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Removing Nonessential System Fonts in Leopard

In previous versions of Mac OS X, experienced design and prepress users who wanted to optimize their production computers have removed nonessential system fonts, especially those which conflicted with PostScript Type 1 fonts of the same name?for example, Helvetica or Times. If you are one of those users, you should know that there’s an important change in system behavior in Leopard and a workaround.

I was informed of this change today by font guru and consulting colleague, Chuck Weger of Elara Systems, and I wanted to pass this on to InDesignSecrets readers.

The method of removing nonessential fonts has been officially documented by Apple for past Mac OS X systems. The latest resource is the PDF, “Advanced Typography with Mac OS X Tiger.” Refer to the section, “Optimizing a Production System,” beginning on page 22.

I’ll include what Chuck found in his own words. Pay special notice to Chuck’s warnings about using this technique at the end:

In the past, pro font users tended to remove problematic system fonts such as Helvetica, because they tended to conflict with the users’ own preferred fonts of the same name. These “required” system fonts were (and still are) stored in:


In Tiger and earlier systems, you could delete such fonts by selecting, deleting, then authenticating as an admin. No problem (well, there were sometimes cache-related problems, but those were easily solved by adding back or enabling your own version of the deleted font, and before Tiger you probably had to clean the font cache as well).

In Leopard, however, if you delete a “required” font like Helvetica this way, it will delete fine, but then you’ll see a dialog that says “The system font ‘Helvetica’ was removed. This font file is required by Mac OS X to display onscreen text. It has been restored.” And shazam, the font miraculously reappears in /System/Library/Fonts.

So, NO WAY to get rid of such fonts? Not to worry, there’s a solution:

Navigate in the Finder (or your favorite file manager substitute) to:


Here you’ll see a copy of key fonts needed by the system. Delete the font from this directory first, THEN you can delete it from the /System/Library/Fonts folder.

You’ve essentially just broken Leopard’s ability to repair itself as far as that particular font goes. But, in a pro publishing environment where your Helvetica is not the same as Apple’s choice, that’s something you sometimes have to do.

As far as I know, the major font managers have not yet been updated to deal with this change.

WARNING: don’t try this at home if you’re not sure what you’re doing. This technique should only be used by experienced design/prepress users who simply MUST control their font destiny. If you remove Helvetica (for example) in this way, IMMEDIATELY replace it with the Helvetica of your choice (PostScript, OpenType, TrueType) — but don’t put it in the /System/Library/Fonts folder, instead put it in a higher-level place, like /Library/Fonts.

And in NO case should you ever remove the Lucida Grande, Keyboard, or LastResort fonts.

Hope this helps others who battle with fonts daily.

Steve Werner

Steve Werner

Steve Werner is a trainer, consultant, and co-author (with David Blatner and Christopher Smith) of InDesign for QuarkXPress Users and Moving to InDesign. He has worked in the graphic arts industry for more than 20 years and was the training manager for ten years at Rapid Lasergraphics. He has taught computer graphics classes since 1988.
Steve Werner

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  • - November 30, -0001
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33 Comments on “Removing Nonessential System Fonts in Leopard

  1. All well and good, but battling Apple on this topic is (IMHO) like tilting at windmills. Perhaps it’s time to just give up and use the Apple Courier, Helvetica, Symbol, Times, and Zapf Dingbats (the five .dfonts which conflict with the Adobe PS ones)…

  2. I figured out that Protected Fonts folder, but it seems like some applications still have some serious issues. If you’re using iPhoto without the Apple Helvetica Neue, you can’t edit event names. I tried replacing with my own, but no dice. And it seems like Aperture has some serious issues once you start removing fonts too. I haven’t figured out which font it’s missing there, but it’s getting to be a royal PITA.

  3. What is frustrating about this is Apple has known (because people like Chuck and Steve and David and me have told them) that the way to fix all these issues is to stop distributing OS X versions with fonts that have the same name as the more commonly-used Type 1 fonts.

    There is no need at all for the Helvetica that comes with any of the OS X cats to have the same name as the Type 1 Helvetica that was sold by Adobe and other type houses.

    Adobe understood this when they named all their new OpenType fonts with the Pro or Std addition.

