To activate, or not to activate? That is the question. If you’ve built a sizable font collection over the years, you should be able to use them all, right? Well of course you can, but you probably shouldn’t activate them all at the same time.

There are some very practical reasons why you should limit the number of fonts you activate concurrently.

Graphical image of a collage of fonts overlaid with an activation slider control

Your OS and Apps Open Lots of Fonts

The Mac and Windows operating systems and popular applications, including many from Adobe and Microsoft automatically activate fonts when they launch. So before you start working, you could already have several hundred fonts active in your system. In addition to these system fonts, you might be tempted to activate hundreds or even thousands of fonts of your own. But every font you activate impacts the performance of you and your computer. Read on to learn about some of the ways you pay the price for activating too many fonts.

Iconic image of a stopwatch depicting long OS and application load times caused by activating too many fonts

Longer System and App Launch Times

Fonts are atomic elements of computer software, and they are referenced by macOS, Windows and almost every application we use. As operating systems and apps start up, and at times while they are running, they read a table of active fonts. As those fonts grow in number, the longer it takes to read the table, and the slower your machine and its apps launch. So when you activate a large number of fonts, the performance hit can be quite significant.

Iconic image of a video game character eating memory in a computer because too many fonts are activated

Memory and System Resource Consumption

Each activated font on your computer consumes memory and other precious system resources. As your computer starts to run out of available RAM, it swaps (or “pages”) inactive applications out to disk to make room for the apps you are using. When this occurs, you see sluggish reaction times and spinning cursors in your applications. It’s simply maddening. Therefore, with today’s large, complex fonts, and because modern applications are memory-hungry, it pays to limit the number of fonts you activate.

Blue and orange iconic image of a Fonts menu that scrolls forever because to many fonts are activated

Unusable Font Menus

The most obvious problem caused by activating large numbers of fonts is the length of Font menus in your apps. Every time you set font properties, an app presents an incredibly long menu of font names. And you are forced to scroll, click and curse your way through a seemingly endless list of fonts. This loss in personal productivity is reason enough to avoid activating a truckload of fonts.

Iconic image of an open hand on a stop sign indicating that some applications stop loading fonts after they reach a specific threshold

Applications Stop Loading Fonts

When some applications encounter too many active fonts, they simply stop loading them. Some versions of Microsoft Office max out around 1,000 fonts and post a warning dialog saying they are ignoring the rest. When you click on a Font menu, you’ll notice a lot of your fonts are missing.

Iconic image of a computer that has crashed due to the activation of corrupt fonts

Crashes Due to Corrupt Fonts

As font collections grow, the chances of including corrupt fonts — ones that don’t follow standards and cause applications to crash or return bad results — grow even more quickly. It’s simply the law of large numbers. If we simply add new fonts to our collections without testing them, the possibility of later OS and application problems become very real. The solution is to use fonts from reputable foundries and to test their integrity with a good font manager before you use them in your projects.

Avoiding Font Activation Problems

There is no hard and fast rule for how many fonts you should activate simultaneously. But there are some simple suggestions you can follow to preserve the performance of you and your computer:

  • Activate just the fonts you need at any one time.
  • Deactivate fonts when you no longer need them.
  • Quit applications when you are no longer using them.
  • Use fonts from reputable foundries and avoid “free” fonts from unknown vendors and sites.
  • Test the integrity of fonts before you activate them.
  • When your system or apps launch slowly, check the number of fonts you have activated.

Use a Quality Font Manager

The best way to ensure the integrity of your fonts and control their activation status is to use a quality font manager like FontAgent.® Using it, you can:

  • Test the integrity of your fonts as you load them onto your system to eliminate crashes and hangs.
  • Define sets that make it a breeze to activate and deactivate your fonts.
  • Enjoy the ease of font auto-activation in popular creative and business apps.
  • Import all of your fonts without having to activate them.
  • Know in a glance which of your fonts are activated.
  • Stop wasting memory and system resources and associated system performance problems.
  • Select the right fonts for each of your projects so you can activate just the ones you need.

Ready to try FontAgent for Mac or Windows? Click here for a 30-day free trial.