Font Purging / 39,447 to 50

Posted by Alex

I have 39,447 fonts on my computer. Or at least I did, up until about 30 minutes ago when I cleansed my machine of all the typographic nonsense that was polluting my list. I had thought about doing this font purge for some time, but hesitated, just in case I might one day need to design a document using the official Jedi Knight font, or something similarly ridiculous.

I remember hearing Massimo Vignelli say in the Helvetica documentary that he only uses about three typefaces. I was embarrassed at the time, thinking of my infinite list compiled over many years of dafont downloads and “BEST FONTS!!!” torrents. I guess I considered myself a typeface collector and I worked hard to “get them all”, even if I had no idea of what use some of them would ever be.

As I progressed through school, I noticed that just about everything I had ever designed used the same 5-10 typefaces. Every time I opened Illustrator I scrolled endlessly past hundreds of handwriting fonts, “distressed” fonts, you name it; always searching for the same go-to options. When I did deviate, the work usually suffered.

After much deliberation, I widdled my list down and trimmed the fat as it were. No longer will I be tempted to use weird knockoffs of Gotham or Helvetica clones. I consider myself much better off because of this — not just because it’s easier to manage a smaller list — but because the typefaces I kept are good typefaces. They’ve stood the test of time, and are the result of a tremendous amount of hard work and development by expert typographers. I know something about each one; who designed it, where it came from etc. In this way it’s a bit like my iTunes library; I probably have about 60,000 songs, but mainly listen to a few selected playlists. I have thousands of songs with a play count of “zero”. Why I keep them around I have no idea.

The book pictured above is 30 Essential Typefaces for a Lifetime by Imin Pao and Joshua Berger. It’s a good place to start if you are considering a font purge of your own. (Though I disagree in a few places; for example I would not include Trajan on my list). My final count is now about 50 typefaces; a much more manageable number I’d say. It’s not Massimo’s magic number — I don’t think I could survive on three alone — but scrolling through 50 sure beats scrolling through 39,447.

note: I, and and many designers I know, tend to use the terms “font” and “typeface” interchangeably. Technically this is incorrect as they are not the same thing. Both this and this article do a good job illustrating the difference. Old habits die hard for me; I didn’t actually know there was a difference until about a year ago, so it’s taken some time for me to change my language.

34 Comments Leave A Comment


Wittevrongel says:

July 26, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I was suffering of the same problem until I started sorting my fonts. Using a font manager really made it much easier.

I still have around hundred fonts but only a few are active. Afterall, doesn’t every designer has his go-to list? ;)


koneyn says:

July 26, 2009 at 9:54 pm

Good idea, Alex. Though I’m nowhere near your 40 thousand fonts (???) I’d still like to narrow it down as much as possible. Certainly not more than 30, as the book suggests.

I know DIN is staying there for sure :)


RA_OUL says:

July 26, 2009 at 11:46 pm

Super insightful post Alex! You really inspired me to cut my font collection I am such a pack rat when it comes to fonts and music. I read those articles on what the difference is between font and typeface is and they made it pretty clear…I never really knew the difference. I always went with whatever I felt like saying at the moment.

Once again awesome post!


Scott says:

July 27, 2009 at 12:11 am

Some of my faves that come to mind:

Meats+Potatoes: Univers, Trade Gothic, DIN, Helvet….I mean Akzidenz, Century Gothic, Futura (sometimes it works)

Just for fun: Bauhaus, Chalet/chalet comprime, Avant Garde, Annonce, Dokyo, Giza


michael j. says:

July 27, 2009 at 12:12 am

What do you use to organize and activate all of those fonts? Has it changed since you whittled it down to 50? Are you into any Emigre fonts?


Leon says:

July 27, 2009 at 12:39 am

I’ve always wondered why is so popular.

Some of my favourites are: Clarendon, Miedinger, Agostina, Trade Gothic, Century Schoolbook and Gentium (freefont) for books or papers.


maze says:

July 27, 2009 at 1:06 am

Keeping all these fonts on your computer is like having a lot of clothes in your closet but always wearing the same few favourite ones. Because they are the only ones that really fit.


alex says:

July 27, 2009 at 1:29 am

michael j- I use Linotype Font Explorer. It does a good job. I’ve never really used it all that much, so I can’t really give a full review, but I like it for basic Font exploring and activating etc. I got it a while ago and I think that is the same one, not sure.

maze- Definitely- clothes, music, fonts; all things I have way too many of only to use few at a time.

koneyn- DIN is the best ever, definitely made the cut :)


NAVIS says:

July 27, 2009 at 2:00 am

I just cleansed my computer of all my music I never or have never listened to. Best idea ever. I also did that to my wardrobe considering all I ever wear is boardshorts.


Chris says:

July 27, 2009 at 3:45 am

Come on Alex, we would all like to see that list! Don’t be protective about it ;-) We know you put in hard work to get to those final 50, but now that you’ve written a – very good – post about it, you just have to share it!!


FlyCasual says:

July 27, 2009 at 6:12 am

As much as I agree with the theory behind your font purge, as a practicality I don’t think this is wise. The business side of design often includes projects and/or clients that may have less-than-ideal brand style guides, and having access to a clients’ fonts at any given time is crucial.

