I've used or at least tested every font manager mentioned in this article. To help you make a more informed choice as to which one you may want to use, I'm going to list the pros and cons of each one as I see them. These are of course my personal opinions, so you are certainly free to disagree. They are also not exhaustive reviews, but instead focus on the more common features or omissions that make a given font manager easier or harder to use. Reviewed here are the most current versions available at the time of writing, so some features may not be available depending on the version you are using. They are; FontAgent Pro 6, Font Book in OS X 10.9 Mavericks, FontExplorer X Pro 4.0.1, MasterJuggler 3.0.4, Suitcase Fusion 5 (16.0.2) and Fontcase 220.127.116.11. Since Classic (OS 9) went away with Leopard in late 2007, I'm no longer going to to mention it as a pro or con.
1) Copies all fonts you activate to a separate location in your user account. So even if you remove the original font or no longer have access to it, you can still activate the font from its working folder.
2) Has a method to create libraries which contain same named fonts as in other sets.
3) Reliable automatic font activation.
4) Ability to manage system fonts.
5) Font Savant technology virtually ensures auto activation will open the correct version of a font. MagicMatch will give you close optional choices when the original isn't available.
6) Now includes Smasher
1) Fonts cannot be activated in place. Everything is copied to its working folder.
2) Cannot manage system fonts without moving all of them to a special location.
3) Will not let you choose which font to activate when trying to turn on a conflicting font that is already active in another set.
1) Can create font sets.
2) Prevents font conflicts by way of not allowing the same font to be activated from anywhere but the first instance it was added in the interface.
3) Has some nice font viewing and print features that other managers don't have.
4) Stores all fonts in its vault, so fonts you no longer have access to can still be activated.
1) Fonts cannot be activated in place. Everything is copied to its working vault file.
2) No auto activation feature.
3) Font sets cannot have the same fonts as another set.
1) It's free.
2) Can create font sets.
3) Resolves font conflicts. Much better control in Lion through Mavericks than previous versions.
4) Can deactivate fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ and ~/Library/Fonts/ folders to prevent any application from seeing them.
5) Can create Library sets to open fonts in place.
6) Has an automatic activation feature.
1) Different library sets can contain the same fonts, but they must be linked from exactly the same location in order to activate them.
2) Resolving fonts always favors those in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder. This makes it impossible to activate another type of font with the same name without having to first manually remove the conflicting font in the System folder.
3) The "All Fonts" listing does not actually include all fonts.
FontExplorer X Pro
1) Can create full sets that include font names already listed in other sets.
2) Can deactivate fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ and ~/Library/Fonts/ folders to prevent any application from seeing them.
3) Can activate fonts in place. No need to create copies of the fonts you activate.
4) Can also be set up to behave like FontAgent Pro and copy all activated fonts to a working folder to be managed from there.
5) Has an automatic font activation feature.
6) Let's you decide which font to activate when opening a conflicting font.
7) Greatly improved interface and options in the paid version.
1) Auto activation only looks for the correct internal font names. You could activate the wrong version of a font on an existing project.
1) Can create full sets that include font names already in other sets.
2) Activates fonts in place. No need to create copies of the fonts you activate.
1) Makes no attempt to resolve font conflicts. Nor does it give you a function to do so. You must search through the list of fonts in its interface manually to find and resolve them yourself.
2) Makes no attempt to stop you from activating fonts that will conflict.
3) No auto activation feature.
4) Cannot deactivate fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ or ~/Library/Fonts/ folders.
5) Is still a PowerPC only app. Cannot be used in OS X Lion, 10.7.x or later.
Suitcase Fusion 5
1) Can create full sets that include font names already in other sets.
2) Can activate fonts in place. No need to create copies of the fonts you activate.
3) Has a reliable automatic font activation feature.
4) Font Sense technology virtually ensures auto activation will open the correct version of a font.
5) Let's you decide which font to activate or keep active when opening a conflicting font.
6) Individual fonts in a suitcase can be activated or deactivated rather than all or nothing.
7) Can deactivate fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ and ~/Library/Fonts/ folders to prevent any application from seeing them.
8) Has a vault option if you prefer to store copies of fonts that have been added.
