Installing Fonts on Linux

One of the things I always enjoy when creating presentations, letters, videos, graphics and other documents is playing with different fonts. Fonts can change a boring text-only presentation or paper into an exciting, stylish, wild or classic experience. Yes, it is very easy to get carried away, but that is part of the fun -- trying to achieve the perfect balance between form and function.

During my computer-using years, I have collected quite a few fonts. Some were included with clip-art packages I purchased over the years, some came pre-installed on computers I used to own, others were downloaded from Web sites and so on.

You might have a similar collection of fonts. Or, maybe you have only a few that you really, really like. Thankfully, Linux has no problem with your Windows TrueType and OpenType fonts, and installing them is simple.

If you are downloading fonts from a site on the Internet, they probably come in a zip archive. Many Web sites have fonts freely available for download and offer both Windows and Macintosh versions; be sure to download the Windows version.

Figure 1. A Typical Font Archive

The easiest way to open up a zip archive is to click on it. If you use KDE, the file will open in the Ark archive manager. There might be several files listed in the archive; we are interested only in the ones with the .ttf or .otf extensions -- for TrueType and OpenType fonts, respectively. Click on the font file to preview it.

Figure 2. Click on the font file to open it in the Font Viewer program.

When you open a font inside a zip archive, Ark will complain and ask if you want to view the file with an external program. Click on the View Externally button to view the font. If your fonts are not in a zip archive, simply click on them to open them in the Font Viewer.

Figure 3. Ark can't view fonts directly, so it will ask if you want to view the font using an external program.

The Font Viewer displays your font in several different sizes, so you can get a good idea of what it will look like. To install the font, click the Install button in the lower-right corner. If you can't see the install button, resize the window and it will appear.

Figure 4. The Font Viewer program lets you see what your font will look like in different sizes and has a handy install button.

After clicking the Install button, the Font Viewer asks where you want the font installed. Choose the Personal option if you just want the font installed for you as a user only. Choose the System option if you want all users on your computer to have access to the font. In order to install the font using the System option, you need to be the Administrator on your computer. On my home system, there is only one login that everyone uses, so for me either choice works equally as well.

Figure 5. You can choose where to install your fonts.

After installing the font, the Font Viewer lets you know it was successfully installed. That's all there is to it -- really. Your font is now installed and ready to use. It's easy.

Figure 6. Success -- your font is now installed.

This process works well for the occasional font install, but installing fonts one at a time like this can become tedious in a hurry -- especially if you have a lot of fonts like I do. A quicker way is simply to put all your fonts into the correct location at the same time.

If the fonts are in zip archives, the first step is to get them out of there using Ark. When I was installing all of my fonts, I first collected them all into a folder I created on my Desktop called my_fonts. Once all of your fonts are unpacked and ready to install, the big question is, where do they go?

The answer is, it depends. There are two places you can put fonts. This goes back to the question that the Font Viewer application asks when it is installing fonts. Where you put them depends on whether you want only your login to be able to see and use the fonts or whether you want everyone on the system to be able to see and use the fonts.

If you want only your login to see them, put them into a folder in your home directory called .fonts. You probably have never seen this folder -- that is because of the dot (the .) at the beginning of its name. This makes a file or folder invisible on Linux.

To see this folder, and all other invisible files and folders in your home directory, go to the System menu and choose Home Folder. After that window opens, go to the View menu and click Show Hidden Files. The first time I did this, I was surprised by how many files there actually were in my supposedly empty home folder.

Figure 7. Click on Show Hidden Files to view everything in your home directory.

If the .fonts folder exists, you should now be able to see it. If you still cannot see it, you can create it. To create the folder, go to the Edit menu and choose Create New..., and then Folder. Be sure to name it .fonts, and then click the OK button.

Open the .fonts folder, and drag and drop your fonts into it. After they are copied over, KDE generates nice thumbnails so you can identify the fonts easily. When you next launch your word processor or other program, your newly installed fonts will be waiting for you.

Figure 8. KDE's thumbnails let you see what your fonts look like at a glance.

If you want to install the fonts for everyone, the folder you should put them is /usr/local/share/fonts/. You can get there by clicking on the System menu and then your hard drive. There you will see a bunch of folders with names like tmp, var and usr. Open the usr folder, then local, then share and finally, the fonts folder. However, when you then try to put your fonts there, the window probably will report that you don't have permission to write to the folder.

To grant your self the permission to put items into the /usr/local/share/fonts/ folder, you need to be part of the staff group. To add yourself to this group, you need to be the Administrator on your computer or get the Administrator to do it for you.

Figure 9. Adding yourself to the staff group will give you write access to the /usr/local/share/fonts/ folder.

Go to the K menu, and choose System Settings. Then, in the System Administration section, choose Users & Groups. In that window, in the bottom right is a button called Administrator Mode...; click it and enter your password. If successful, the window now will have a red outline, which is KDE's way of telling you that you are in administrator mode.

Now, select your login name and click the Modify... button, and the User Account window opens. Now click the Select... button on the Secondary Groups: line. In the Available Groups column, scroll down and highlight staff, and then click the Add button. Click OK in that window, the OK button on the User Account window and lastly the Close button on the Users & Groups window, and you are almost done.

Log out and then log back in to activate the new settings. Now when you navigate to the folder, you will be able to copy files into it. Drag your fonts into the folder, and everyone will be able to see and use them.

Figure 10. Have fun with your fonts!

Now get out there and go crazy with all of your custom-installed fonts!

About the Author

Daniel Bartholomew has been using computers since the early 1980s when his parents purchased an Apple IIe. After stints on Mac and Windows machines, he discovered Linux in 1996 and has been using various distributions ever since. He lives with his wife and children in North Carolina.

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