It’s amazing to me how many clients I come across that can’t even track down a vector-based version of their own logo, let alone a copy of the font their style guide mandates.

Using a font management application like FontExplorer X, and making playlist-style folders for your favorite and not-so-favorite fonts would be a much better way to go.


Adam says:

July 27, 2009 at 7:36 am

Good article and I agree some of us have collected as many useless fonts over the years just to have a huge list but we never use half of those. I think I need to do a font cleaning as well.


Lydia says:

July 27, 2009 at 8:06 am

@Leon “I’ve always wondered why is so popular.”

Are you kidding? It’s a huge free font resource. What more is there to say? :)

I never came close to your number, Alex, but I’ve always horded fonts and used to go on “font sprees” if you will, searching for new and interesting fonts. While in some cases it paid off, now that I’m working for clients more than myself, it is kinda useless to have tons of fun but inappropriate fonts lying around (excuse me, typefaces!). I’m not brave enough to physically delete all those delicious fonts from my computer, but I have a mental list I immediately go to when a new project comes up.

Thanks for the fun post. I’m gonna check out that book for sure.


Nathaniel says:

July 27, 2009 at 8:16 am

Hi Alex,

Thanks so much for that post. I’ve just come across a free hour or so in my busy Saturday, I’m gonna do what I’ve been wanting too do for a while too… Sort out my fonts!

Thanks also for the insight on Typefaces and Fonts, I’ve definitely learnt something from the sites you linked in!




Brett says:

July 27, 2009 at 9:53 am

Great post. Gave me something to think about.

As much as I’d like to see your list… I kind of hope you don’t post it. Simply because as designers I think we should discover on our own, or at least on our own time line, what typefaces are working for us and which ones we should discard.


Marcus says:

July 27, 2009 at 10:02 am

i have a few active *typefaces*. Something like 70k font files. I don’t even have half of those in my font manager (extensis suitcase 11.0, on xp – does a good job). so i just look through the active ones and only start looking through the rest if i don’t happen to find what i want.

show us your final list!


frank says:

July 27, 2009 at 10:44 am

This depends entirely on the kind of work you do. It’s laughable for example to think that you could ever do any serious professional commercial work and never have to use Trajan! Regardless of how you feel about it, you’re going to need it sooner or later. But sure, if you’re doing personal work, or are in the lucky position to somehow have complete creative control over everything you do, I don’t see why you would ever need more than 3 fonts.


Erik says:

July 27, 2009 at 10:59 am

Alex this post makes me very very happy! I used to think I was a slacker since I use about the same 10 fonts just about all the time, but I now feel a bit relieved.

Also fonts and typeface used interchangeably is a habit I picked up as well….



phosfiend says:

July 27, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Nice to see all the DIN love.

I too have a redonculous amount of typefaces on this system, and aside from a few special purpose examples, I usually dip into the same 50-60. Perhaps a tidy-up is in order.

Also, working with clients, project managers, producers and programmers has basically removed ‘typeface’ from my vocabulary, despite the hard work of my design education.


AndresM says:

July 27, 2009 at 5:14 pm

Great book! I found it really exciting to be brought back down to the ground after floating through hundreds of fonts I never quite liked in the first place. It definitely reinvigorated my love for Univers and Avenir
I disagree with your hatin on TRAJAN tho! I think it’s gorgeous. It reminds me of Peter Saville’s Closer font. Most other serif AllCap fonts dont have the beauty Trajan does (in my opinion)


Stephen Coles says:

July 27, 2009 at 6:35 pm

All of these are definitely classics, and I like the idea of whittling down a font collection to some bare essentials, but I think it’s silly to write a book about the typefaces that have already been celebrated and overused. The design landscape, which is more and more homogenous despite expanding choices, is better served by introducing folks to quality typefaces that are underappreciated. It’s something I’ve been trying to do lately:


Scotchio says:

August 6, 2009 at 9:29 am


“My name is Scott and I am a typoholic”
“I haven’t downloaded a dodgy font in 3 weeks”

*Sits and weeps into hands*

Avant Garde and Lubalin Graph will always be on my list, God bless Herb.
I notice there isn’t one serif typeface there. Can’t be without Garamond, or Bodoni either.


aliosha says:

January 15, 2010 at 6:57 am

That was a wonderful idea. I always waste my time when it’s time to choose a font, and I feel the same way : I only use 5-10 fonts.

I’ll do that too, in the next days.

Thank you Alex.


carrie says:

January 15, 2010 at 11:12 am

hey! I work with Joshua Berger. He is sitting 10ft. away right now.
Maybe he can get me a deal on this book. Looks like a good one.


Paul Anthony Webb says:

February 22, 2010 at 6:32 pm

I have 3,698 fonts on my computer right now but after reading this article I realize that I do what you [and nearly everyone in the comments] do : scroll through a long-ass list of typefaces and just fall back on my defaults.

Of course, once I cut my list down, I’ll probably have at least 40 but like you said, it certainly beats going through +100 . . .

As a side note, I discovered this site by accident and I love it. Articles like these have gained you another subscriber.