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    Arabic fonts for the Mac

     

    With Arabic up and running on your Mac and programs to work in, the next step is to see what kind of Arabic fonts you can put onto it. The good news is that there are lots of good fonts on the Internet provided for free, and more available commercially. The bad is that it is not easy to figure out which ones you can actually use. The websites are often rather vague on the subject, and not only because most of them are made for Windows and Unix users. That goes not just for freeware sites, but also for commercial ones. They are often more keen to tell us how beautiful their fonts are, than whether we can use them or not.

    It does not help that this issue is fairly complex, there are so many different formats for fonts, some do not work on the Mac at all; some are OK for English characters, but not Arabic, and some work in some programs and not in others! And, to top it off, many more work on new Macs than the one you bought three years ago.

    To get some understanding of it, we have to set up some guidelines:

    • Old fonts, that is Arabic fonts made before ca. 2000, will not work on any current Mac (unless they were made by Apple itself).
    • Newer fonts made particularly for the Mac will work on all Macs and in all programs. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of places we can find such, but those two are very useful.
    • Windows and Unix fonts made in the OpenType format can be used by most programs on new Macs (since late 2007). There are very many such fonts out there, both for free and commercially, several hundred. But it may be hard to find them and to distinguish OK fonts from those that do not work.
    "Old" includes both fonts made for the old Mac and for old versions of Windows. As mentioned elsewhere, the Mac, Windows and Unix all today follow the "Unicode" standard, while older fonts used different systems and cannot work. But being a Unicode font is not enough - that standard just identifies each character. In addition, the computer must be able to connect the characters into words. For that, it needs further instructions, and they come - you guessed it - in two varieties. One was made by Apple, they call it the AAT ("Apple Advanced Technology"). Any font that uses the AAT system will work fine on any current Mac in all programs that do Arabic. Virtually no-one outside Apple has made use of this format, advanced though it may be.

    The other format was made by Microsoft and the font maker Adobe. This is called OpenType, and is an extension of their font format TrueType. The Mac is still based on AAT, but the Mac system of 2007 ("Leopard", or 10.5) added support for OpenType Arabic fonts in addition. That gives most programs access to this rich source of fonts.

    Unfortunately for us, until you install it, an OpenType font looks exactly like the old regular Windows TrueType fonts that do not work for us. (The font can have the name .otf, but most, certainly all freeware fonts, use .ttf, like the old fonts). Further there are two complexities:
    - Some Mac programs (Mellel, InDesign ME, a few others) can use OpenType fonts even on Macs before 10.5.
    - Some Mac programs (OpenOffice, NeoOffice) cannot use OpenType fonts even in 10.5 or higher.


    Where can I get such Arabic fonts?

    First, your Mac comes with six Arabic fonts already installed, Geeza Pro (the system font), Al-Bayan, Baghdad, DecoType Naskh, Kufi Standard and Nadeem. (If you try to write Arabic characters in a non-Arabic font like Times or Lucida, they will generally be displayed in Geeza Pro.)

    Further, let us look at fonts
    (a) for every current Mac, old or new,
    (b) free OpenType font for new Macs, and
    (c) commercial sites and what information we can glean from them.


    Fonts made for the Macintosh

    As mentioned, fonts especially made for Mac are rare on the Internet. But there are two very useful packages which provide about 75 fonts that any Mac user can add to his collection. They are free and can be used in any Arabic-capable program on a "current" Mac (one bought in 2001 or later): Download them from these sites, and install by double-clicking the font file(s) you receive.
    • The largest package is the X Series, labelled "Persian" but equally useful for Arabic. There are two versions of this: the largest group is at the Mellel site ("More Persian Fonts"), and contains some 65 different fonts, both decorative and body-script (naskh and thuluth). A newer X Series 2 adds support for some more Asian languages, and also come in more weights (bold, italic) than the first. There are currently 20 fonts in Series 2, half updates of Series 1 fonts, the others new. The two versions can be installed alongside each other.
    • The SIL (for "Summer Institute for Linguistics") package contains only two fonts, Lateef and Scheherazade, but they are very useful. They contain a wide range of Arabic-script characters both for other Asian languages and e.g. Maghribi fa with dot below, etc. Scheherazade is also, in my view, one of the most elegant body-text fonts available.
      SIL provides these fonts both in Apple's AAT format and in OpenType. On new Macs, you can pick either; for pre-2007 Macs, take the AAT version. You can install both versions alongside each other.