9) Can control conflicting system fonts automatically.
10) Quickmatch feature helps you locate fonts which are similar to each other.
1) Conflicting fonts cannot be acted upon individually.
Font Book is of course included with OS X, so you can play around with it as much as you want to see what it can and can't do. FontExplorer X Pro, Suitcase Fusion 5 and FontAgent Pro all have versions you can download and use as fully functional software for 30 days. Plenty of time to run them through the paces. MasterJuggler 3 is the only offering that requires you to purchase the product in order to see what it can do. No trial software is available. MasterJuggler also hasn't received an update in years. Fontcase is available for download and will run as fully functional software for a 15 day trial period.
I included "Can manage system fonts" as a plus for FontAgent Pro only because the software is supposed to be able to do that. In reality, it doesn't do it very well. OS X does a very good job protecting fonts in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder from being deactivated. This can be a plus since it prevents the less knowledgeable user from turning off critical fonts, especially Lucida Grande.
Suitcase Fusion 2 through 5 have solved the issue with the Helvetica system fonts. You don't need to move, or remove any fonts from the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder if you don't want to. There is no longer an option in the preferences as to what to do with the system fonts, but if you activate for example, a Type 1 PostScript version of Helvetica (which will conflict with Apple's versions) Suitcase Fusion 2 through 5 automatically turn the system Helvetica fonts off! When you deactivate your preferred version of Helvetica, Suitcase automatically turns the Apple versions back on. See section 5 for more details.
Part of the original point of this article was to work around the inability of most font managers to disable fonts in the two main Fonts folders from their interface. By manually reducing the fonts on your system to only those listed in section one, it then doesn't matter that you can't control the remaining fonts since you shouldn't be trying to deactivate them anyway. Still, that makes it a plus for Suitcase Fusion 5, FontExplorer X Pro and Font Book to be able to deactivate fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ or ~/Library/Fonts/ folders from its interface if you're uncomfortable about moving fonts out of those folders.
I consider full font sets a very big plus. When you have multiple projects going at once, you want to have a single set for each project that includes every font it uses, not just those that don't already exist in another set. That makes your stop to your font manager a quick and painless process when you can simply turn off set three and turn on set ten. No need to search the other sets for fonts you still need activated. I also consider activating fonts in place a major plus. If you can activate a font right from where it is, why bother copying it to another folder as Font Book, Fontcase and FontAgent Pro insist on doing? The only advantage to that is if the fonts reside on removable media when you first activate them, so you may not have access to the originals later. But to avoid that, all you have to do is copy the fonts to your hard drive first. It's not like they take up a lot of space.
Font Book in Leopard through Mavericks now allow you to open fonts in place by using Library sets. But there are still limitations to how you can add fonts. See below.
If opening fonts for OS 9 (Classic) is still important for you and you don't like manually moving fonts in and out of OS 9's /System Folder/Fonts/ folder to activate/deactivate your fonts, then your only choices for font managers are FontAgent Pro 6 and MasterJuggler 3. With the Intel based Macs making OS 9 virtually obsolete, I wouldn't be surprised if a future release of these two titles removes that ability. Starting with OS X Leopard, Apple has eliminated support for OS 9 entirely, so whether or not a font manager still supports Classic is a moot point if you're using Leopard, 10.5 or later.
So here are my recommendations based on what I consider important. Please note that some of these descriptions may not apply to the version of a given font manager you are using. They are based on the versions which were current at the time of writing and may be somewhat, to drastically different from older versions.
1) Suitcase Fusion 5: Suitcase has been around for a very long time and it shows. Polished, easy to use interface. Excellent font activation that will not let you create font conflicts. Top notch auto activation with Font Sense to virtually guarantee the exact same font will be activated that was used before in a document. Full font sets. Choice of which font to activate or keep active when you try to activate a font that conflicts with one that's already on. Activation of fonts in place. Suitcase Fusion 5 is incredibly stable. It is almost impossible to make it crash, even with the worst fonts. Suitcase Fusion 2 and later have eliminated the potentially dangerous option of deleting your original fonts after adding them to the vault. Adding fonts to the vault now always leaves the originals intact.