    Apple could have done something similar with a HelveticaOSX, SymbolOSX, TimesOSX, etc.

    And they could have fixed all this whenever a new breed of cat came out.

    The fact that they haven’t fixed the problem borders on purposeful sabotage on the pro-graphics user.

  4. I removed a font as described above and had the same problems Geo reported. Good news for me was I don’t use iphoto that much and never use aperture but this is not fair to those who do. Plus I had thought that since my new MBP came with iLife 08 I would try to be better about using the iPhoto program. I guess not, at least for now.

    I wonder though, with all the ultra smart savvy Mac guru’s out there, would someone know how to change the preferred font for iphoto, ect? The only font I removed was Helvetica Neue so that is obviously the culprit.

  5. While I’m honored to be quoted in this illustrious publication, I have to take issue with Sandee’s comment that this is some sort of Apple conspiracy. Sandee, you’ve been in NYC too long. Here in DC, we know there are NO conspiracies, only things that are bumbled more than others.

    That said, think about this from Apple’s point of view. What’s more important? Making things easier on consumers, from whence derives the Mac’s growth of late? Or worrying about the rants of old graphic arts folk, half of whom wish that OS 9 were still around anyway?

    I think the right way to handle this is by using font management. When you run Aperture, or iPhoto, or whatever program needs Helvetica Neue or other font, just turn the font(s) on. Then when done, turn them off. Yes, this is a problem if you want to run iPhoto AND run that client’s InDesign job that needs a PostScript Helvetica Neue, so the answer is: don’t do that.

    I think Apple tries hard to do right by its users; it doesn’t always get things right. Slowly but surely, though, it’s edging in the right direction. Send comments to:

    If they get enough feedback about this from people other than “consultants” (who after all just feed on the brains of others), then perhaps things will eventually change.

  6. We professionals know there are a limited number of fonts required for OSX to run. Why can’t Apple just put the bare minimum fonts in the System/Library/Fonts. All of the bare minimum fonts should either be named Apple-(Font Name) or hidden from Font Menus and only used for internal system or both.

  7. An excess of fonts;
    Chuck is rather disingenuous to make that comment given that designers are the community which continued to support mac during the various periods when it produced some pretty awful computers. So the issue with to many fonts seems from other comments easy enough to solve why not just do it. What marketing research has come up with the demand from users for some of those very odd and at times repetitive fonts which fill up the list. By all means supply them and as Apple is so good at making applications easy, devise a simple way of bunging them into whatever application you want. However start from simplicity there is nothing like beginning with the minimum and adding complexity as its required.
    adrian young, canberra, australia

  8. Tried the solution. Mail changed to “base” font. Biggest problem is Filemaker (V6) looks perfect on screen but prints using default fonts. If I output to PDF then it prints OK. I?m not a “techie” but I have tried many permutations of this solution and nothing changes the outcome. Default font is what always prints out in Filemaker. Other programs are OK afaik. Any thoughts?

  9. I’m a little behind in the font discussion, but I’m not sure what the problem is here. We’re InDesign users. We can have more than one version of Helvetica (with the same name) running at the same time because InDesign’s menus show us which version we’re choosing. No? Here’s my old PostScript Type 1 version next to Apple’s dfont.

  10. Yes, David, InDesign is pretty smart about multiple fonts, but other applications are not. Not everyone has the blessing of being able to llve in InDesign 24/7 (except you and Anne-Marie, of course!)

  11. The fonts I would like to get rid of are the ones built into indesign, like Giddyup and Stencil and the foreign character fonts that fill up the font pallette menu. I’ve tried removing the AdobeFnt10.lst file within the indesign fonts folder, but it keeps coming back. Any ideas?

  12. I don’t know if any of you can help me, but I installed Leapord yesterday, installed all of the programs that I wasnted with the exception of XP and Logic Pro. By the way, I am a web designer, new to mac, I use illustrator, and photoshop primarily. After installing my programs and updating my system, I did something stupid. I copied a huge amount of fonts(10k +) into my library/font folder. I restarted the computer and i get the spinning circle. My harddrives appeared along with and error say font conflict and that the system would try to repair it. It stayed on all night spinning and I cannot get in to my system to delete the fonts. Is there any way to fix this without wiping the drive nd reinstalling everything over? Will archive and install be a solution? Pleeaaaase Help Me.