      These two packages, the X series and SIL fonts, are in fact so useful that even programs that only half-heartedly support Arabic on the Mac and may not display Apple's own fonts, will accept these.

    -- "Font" here means "font families". Many fonts come in different "weights" (regular, bold, italic, etc.) that together make up a "family". Some sites count each such weight as one "font" - historically more correct, but here "font" will always refer to a family.


    Arabic OpenType fonts

    The fonts below, then, can be used in many, but not all Arabic programs in Mac OS 10.5 and later, and in Mellel and some other programs in OS 10.4 and earlier. Again, they are free and are installed by double-clicking the font file.

    This is a very varied list of sites, some hold dozens of fonts, others only one or two. Altogether, more than 250 workable fonts are listed here. Most of these are headline or decorative fonts, although there are many general naskh, thuluth and even nastaliq (or "nastaliq-like") fonts here. Many of the fonts have similar names, and are clearly derived from standard font faces, so different fonts may often look fairly alike. But still, the net result is a very large variety in shapes and behaviour.


    • One of the largest sites is Arabeyes (Khotot) which has several different collections of fonts for Unix and Windows. As a Unix site, it may be a bit complex to navigate, it has e.g. both older and newer versions of the same packages. Mac users should avoid the older fonts, which have some problems for us. It is better to go directly to these packages:
      • The ae_fonts, 37 different headline or decorative fonts.
      • The KACST fonts, another package of 14, partly headline, partly body-text fonts. Neither the ae_fonts nor the KACST fonts have Persian characters. (*)
      • Nesf2, a single Geeza-like font. (*)
      • Thabit is a "handwriting-style" font.
      • One of the most interesting fonts at this site is Naqsh. It is a "complete Unicode" fonts, that is; it has all the "'ajami" characters defined in Unicode, very useful for Asian languages written in Arabic script, as well as "extended Latin", so it can also be used for transcription purposes, Hausa etc. (The ae_fonts also have transcription characters.)
    • The "Persian fonts" package at the FarsiWeb site contains seven font families, a mixture of headline and body-text fonts. (*)
    • One of the most dynamic sites is the B fonts from Borna Rayaneh. The site contains 26 different families, mostly decorative fonts. However, it has a "font of the month" option, where new fonts are added in rotation. Some of these are available on other sites as well, thus the Mellel site has a package ("Persian Fonts") with about 50 of these fonts. In all, I have noted more than 60 different B-fonts listed at different sites.
    • One site that collects Arabic fonts from various sources is CoolText. It provides many of the ae-, KACST-, FarsiWeb and B-fonts and others which can also be downloaded from their original sites. However, CoolText unpacks the packages into individual fonts. That is very useful for some fonts that are provided freely at their origin, but as Windows .exe-files that we Mac people cannot use, thus Microsoft's ara-fonts and the Kurdish Nefelê fonts from Sweden. (*) Mac people can download them from here. I have counted around a dozen such fonts not duplicated elsewhere at this site.
    • The Khpala Pashtu site has six fonts for Pashtu. It also covers European characters (Latin1). The font site has some dead links, but the fonts can also be found at CoolText.
    • The site 2-free.net has ten "Urdu misc fonts", some duplicates, five or six unique to this site. Very interesting is the naskh (body-text) font Riwaj, which is a "full Arabic Unicode" fonts; that is, it covers all Unicode characters in the Arabic script (but no Western or other scripts). It is also available from GeoCities.
    • Another very interesting Pakistani package is PakType, which is a set of four naskh and "handwriting" fonts. They are also "complete" fonts for Arabic, ajami and European characters (also available individually at CoolText). (*)
    • The Arabic Bible project provides two naskh fonts, Awema and Usama.
    • From the Pakistan Data Management Services site it is possible to download the PDMS Salem QuranFont. It only has Persian numerals, but does have some of the special symbols required for the Qur'an (otherwise generally available only in the "full Unicode" fonts).
    • Urdu Web has some 45 different fonts of different kinds, however with various issues. Most have name problems (see below), others are useful only for Urdu, not Arabic, but a handful are OK. Noticeable are two "complete Arabic" fonts which can be used for many languages, Mehfil and Pak Nastaleeq. The last is I think the only nasta'liq font that actually works in every script. Other OK fonts Arabic are Urdu Najd; NWNaskh, Urdu Naqsh, and Urdu Naskh.
    • From the Deutsche Welle site, one can downoad an Urdu Web Font called Aleem Urdu.
    The fonts marked by (*) have some minor blemishes, listed below.
    However, some fonts have a bit serious issues that may restrict their usage:

    Arabic-script fonts without Arabic

    Arabic fonts generally have the characters at least for Persian, many also Urdu or other scripts (see list below). However, there are some fonts for such languages that do not have the Arabic characters their language does not use. Typical is the lack of ta marbuta and alif maqsura, and only Farsi k, h, and/or y, not the Arabic variants of these. These fonts are fine for their intended language, of course. Some sites with such fonts are:
    • The site of the Uighur Computer Society (Uyghur Kompyutér Ilimi Jem'iyiti Fontliri) has 48 different fonts for Arabic-script Uighur, with full European support. But not Arabic, as Uighur has no need for dhal, sad, dad, emphatic ta and za, or for the hamza carriers, these are not included in most of these fonts. A handful, however (Merdane, Nasq, Tuz), do have these characters in place. Only these have the Persian characters. (*)
    • At the Sindhi Computing website is a set of 21 fonts for Sindhi. These skip over the non-Sindhi Arabic characters like the hamza carriers over and under alif, Arabic k and maqsura. (Some of these fonts are also at their producer's site, Majid Bhurgri, but there only as .exe files.)

      (See also the Urdu Web and Urdu Language Processing sites below.)

    Fonts with problems

    One typical problem is that the spacing of short vowels (harakat) does not work properly, so that a short vowel creates a character-wide gap in the word. That is so significant that these fonts can mostly only be used for unvocalized text.
    • This concerns the BPG Glaho Arial font, which is strictly speaking not an Arabic font, but a general Unicode font (actually created in Georgia, it appears).
    • A package with same flaw is the Persianized ae fonts. This is an attempt to add Persian characters to some of the ae_fonts and two KACST-fonts, above. However, that was done to an earlier version of these fonts which suffered from the short vowel issue. So, for these fonts one must choose between Persian or vocalized text.
    Some other issues are:
    • Another "full Unicode Arabic" font is mry_KacstQurn. It is almost a very useful font. Unfortunately, it has many errors in combining Persian and other ajami characters: A p when joined turns into a tteheh (t with vertical dots), a ch into a dyeh, etc. That makes it only useful for the Arabic characers, which do not suffer from this error as far as I can see.
    • One of the Arabeyes fonts also shows a weird behaviour, the Mothanna font. It seems not to be composed of characters, but of discrete sub-shapes. As you type, this may look fine. But when you start editing, bits and pieces of the character may jump around, the dots below and above the character may change places, or the general layout of the line breaks up.
    • A popular Urdu nasta'liq font is Alvi Nastaleeq. Unfortunately, the nasta'liq layout breaks down in most programs, so it is not useful in TextEdit, Nisus and similar programs. (In Mellel, however, there appears to be no problem.) The same applies to Jameel Noori Nastaleeq from Urdu Web.
    • One problem is incorrect font menu names. Many, in particular Urdu fonts have been given an identical menu name, which makes them appear as "duplicates" on the Mac. Thus about two dozen different fonts from the Urdu Web site mentioned above, and from Urdu Language Processing appear together as "Nafees". (Most of these are Urdu-only fonts, but note e.g. the al-Qalam Shekastah font.) Similarly, the two Qur'an fonts (al-Mushaf, Noor-e Quran) from Urdu Web appear as "Alvi" and all sixteen of the al-Faris group appear as a single font. You can install one of each only at the time.
      The Urdu Web site does, however, also have six Urdu-only fonts with their own font name, which thus install without problem.(*)