Handling of conflicting fonts has been simplified. You choose in its preferences whether fonts you've just activated get turned on and the current active font off, or the existing font in use stays on. It's an all or nothing choice, so you can't do it on a font by font basis as you can in FontExplorer X Pro, or earlier versions of Suitcase. I always turn sets on and off, with each set having every font I need for a project in them, so this is never an issue for me. Others may find it constricting. This is actually a fairly recent change in this program's behavior. Before Fusion 2, you used to be able to choose font by font whether to activate or skip on each conflicting font. Perhaps the function will return if enough users request it. Fusion 3 added a font cache cleaning option within the interface. Version 4 introduced Quickmatch. To see what other goodies Extensis has added to Fusion 5, download the user guide from their web site.
When Extensis acquired Diamond Soft, they were able to add the best features of Font Reserve to Suitcase, hence the name Fusion. Notably from Font Reserve, Suitcase inherited Font Sense and the ability to deactivate individual fonts within a font suitcase. Before, you had to either enable or disable the whole suitcase. Suitcase Fusion 5 can control fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ and ~/Library/Fonts/ folders. I would recommend you remove all but the most basic fonts listed in section one to get your system down to only the fonts it needs in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder. It's up to you then whether or not you want to empty out the /Library/Fonts/ and ~/Library/Fonts/ folders since they can be controlled from within Suitcase Fusion 5.
Suitcase Fusion 5 continues to be my favorite font manager. The interface and preferences are even more simplified than the original OS X versions or the initial version of Fusion. If you've used Suitcase for a long time, you feel like something's been taken away in the sparse looking interface of Fusion 2 through 5, but it's still a very powerful program with even better options and features, while at the same time, removing other interface choices that really weren't needed. The new interface makes it even easier and almost goof proof for even a novice to use while still being, I think, the best font manager available for pros and new users alike.
2) FontExplorer X Pro: If Suitcase no longer existed, I wouldn't hesitate a moment to use this manager. Full font sets. Full choice of which font to activate or keep active when you try to activate a font that conflicts with one that's already on. Allows you to deactivate fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ or ~/Library/Fonts/ folders. Activation of fonts in place.
During its initial setup, you get a check box to "Organize Font Files". This is where you determine how you want FontExplorer X Pro to handle your fonts. If you leave the box unchecked, then fonts are always activated in place. Turn the check box on, and it operates in the same manner as FontAgent Pro, by copying or moving the fonts you add to its own storage space in your user account. If you change your mind later how you want FontExplorer X Pro to handle fonts, you can open its preferences and click on the Advanced tab. At the top, you'll find the same options you had during the first use setup.
Unlike FontAgent Pro, you can keep fonts that have been removed from the interface in storage, if you're using that option. A check box in the Advanced preference settings allows you to determine if items removed from the interface also removes the associated fonts.
FontExplorer X Pro has a much improved interface (though still very busy compared to Suitcase) and new features. Compared to the original free versions, I find it less cluttered than before, and therefore easier to navigate. Important for newer computer users to be less intimidated or confused by a slew of buttons and menus.
Auto activation is reported to be spotty. Fonts that should open with a document don't. If it still relies only on seeing the correct font name, then you could open the wrong version of a font and not know it. Suitcase Fusion 5 and FontAgent Pro have a method of avoiding this possibly very expensive error. Regardless of that, FontExplorer X Pro has a raft of options to fully control your fonts.
3) FontAgent Pro: Auto activation is very reliable. Stable program that rarely crashes. Copies all activated fonts to another location, which I don't find necessary. To create full font sets, use the Libraries option. You can't do this with Sets. In the program preferences, turn on the option to "Enable multiple libraries". It won't work if you're thinking "Suitcase" and try to drag and drop your fonts into the Sets window. You must drop them into the Libraries window. In this way, you can always create full font sets in FontAgent Pro.
An odd thing with Libraries. I created a folder filled with random fonts and then copied that folder to another location. I dropped each folder of fonts into their own Library. Since they were exactly the same, they should create font conflicts if you try to turn both Library sets on. They didn't. FontAgent Pro impossibly showed all fonts as active in both sets. Examining the fonts where FontAgent Pro stores them showed why. There is only one copy of each font regardless of how many entries there are of an identical font in the interface. So you aren't really turning on duplicate fonts. Conflicts will only appear if you try to activate different fonts that have the same internal names. This is both a good and bad thing. It's nice to have one known good font used for all sets. It's bad when a client sends you a modified font which then doesn't get added to your font storage folder because one by that name already exists. That's a disaster in the making.
In a more recent change to how FAP handles its stored fonts, it now lets you create separate subfolders for each library of fonts you add, instead of automatically sorting them by name. This allows you to have multiple sets of stored fonts which can have identical fonts. Big problem, though. The interface still lets you turn on what should be conflicting fonts as before. I once again imported two identical sets of fonts and FAP created duplicate copies of every font under their own subfolders of the storage area. I turned one set on, then the other. As with the previously tested versions, both sets showed as being active, which is impossible without creating font conflicts. And as before, FAP said nothing about conflicting fonts. So even though you can now have multiple copies of the same fonts in storage, if one by that name is already active, that's the one which will be used and any subsequent request will be ignored. All without telling you the font it just labeled green as active was never actually turned on, since another identically named font is already active.
If you remove any fonts, sets or libraries from the interface, FontAgent Pro will also delete the related fonts from its storage location in your user account.
Version four's Font Savant technology, which is similar to Suitcase Fusion's Font Sense, makes FontAgent Pro a strong contender. Having auto activation open exactly the same fonts as before is extremely important in a production environment, saving you from both lost time and income because the wrong version of a font caused text to reflow. When the original font cannot be found, MagicMatch will show you the closest alternative it can find.
All in all, a nice font manager. But its biggest failure is that it never does anything to warn you that a font you think you turned on hasn't been when another font by that name is already active. This can be a tremendously costly error in production.
4) Font Book: Simple, but effective. The Leopard version is identical to Snow Leopard. Allows you to deactivate fonts in the /Library/Fonts/ or ~/Library/Fonts/ folders. However, lack of being able to easily choose which font to disable for a font conflict limits its use to the casual user. No complete font sets. Copies all activated fonts to another location, using the original method.
Library sets do allow you to activate fonts in place without fonts being copied to the Fonts folder designated in Font Book's preferences. There are issues though. While you can create multiple Library sets that include the same fonts, they must be from the exact same location. Adding identical fonts from different locations will add them to the Library set, but then you can't activate either one once they've been disabled.
When you have conflicting fonts, those already installed in the /System/Library/Fonts/ folder always win. The opposite fonts will always be the one disabled. All others in the /Library/Fonts/ or ~/Library/Fonts/ folders can be controlled, but you must do things in the correct order. If you tell Font Book to automatically resolve conflicts, the fonts which are currently active are always the ones to remain active. If you want the conflicting font enabled, you must first deactivate the active font. Then you you can activate the opposite font. This is true even in the conflict resolution interface.
Lion through Mavericks adds a greatly appreciated font conflict resolution interface. Instead of just blindly turning one font or the other off (you have no idea which one, and it doesn't tell you), it presents a screen of the conflicting fonts. You can choose each in turn and select "Reveal in Finder". The folder the font is in will open and the file itself is highlighted. You can now make an informed decision as to which font should be deactivated.
Now if only it worked. The conflict resolution screen isn't as straight forward as you would think. Just like disabling a conflicting font from the main screen, the currently active font is always the one to remain active. Even when using the option to Resolve Manually. It doesn't matter which font you highlight, the inactive font remains that way. So manual doesn't do anything different than automatic. Be very careful if you turn on Font Book's preference to move conflicting fonts to the trash. For example, let's say you have a font in the /Library/Fonts/ folder deactivated, and an identical font active from somewhere else (which you can do in a Library set). Now turn the font in the /Library/Fonts/ folder on. Since the font which was already active is always the one to remain on, when you resolve the conflict, the font in the /Library/Fonts/ folder will be deleted! Not kidding. Right out of the main Library folder. So not just you, but every user account on that Mac loses access to that font.
