Troubleshooting Installed Fonts That Won't Work

Font problems rarely occur, but when they do, they're often easy to fix

Type blocks

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Font files bring a variety of typefaces and type variants to your computer, but although the installation process is usually seamless, problems occasionally arise that require troubleshooting based on how that typeface was originally acquired.

The troubleshooting steps we outline work for Windows 10 and modern macOS computers.

Although most people think of fonts as being a different way of shaping letters and numbers, the technical term designers use is typeface. A font is merely a variation of a typeface that affects the shape and weight of characters within that typeface. For example, Helvetica Neue is a typeface; Helvetica Neue Light Italic 11-point is a font. With computers, a font file contains the typeface and its variant fonts.

Common General Font Problems

Usually, installing a font file on a Windows or Mac computer is straightforward. However, you'll experience glitches if you:

  • Install duplicate typeface files: If you've installed, for example, two different versions of Adobe Garamond Pro, your computer (or some design programs) may recognize either one or neither of the font files. Locate the font files on your computer and remove duplicates.
  • Use a typeface without installing it: In some cases, particularly related to desktop-publishing programs, the program will package a typeface that allows someone to view the various typefaces and fonts within a document, without those typefaces and fonts residing on the computer that views them. This situation is common with graphic designers who package files in, e.g., Adobe InDesign for printing on commercial presses. The package you received from the designer will likely include some sort of assets or fonts folder; from that folder, install the typeface as normal.
  • Fail to decompress the packaging file: Typefaces you download from websites often appear in an archive format, like ZIP. When you place the new typeface into your Fonts folder, remove them from the archive first, and ensure that your operating system installs them through its font-manager utility.
  • Use a font unsupported within the typeface: Because a font file contains the specific fonts associated with that typeface, you're limited to the fonts contained within the file you install. But not every typeface supports every possible combination of fonts! For example, you could install XYZ Font, which doesn't include an italic variant. In programs like Microsoft Word, this omission isn't a problem, because Word programatically makes the installed typeface "slanty." It doesn't matter whether you have XYZ Italic, in other words, because Word fakes it. However, Adobe InDesign requires specific files for individual typefaces. So if you import a Word document with XYZ Italic, but you don't actually have files for the italic variant, InDesign cannot display the font as intended. The solution is to pick a different typeface — one for which you do have an italic variant — or to install that variant from a different source file.
  • Use an incompatible program: Font files follow from different standards, including TrueType, OpenType, and PostScript. Not every program can read all of these diverse types. Older programs, especially, that rely on internal font-management tools (instead of letting the operating system manage typefaces) may not "see" typefaces in an incompatible format. The only way to correct this problem is to reinstall the font file in a compatible format or to use a different program for your design work.

    Font Problems with Adobe Type Manager

    When you subscribe to Adobe's Creative Cloud software package, you gain access to Adobe Type Manager. ATM offers a host of free and subscription-only typefaces and font variants you're free to purchase. ATM independently manages the installation of relevant font files, so if you experience a problem with a typeface managed by ATM, try uninstalling it then reinstalling it.