set you need at the time and turn the other set off. It's not perfect as you may need the the Type 1 fonts open, which will leave you temporarily unable to open Address Book until you disable the Type 1 fonts and turn the Apple supplied versions back on. There is no way around it. You simply can't have both on at the same time.
So other than this new problem with Helvetica for those who need the use of Type 1 PostScript Helvetica fonts, the minimum System folder font list for OS X, 10.7 is:
Apple Color Emoji.ttf
A handful of fonts have received an update for Lion over the course of the OS updates noted next. If you had previously removed the updated fonts from the /Library/Fonts/ folder, the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder and the ProtectedFonts folder, you will need to do so again. You can see some are repeated as some of the fonts have been updated more than once. Also, if you commonly use the Combo updates, they will contain all fonts which have been updated since 10.7.0. So even if there are no font updates in a given point release, you will still be reinstalling all fonts which have received changes. There are some minor date differences between 10.7.3 and 10.7.4 on a few fonts, but only by a few days. I would suspect they weren't actually changed.
Fonts updated in 10.7.2
In the /Library/Fonts/ folder:
Devanagari Sangam MN.ttc
Myanmar Sangam MN.ttf
In the /System/Library/Fonts/ and ProtectedFonts folders:
Fonts updated in 10.7.3
In the /Library/Fonts/ folder:
Devanagari Sangam MN.ttc
Myanmar Sangam MN.ttf
In the /System/Library/Fonts/ and ProtectedFonts folders:
OS X, 10.6 Snow Leopard
The font formats have changed in Snow Leopard, though the main list of fonts shows little change. Apple has replaced many of their proprietary .dfont fonts with standard TrueType OpenType fonts, which have a .ttf or .ttc extension. There are a handful of .dfonts left in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder, but for the most part, they're obsolete (see section 8 for additional fonts Snow Leopard installs). As in OS X 10.5, the Multiple Master fonts are visible, but are blank entries which can be removed.
The recommended minimum font list for OS X, 10.6 is:
HelveticaLight.ttf (added in 10.6.5)
HelveticaLightItalic.ttf (added in 10.6.5)
Menlo.ttc (the new default font for Terminal)
MarkerFelt.ttc is still required for the Notes portion of Mail in Snow Leopard, but is no longer in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder. Instead, it's been moved to the /Library/Fonts/ folder.
OS X, 10.6.5 Snow Leopard
Two new fonts have been added in this midpoint update. Both of which are added to the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder, and the ProtectedFonts folder (reference section 5). As with Apple's versions of Helvetica and Helvetica Neue, the new HelveticaLight.ttf font conflicts with the Adobe Type 1 version. So you have yet another font to manage or remove in order to use your preferred, or required version of Helvetica Light. Other fonts have received updates, so if you've removed them following your initial install of Snow Leopard, you'll have to remove the fonts again following the install of any Snow Leopard Combo or Delta update which includes them. These fonts are:
In the /Library/Fonts/ folder:
In the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder:
In the ProtectedFonts folder:
OS X, 10.5 Leopard
In this version, the Multiple Master fonts used by Preview are visible, whereas they are hidden in earlier versions of OS X. Helvetica and Helvetica Neue are now in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder rather than the /Library/Fonts/ folder. Courier is no longer a critical system font in Leopard. Also notable is that Leopard comes with OpenType versions of the same named fonts installed by Microsoft Office listed in section three. The following list is the minimum set of fonts for OS X, 10.5.
Helvetica LT MM
MarkerFelt.dfont (for the Notes portion of Mail)
Times LT MM
OS X, 10.3 Panther, and OS X, 10.4 Tiger
Required fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ folder.
The /Library/Fonts/ folder contains many standard web fonts. At minimum, the following fonts should remain in order for web pages to display properly. The names below are how they will appear in Leopard, 10.5 through Mavericks, 10.9.
Panther 10.3, and Tiger 10.4 have most of the following fonts as legacy Mac TrueType. Their names will be the same as the shorter list noted at the beginning of section three. Panther, 10.3 does not include Impact. Neither 10.3, or 10.4 include any version of Wingdings.
Recommended minimum fonts for the /Library/Fonts/ folder:
Arial Bold Italic.ttf
Arial Narrow Bold.ttf
Arial Narrow Italic.ttf
Arial Narrow Bold Italic.ttf
Comic Sans MS.ttf
Comic Sans MS Bold.ttf
Georgia Bold Italic.ttf
Times New Roman.ttf
Times New Roman Bold.ttf
Times New Roman Italic.ttf
Times New Roman Bold Italic.ttf
Trebuchet MS Bold.ttf
Trebuchet MS Italic.ttf
Trebuchet MS Bold Italic.ttf
Verdana Bold Italic.ttf
Note: In addition to the above list, if you are running Snow Leopard, you must keep MarkerFelt.ttc.
Note: In addition to the above list, if you are running Mountain Lion or Mavericks, you must keep AppleGothic.ttf.
All other fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ folder can be removed.
If you use iLife or iWork: The following fonts are also located in the /Library/Fonts/ folder. While the iLife and iWork apps will launch without the following fonts, the supplied templates use them. Apple suggests these fonts always be available for these apps. If you do not use the any of the iLife or iWork apps, you can remove these fonts. Most of these fonts in Leopard, 10.5 and earlier are .dfonts. Also in 10.5 and earlier, Chalkboard and Chalkboard Bold are separate fonts. In 10.6 and later, they are combined in the TrueType Collection, Chalkboard.ttc.
If you use Microsoft Office: See Section 3 of this article for more info on the fonts Office installs. Some are newer and some are older than those installed by Leopard through Mavericks.
Once you have manually reduced the fonts on your system to the minimum, always use your font manager to control all other font activation and deactivation. The better font managers will stop you from creating font conflicts. Your font manager can't help prevent that if you manually place fonts you want to use in a Fonts folder.
An important step you should take after manually removing fonts is to clear the font cache files from the system. See section 17 for the proper procedure. Font Book users should also reset the application to update its database. See section 6 for more details.
When it comes to font managers, there's one thing I can't stress enough: have only one font manager on your Mac at a time. This will save you a lot of head scratching.
If you double click a font, your third party font manager will activate the font. At the same time, Font Book will show a preview of the font and give you the choice to activate the font or cancel. By canceling, the font will not be copied to the Fonts folder chosen in its preferences. In this way, Font Book can be used strictly as a font viewer. Though since all font managers I've tried have their own way of displaying font samples, it isn't necessary to keep Font Book on your hard drive if you're not using it. Font Book has no special connection to the OS. It's just another font manager and can be safely removed. Also, simply having Font Book's database on the system can possibly prevent another font manager from working correctly. So if you aren't using it, you should not have Font Book on the drive. See section 6 on the steps for completely removing Font Book and its database.
A scenerio of having more than one active font manager: When you double click on a new font in a folder, both Suitcase and FontExplorer X Pro will add it to their list of activated fonts. You then later disable the font in Suitcase. However, the font is still active in all of your applications. Why? Because FontExplorer X Pro is still holding the font open. I used Suitcase and FontExplorer X Pro for this example, but this will happen in virtually any case of multiple font managers on your system. Once you have decided which font manager you are going to use, completely remove any other font manager from your Mac.
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