All of those extra Asian fonts that show up in Font Book's interface, which aren't anywhere in any of the various Fonts folders, are actually buried in the Font Book application package itself. These Asian fonts are referred to as stub fonts (the name of the embedded folder). They don't show up in your applications as fonts you can use, but Font Book still lists them as grayed out, non controllable fonts. I see no purpose for them at all, but there they are.
The way Font Book lists fonts continues to be a confusing mess. You would think "All Fonts" would actually show you all fonts listed in its interface. It doesn't. Neither "All Fonts" or the "Computer" heading will show you a single font that was added in a Library set. You must click on each Library set you have created in order to see what's active or inactive for those fonts.
Font Book's main downfall is how easily its database is corrupted. When that happens, you suddenly can't activate or add some fonts, deactivate those which are already active, have fonts show up in some applications but not others, etc. The only fix is to restart in Safe Mode and back again with a normal restart to clear Font Book's database. This is an okay font manager for light home use, but not a production environment. Font Book is improving, but is still sorely lacking in overall ability.
5) Fontcase: Fontcase has some nice interactive features that others don't, and is greatly improved over the last version tested. But there are still issues. I don't care for any manager that insists on squirreling away fonts in the guise that they're less likely to be damaged that way. The vault is just as susceptible to damage as any other file on the hard drive. The new version 2 eliminates the previous version's clumsy method of copying fonts you activate to your user account Fonts folder, and then deleting them from that location when you deactivate your fonts. Or, at least is used to. Somewhere in the updates between 2.0 and the current 18.104.22.168, the authors put the clumsy method back in. Why?
Font sets are still very limited. In the previous version, you could have a set with Bauhaus in it, with that being the first time Bauhaus was introduced to Fontcase. Then you add another set with Bauhaus. Bauhaus would show up in the second (or any subsequent) set, but could not be activated from there. You had to go to the the first placement of a given font to do so. Adding any font as a single entry rather than in a set behaved the same way. If that font is already in the interface somewhere else, your new entry would be added to the list, but the font could not be activated from there.
Their solution in version two for this issue was to simply not allow the user to add an identical font at all. Period. It will be shown in the first set or individual entry it was originally added as, and nowhere else.
This brings about the same issue as in FontAgent Pro. A customer may have supplied a modified font without changing the name. If that font already exists in Fontcase's database, it will not be added. While you can work around such as issue in FAP, it's impossible in Fontcase. Well, not impossible, but not at all easy. You would have to find and remove its database, forcing you to lose all stored fonts and start over. You can dig into the vault by right clicking on the item and choosing "Show Package Contents". Then you can search through the contents to find the font you need to remove, but it shouldn't be this hard to manage more than one font with the same name.
This problem is one that wouldn't normally happen, but I wanted to test how it would handle duplicate system fonts. I copied Geneva and Menlo out of the System folder into a new folder on the desktop and activated them. Even though they were in a new folder, Fontcase treated them is if they were system fonts and would not let me deactivate them. So now I had a permanent font conflict with the added fonts and those actually in the System folder. The only fix was to shut down Fontcase and manually delete the fonts from Fontcase's vault. Any other font manager correctly treated Geneva and Menlo as just plain ol' fonts which conflicted with the ones in the System folder.
Like Font Book, Fontcase is a light use manager. For folks in prepress and design, its inability to control multiple versions of the same font makes it unusable.
6) MasterJuggler: I rather expected a font manager from a company that produces the indispensable DiskWarrior to be much better than this. A font manager that won't stop you from activating conflicting fonts even from its own interface is useless. You may as well not use a font manager at all and manually move fonts in and out of the /Library/Fonts/ or ~/Library/Fonts/ folders.
In its favor, MasterJuggler is a very stable program that does what it does do very well with full font sets and handling even bad fonts well. But it is very much a font manager that requires the user to fully understand how font conflicts occur, how to avoid them, and how to resolve them on your own.
It seems Alsoft has abandoned MasterJuggler, even though they still sell it. Its last update was 3.0.4 on June 1, 2005 and is still a PowerPC only app, which makes it completely unusable in Lion, 10.7.x or later. Suitable only for users of Snow Leopard, 10.6.x or older.
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