    General Unicode fonts

    Some "total" or near-total Unicode fonts that cover most of the scripts in the world, also cover Arabic. Not all of them are OpenType, so the Arabic in those cannot be used. But some general Unicode fonts have workable Arabic, such as:
    • Code 2000, one of the largest and most complete fonts in existence, with more than 50,000 characters. The Arabic part, a more "handwriting" style font, works fine.
    • Deja Vu is a set of three fonts. One of them (Serif) does not have Arabic. Sans Mono has Arabic, but short vowels create gaps in the words. The third one, DejaVu Sans works fine with Arabic. It is also what one may call "handwriting" style.
    • Bitstream Cyberbit is a very complete font, so much so that it comes in two versions, one huge with Chinese characters, another "Cyberbase" without Chinese. Both contain Arabic, but not Persian.
    • Microsoft's Arial Unicode MS is a complete Unicode font that comes with Windows. From Mac OS 10.5, we also get that font installed by default. But Apple for some reason blocked the Arabic parts of it in 10.5; that was however restored in system 10.6. The same applies for the Times New Roman and Tahoma fonts, they have Arabic characters, which became available from system OS 10.6.
      (Before 10.6, there were also some ways of accessing the Arabic parts of Times New Roman: Mellel could display the Arabic of all three fonts. The version of Times New Roman that was installed with Microsoft Office 2004 included OpenType Arabic which was visible in 10.5. And the Windows Vista version of the Times New Roman, if you could find it, also worked in Arabic in 10.5, unlike its Mac sibling. However, while the regular Arial font also contains Arabic charcters, these are still not viewable in 10.6.)


    (*) Some of the fonts mentioned above have minor issues, which can be summarized as follows:
    -- In the KACST fonts, harakat above some tall letters (a, u, sukun, shadda over k, l, alif, emphatic t, z, also qaf, fa) cause a gap to appear in the word in most programs (not in Mellel).
    -- In the FarsiWeb and UKIJ fonts, gaps appear around vowels in Mellel, but not in TextEdit, Nisus and other applications.
    -- Nesf2 from Arabeyes does not have short vowels. There is also an error in the filename, you must change the name of the downloaded file from "Sharif.Unic_ttf" to "Sharif_Unic.ttf" to install it.
    -- The Nefelê fonts have the wrong shape (ae) for character "r with small v", used in Kurdish. In spite of being a Kurdish site, these fonts do not cover many of the characters used in Sorani Kurdish.
    -- The PakType fonts cannot use the "Allah" ligature that automatically appears when you type lam-lam-ha. That causes the line to break up. You must disable this ligature in the Font panel's "Typography" options.
    -- Two of the Nafees fonts, Riqa and Nafees Naskh, have the same problem as PakType with the "Allah" ligature. Unfortunately, the Typography option is not available here, but you can avoid the problem e.g. by setting the alif in a different font. -- The seventh ULP font, Nafees Naskh, appears with the font name "300".
    -- The UKIJ fonts use European numerals in place of the Arabic (Hindi) ones, see below. -- Unfortunately, one of the fonts that do support all Arabic characters, Nasq Zilwa, has an error, 'ayn becomes ghayn when joined.


    Which languages are covered?

    All the fonts above contain the characters used in Arabic and Persian, unless otherwise noted. In addition, many of the fonts also contain more so-called 'ajami characters, that is, additions to the Arabic script for other languages, particularly in Asia. Here is a run-down of the fonts mentioned above and what languages they cover, beyond Arabic and Persian:

  • Twelve fonts have been mentioned here as "full" of "complete" Unicode fonts for Arabic-based scripts. These cover all characters needed in all the languages mentioned below, and more.
    These full fonts are: SIL's Lateef and Scheherazade; Riwaj, Naqsh, the four PakType fonts, Code 2000, BPG Glaho Arial, Mehfil, Pak Nastaleeq (as well as mry_Kacst, but see above for problems with that font).

    For Persian, there is a discussion about whether one character, "hamza on h", or "heh with yeh" as it is called, actually exists or is needed for this language. Most fonts with Persian do not contain this character.
    Those that do, besides the complete fonts, are: Geeza, X Series (1&2), the B fonts, the FarsiWeb fonts, Microsoft ara-fonts, the Pasthu fonts, the Urdu misc fonts, Mothanna, Thabit, Alvi Nastaleeq, and the Aleem font.

    Other languages:

    • Azeri today uses the same character set as Persian, so all fonts that cover Persian.(*)
    • Kurdish (Sorani): X Series 2, [Geeza*].
    • Baluchi: the standard Apple fonts (except al-Bayan), X Series 2, some MS ara-fonts fonts (Diwani, Old Antic, Led), the Urdu misc fonts, Alvi Nastaleeq, Aleem Urdu, the Nafees fonts, Mothanna, Thabit, PDMS QuranFont.(*)
    • Pashto: Geeza, X Series 2, the Khpala Pashtu fonts, Mothanna, Thabit.(*)
    • Uzbek: Geeza, X Series 2, the Uighur Computer Society fonts.
    • Kazakh: [X Series 2, the Uighur Computer Society fonts.*]
    • Kirghiz: The Uighur Computer Society fonts.
    • Tatar (Iske imlâ): Geeza, X Series 2, the Uighur Computer Society fonts (all these also have the characters for yaña imlâ, but this requires one glyph, final ha in isolate/initial position, which must be entered through special means).
    • Uighur: Geeza, X Series 2, the Uighur Computer Society fonts.
    • Urdu: Geeza, the Nafees, Urdu misc, and Urdu Web fonts, Microsoft's Diwani fonts, Aleem Urdu, Mothanna, PDMS QuranFont.(*)
    • Sindhi: The Sindhi Computing fonts.
    • Kashmiri: The full Unicode fonts only.(*)
    • Punjabi (Shahmukhi): The full Unicode fonts.(*)
    • Burushaksi: Only the PakType, not the other "full" Unicode fonts.
    • Malay (Jawi): Geeza.
    • Osmanli (Ottoman Turkish): Geeza, X Series 2, the Uighur Computer Society fonts.
    • Maghribi fa and qaf: the full Unicode fonts.
      (*): See comments below.

    Numerals, special harakat etc.

    • All fonts, except some decoration fonts, have standard signs for short vowels, nunation, sukun and shadda, of course. But some other useful characters are not always there. Of interest are:
      • Dagger alif can be found in: Geeza, the X Series 1&2, KACST-, FarsiWeb, Microsoft ara-, Nafees, Nefelê, Pashtu, Sindhi, (some) Uighur CS, and Urdu misc fonts, and the Aleem Urdu, Arabic Bible and PDMS QuranFont.
      • Alif with wasla in: Geeza, the X Series 1&2, KACST-, FarsiWeb, Microsoft ara, Pashtu, and (some) Uighur CS fonts, and the Mothanna, Arabic Bible, and PDMS QuranFont.
      • Madda as haraka in: The Apple, X Series 1&2, FarsiWeb, B-fonts, some Microsoft ara-fonts (Diwani, Old Antic, Led), Nefelê, Urdu misc, Persianized ae-, and Nafees fonts, and the Mothanna, Aleem Urdu, and PDMS QuranFont.
      • Qur'anic signs, such as rub' al-hizb, etc.: Generally, the full Unicode fonts have most of these (but not always complete), also the PDMS QuranFont, and some other marks are in the Uighur CS fonts.
      • The Allah ligature appears automatically when you type alif-lam-lam-ha in some fonts. This does not follow packages, headline fonts do not always have this. But it appears in: Apple's al-Bayan and Geeza, in about half the ae-fonts, the Kacst and some B- fonts, Microsoft, PakType, Khpala Pashtu, Sindhi, Uighur CS, Mothanna, Arabic Bible, Code 2000, BPG Arial, Aleem Urdu, and PDMS QuranFont.
      • Unicode has also defined some spaces for special "signets" for religious phrases such as "salla Allah 'alayhi wa-sallam". Some fonts have these: Apple's fonts, X Series 1&2, PakType, Urdu misc, Nafees, Naqsh, Aleem Urdu, and PDMS QuranFont.

