Organization is crucial to workflow. These 5 tips will help you organize your fonts to maintain your sanity, speed up your tasks, and stop scrolling past fonts you never use.

We designers tend to accumulate fonts as we travel down our career paths. Be it from school, jobs, freelance work — they just have a way of landing on our computers in some buried folder we don’t have to worry about. Then one day we realize something: in every project, we have to scroll through a thousand names in the font menu to either find one that works in our compositions or to find a name we know and swear is here somewhere. It’s madness.

Let’s take a step back. If you’re new, let’s start off on the right foot. It doesn’t have to be like this, and starting out in an organized way will save you hours and hours of clean-up later.


Font Management 101: Stay Sane with These Organization Tips — Sorting
Image via Ditty_about_summer.

Why would we want to do all this work to keep fonts organized? Besides the inherent benefits of organization? If you’ve ever noticed that when you start Photoshop or Illustrator an app takes a while to start up, see which process it hangs on. Chances are, it’s loading all the active fonts in your system.

Managing the active fonts also saves your apps a lot of time and work loading, previewing, and activating them. In addition, scrolling through hundreds of fonts you never use, in search of the perfect one for a job, is just a time-waster.

*Always honor licensing and usage rules for fonts, be they purchased or free. Font designers are designers, just like you, and they do this work for a living. I encourage you to read some pieces on the process, here, here, and here. Just use the golden rule and don’t just trash that “README” file. You or your employer could get in some hot water.


1. Start Smart

Are you the type who downloads fonts indiscriminately, in order to see the font in its actual environment? You would do well to create a Temporary Fonts folder as a sort of staging area for downloaded fonts.

Move them from the Download folder to the Try Out folder — or an area where you can srtore them specifically for try-out periods. You can set up a folder like the one below, or come up with your own system.

Font Management 101: Stay Sane with These Organization Tips — Start Smart

Once you’ve found the winning specimen(s), install or move them to Purchase and Install. Move the remaining font folders or files to a Discard folder. Then you can search in that folder for individual matches. Select all the copies, and trash them. No more duplicates or unused fonts you have to deal with later.


2. Use a Font Manager

All font management apps will cover the most important needs of a designer:

  • Control the organization of your fonts.
  • Preview your fonts.
  • Activation/deactivation.
  • Inform you of problems with a font and/or options for resolution.

There are plenty of respected, easy-to-use font management apps. However, if you’re on a Mac, Font Book is free and comes with every machine. It offers the basic organizational tools you can expect from more expensive options.

Right-click on the fonts for more options, such as the indispensable “Resolve Duplicates” function. This will comb your files for duplicated fonts and either give you options or automatically resolve them, preventing any issues.

Font Management 101: Stay Sane with These Organization Tips — Font Manager

Other popular options include FontExplorer X and Suitcase Fusion. These are apps you’ll have to purchase, but they offer some more robust and granular options for font organization and interface preferences.

Another option is Typekit in Adobe CC. This is an online, cloud-based management app with its own collection of fonts. It also automatically syncs those fonts with any Adobe app, but it’s subscription-based.


3. Use the Cloud to Access Your Favorite Fonts Anywhere

To make sure you always have your collection available, set up a folder in a cloud-based file hosting service. You can use it to manage your own miniature font server, which is accessible on any connected machine and always updated when you connect to the internet.

Font Management 101: Stay Sane with These Organization Tips — Cloud Access

There are many cloud storage services, and most offer a few gigs of storage for free. Check out sites like Dropbox, iCloud, and Google Drive for the most common services with free storage plans. Then you can store your frequently used fonts at those sites and access them if you’re away from a server or working from a different computer.


4. Bite the Bullet and Start Sorting

What does font organization mean? It can be different for everyone. For some, it means having a large, multi-layered system, with many branches. For others, it is simply a way of sorting by general usage scenarios:

  • Serif.
  • Sans-Serifs.
  • Classic Fonts.
  • Fun Fonts.

You can also add a Temporary section again here, so you know whether to keep or discard something. However deep or detailed you want to go depends on your personality and the size of your collection.

The main point is that keeping yourself organized can streamline your process and speed up decision-making. Keeping fonts separated can also make it easy to keep frequent-use fonts activated and rarer ones deactivated.


5. Schedule a House Cleaning Day

It’s never too late to start sorting and organizing your fonts. Even if you’ve been neglecting your collection for years, you can make headway fairly quickly if you set a day and time to spend 30 minutes on it.

Font Management 101: Stay Sane with These Organization Tips — House Cleaning

It can even have a snowball effect — you may enjoy having your fonts organized so much, you’ll want to do it more often, maybe even have them all organized one day!

Whether your preference is Google Calendar or Apple Calendar, it’s easy to set a reminder for every week, or once a month. Just a little ping to say, “Hey, take a few minutes and help your future-self, friend.”


Cover image via igor kisselev.

Enjoy articles about organization and working smarter? Check these out: