OS X: Did you know this useful hidden font feature?

os x did you know this useful hidden font feature copy

If you've ever spent time swapping between fonts to find the most appropriate one you need for use in any project, you've been wasting time -- this hidden feature had you covered all along.


Fun with fonts

You see, most OS X apps rely on Apple's own font management system for the characters you get to use in your documents. See for yourself: launch TextEdit and navigate to Format>Font>Show Fonts (or Command-T) in the Menu bar. A small Fonts window appears on your display.

The Fonts window gathers all your fonts within the following categories:

  • All Fonts
  • English
  • Favorites
  • Recently Used
  • Fixed Width
  • Fun
  • Modern
  • PDF
  • Traditional
  • Web
  • Windows Office Compatible

You can navigate between your available fonts, choose typeface and character size using the Fonts window -- but you can't actually see what the fonts look like. Except -- this isn't really true -- you can see what the fonts look like using an incredibly hard to find tool in the window (c/o Cult of Mac).


Hey Presto

Look closely at the top of the window underneath the word "Font" -- you should see a small dot situated just above the character options. Click on the dot and drag it down and a preview of the font you are curious about appears.

Another way to access this preview is to click on the gears option to the bottom left of the box and select Show Preview from the drop down menu. You then get to see your chosen font at the size and in the colours you select.

I think this must be one of the most useful hidden features for anyone who works with fonts on their Mac.

(Some Mac apps don't use Apple's font management system -- in Adobe CS and Windows you should see a preview of a font's appearance in the name of the font.)

Apple has another application on the Mac to help you work with Fonts, FontBook. This is hidden in the Others folder inside your Applications collection, or you can launch it by selecting Manage Fonts in the Fonts Menu within most OS X apps.


FontBook lets you explore all the fonts you have installed on your Mac, including non-English fonts. Now you can explore every character you have available to you on your Mac. Apple has a tech support note to guide you through some of the other things you can do with this application, and, of course, you can get more help when you choose Font Book Help from the Help menu).

Apple's Steve Jobs loved fonts. When he dropped out of college he took a class in calligraphy:

"I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating," he said in his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005.

This love of calligraphy led Jobs to ensure the first ever Mac, the Macintosh 128K which shipped January 24, 1984, included a collection of a dozen fonts, Athens, Cairo, Chicago, Geneva, London, Los Angeles, Taliesin, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Venice. A little later on Apple introduced TrueType fonts, which looked a lot better when you printed them at large sizes.

With this in mind it seems odd that Apple made it so unintuitive to see previews of fonts while working on documents. But I'm glad to have finally figured out the secret of the preview dot.

I hope this little tip comes in useful.

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