  13. Terrence, first of all, welcome to Mac, you will learn to love it! Try starting up from your install CD. Put in the CD and reboot the computer, hold down ‘C’ on the keyboard until it starts from the disc. Then you can navigate to your font folder and remove all the fonts you crammed in there. Hope that helps. -T

  14. This whole font issue with OSX is really irritating because as has been mentioned, graphic designers are one of the user groups that kept Apple in many business settings where the user base would otherwise have been entirely Windows-oriented. Think about it…if it weren’t for graphic designers, hundreds of IT professionals out there would never have to contend with Apple users struggling with Windows server. The mind boggles.

    Anyway, our design department is migrating to Leopard and CS3 soon and I’ve been tasked with trying to resolve our upcoming font issues. I came across this interesting solution at creativetechs:

    The only problem with purchasing these new fonts is that Adobe doesn’t sell these “Std” version helveticas in sets that match the old PS Neue sets. So Apple makes a rather clumsy change to the OS font management and Adobe makes a nice profit? Conspiracy theory maybe, but I think you owe Sandee an apology, Chuck. ;)

    Also, while Chuck’s fix is an interesting choice, won’t it be undone by the OS everytime you do a 10.5.X update?

  15. Hey folks. Not to excuse Apple, but if you actually “buy” the new OpenType versions of Helvetica and Helvetica Neue, you’re good since the file names using the Linotype name as the differentiator. Best of both worlds. Keep the system intact without messing and get your hi-level of control for print.

  16. That’s a great idea John, buy the OpenType version of HelveticaNeue to replace the Postscript version 1 already own.
    Obviously you don’t run your own business – have you even looked at the cost of the complete OpenType Helvetica Neue library?
    I need to spend $150 to upgrade to Leopard, and $1,500 to upgrade just ONE of the font families (Linotype Neue Helvetica Pro Family CD OpenType) I use in my everyday business to make the $150 upgrade work correctly!
    Hmmm, Apple must be bring back its “Think Different” campaign with logic like that.

  17. This Helvetica thing is driving me nuts. I installed Leopard a couple of days ago. I have followed the fix instructions to the letter, but every time I activate Helvetica Neue or Helvetica with Suitcase Fusion, I get a conflict error. I have checked every font folder in the system, and deleted my archived system folder, and STILL get the conflict warning!

    I used Text Edit to get a quick list of active fonts before activating either version of Helvetica and there was no Helvetica listed. Any ideas? Anybody?

  18. I’m having the same problem josh did, i killed the helvetica fonts but on reboot, i still get the errors… sux! help!

  19. As it has been mentioned previously, Apple decided to “stick it to us” when they made their system fonts trump our design fonts. The only solutions I know of are to buy the very expensive, newly named versions of the fonts or work in a pre-Leopard OS.

  20. Pingback: Is 10.5 Leopard stable for production yet? -

  21. Like Josh, Dan, and Brandon, I have followed this fix to the letter and am still getting error messages when I activate Helvetica or Helvetica Neue in Suitcase. Then, as a result, fonts in Firefox and Leopard all go haywire. Help! This fix doesn’t seem to be working.

    (And, yes, this conflict doesn’t always affect InDesign, but I need to use a web browser to get much of the information and assets that I need when I work in InDesign. )

  22. My statement is radical:

    It is useless to clean the world of fonts by trying to clean Apples policy. There are already too many Helveticas and Times versions out there. You can?t put them back into the bottle again.

    If all designers would tell their clients instead not to use those fonts at all ? or to use a copied/converted version with a new name ? then 90 percent of all those problems would be gone.

  23. … and to all those who are using Suitcase Stop it. Manage your fonts by hand instead, using your User > Library > Fonts (and Fonts_deactivated) folder. And everything is working fine. Suitcase, Font Explorer will always have their own memory which fonts are out there in the system and which not: and this memory will always be different from the memory the system has.

    Radical statement No. 2 …

  24. Has anyone tried this method to get around the Helvetica and Helvetica Neue issue. I?m on OS X 10.4 and have been tackling this issue with Helvetica since OS X 10.2 days this way. It?s a bit of non-technical left field approach but works really well. Not the best for Pro-production work around but great for everyone else.

    Using OS9, don?t let this through you off, it?s my only means of opening up a font suitcase that contains the individual font weights. Before you start though make a copy of the entire Helvetica font family including printer fonts and name the font folder with a different name like Helvetica Without for example.

    Open the suitcase copy, by double click on it, and remove/deleting the conflicting font weights (ie. Helvetica Roman, Helvetica Bold, etc) but only the conflicting weights. Also remove/delete the matching postscript printer font as well.

    Use the modified Helvetica ?Without? version to load into your font manager or into one of the many font folders, but not the System/Library/Fonts folder. You will find the modified Helvetica font family will no longer conflict with systems Helvetica and you will have a complete font set.

    A friend of mine just upgraded to OS X 10.5.2 and I have solved her issue this way for Helvetica Neue and she reports that all is running well.

    Small note: if you were to supply this font, not that legally you should be, must remember to include the postscript version, but being Helvetica or Helvetica Neue most prepress organizations will substitute their own version for your one anyway. Also there are a few OS X applications our there that will open font suitcases but I don?t own any.

  25. Regarding the iPhoto problem, I found the following worked:
    1. Ensure iPhoto is not running.
    2. Select the iPhoto application and ‘right click’ on it. Select ‘Show Package Contents’.
    3. Navigate to ‘iPhoto/Contents/Resources/Fonts’.
    4. Put a copy of Apple’s Helvetica Neue in this folder.
    5. Possibly optional step – restart your computer.

    This worked using 10.5.6. and iPhoto 8.0.1.
    I never normally use iPhoto so it may be that other problems I am unaware of will manifest themselves in iPhoto if you do this. I hope not!

  26. In our situation, we needed to be able to use the full Postscript library of Helvetica Neue, due to way too much existing work. Up until now, I had removed the dfont version completely, and had the Postscript version loaded with the system fonts. Unfortunately, this breaks the latest iPhoto, where nothing shows on launch. By placing the dfont file where Andy indicated above, it works as expected. Funny thing is, it looks like it is actually using the PS version as the baseline is shifted up (like in Dashboard’s calendar). The dfont version does not show up as activated in FontExplorer either.

    Hey, it works for me…

  27. Please can anyone help with my font torture?

    I am unable to use Helvetica Neue Roman (which I just bought) in Illustrator and InDesign CS4. I am using Leopord.

    I have followed the suggestions of deleting the inherent Apple Helvetica Neue system fonts (from both places.) That done, I then loaded the new Helvetica Neue Roman font named “HelveNeuRoman” no suffix, postscript Type 1 outline font into my fonts folder in my library- not the system folder library. I restarted the computer and was unable to see the font I had just loaded. Tried loading it into the system fonts folder and the user fonts folder–nothing works.

    Any ideas?

  28. I’m using Snow Leopard and was having trouble with conflict between the Helvetica Neue system font and the Helvetica Neue fonts in my InDesign magazine templates. As so many people are using these templates replacing the font with a LT was really not an option, so I needed to find a solution. I pasted a copy of the Helvetica Neue fonts directly into the fonts folder in the InDesign folder in Applications. Now at least I can see the fonts correctly without replacing them every time! Hopefully this will work for printing and everything else too…

  29. I have removed Helvetica Neu from the system folder and the protected folder on two occasions and have run into trouble on both (OSX 10.6.7). After removal both systems were OK until re-start, but after restarting no applications (other than Apple ones) would detect fonts in either /Library/Fonts or Users/Username/Library/Fonts. I could work round this in InDesign by using its own application font folder but other CS apps and Microsoft Office applications only displayed fonts that were in the System/fonts folder. To complicate matters FontBook could see them all normally. I clean installed Snow Leopard on my home machine which fixed it, but that wasn’t an option on my work machine, so after much frantic googling found this nugget:;jsessionid=M1RASULCYW5NXLAQAAUQ0FQ?articleNumber=7902300
    The behaviour described matched my problem perfectly. I didn’t want to re-install the font so used option 2 and disabled the protection behaviour. I realise that it’s there for a reason but the pros and cons. Hopefully this will help someone out before it drives them mad or reaches for the install discs.

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