    • Numerals: The standard is a full set of Western, Arabic (Hindi) and Persian numerals. Not all fonts have all three sets. To be noticed are:
      • No Western numerals in: The Apple fonts, Mothanna, Urdu misc, Riwaj, and the NWNaskh group. On the Mac, default Western numbers will be substituted for these fonts.
      • Western numerals appear in Arabic or Persian form: B fonts (some Arabic, some Persian) and Nafees (Persian). You can thus use these fonts to display Hindi numerals in e.g. spreadsheets, which picks the "Western" shapes for calculation.
      • Arabic numerals appear as Farsi: Some B-fonts, Nesf2.
      • Arabic numerals appear as Urdu: Alvi Nastaleeq, Noori-e Quran, Pak Nastaleeq, Mehfil, NWNaskh group.
      • Arabic numerals appear as Western: Uighur CS fonts.
      • No Arabic numerals: Nafees, PDMS QuranFont, some Urdu Web fonts.
      • Farsi numerals appear as Arabic: Some B-fonts (they have either Arabic or Farsi in both places), the Persianized ae-fonts (!). The Sindhi fonts vary.
      • Farsi numerals appear as Urdu: The same as had Arabic as Urdu, plus Aleem, Urdu misc and some Urdu web fonts.
      • No Farsi numerals: ae-fonts, Kacst-fonts, mry-Kacst, al-Mushaf.
      • Farsi numerals only when they differ from Arabic (4-5-6), otherwise Arabic: Mothanna; Western: Uighur CS fonts.
    (*) Some historical forms or special harakat indicated by Unicode may be missing, generally they are in the complete Unicode fonts only.
    - For Azeri, Unicode demands the letters oe and u, these are found in Geeza, Uighur CS and the X Series 2 fonts. However, the historical saghir nun is only in the complete Unicode fonts.
    - Dari and Tajik use regular Persian characters.
    - Kurdish Sorani has three variant forms of the letters rr and two of ll. Geeza has only one form of each of these.
    - Kazakh requires the character high hamza on waw, alif, u and ya. The UKIJ fonts have the first two, but lack the ya combination, X Series 2 lacks all three; only the complete Unicode fonts have all. For the others, they must be approximated with regular hamzas.
    - For Baluchi, Unicode requires two "wavy hamza" characters, only the complete fonts and NW Naksh have both, and also the diacritic noon ghunna, which is only in X Series 2, some Urdu Web and the complete fonts SIL, PakType and Mehfil.
    - For Pashto, Unicode requires the zwarakay diacritic. Neither the Kpala Pashto nor all "complete" fonts have this, only Geeza, X Series 2, SIL, PakType, Mehfil.
    - For Urdu, Unicode requires the "inverted dhamma" diacritic, only SIL, PakType, Mehfil, Aleem and some Urdu Web and Urdu Misc fonts have that.
    - For Kashmiri, only SIL, PakType and Mehfil have the diacritics noon gunna and inverted dhamma.
    - For Shahmukhi, the Urdu characters are normally used, but the "occasionally used" forms beeh, ddal with dot below, rnoon and gaf with ring are only in the complete fonts. Unicode also requires the inverted dhamma diacritic.

    Keyboards for 'ajami scripts

    The normal Arabic keyboard, of course, only gives you access to Persian and Urdu characters (under Option) in addition to Arabic. To write in other languages than these, you can use Character Palette, which is inconvenient, or use a special keyboard layout for the language. Where can you get such keyboard layouts?
    • You find already installed on your Mac keyboards for these languages: Persian, Dari, Pashto, Uzbek (all "Afghan"), and in OS 10.5 and up only: Uighur and Jawi. (There is also an Arabic keyboard following the Windows layout.)
    • On Tom Gewecke's site, you find very many keyboards, including various variants for Persian, Kurdish, Urdu and Uighur. For Urdu, you can choose between seven different layouts.
    • On the Mellel site there are keyboards for Persian, Kurdish, Urdu and Uighur.
    • A different Uighur keyboard can be downloaded from the UKIJ (Uighur CS) site.
    • Kamal Abdali has an Urdu Phonetic keyboard layout.
    • A different Pashto layout from the Mac's "Afghan" one can be found at pashto-osx. This one follows the Windows Pashto standard.
    • Ahmad Sahar has created a different keyboard layout for Jawi. (It is, like Apple's, qwerty-based.)
    In many of these packages, you can choose between different layouts, often between "qwerty" (or "phonetic", mimicking the English keyboard) or one or more typewriter standards established in the countries in question. If you do not find one that fits your requirements, or "your" language does not have a keyboard already, it is fairly easy to create your own, with a tool such as "Ukulele", where you create your layout by drag-and-drop.

    Commercial sites

    In addition to these places where you can download fonts for free, professional font foundries of course also make and sell Arabic fonts. However, the fonts we can find offered is a mixed lot, some are OpenType fonts which we can use, others older Windows fonts that we cannot, some are very advanced fonts that only work with particular layout programs, while many web sites even offer outdated fonts from the 1990s which possibly no-one can use any longer. So, caveat emptor, since these fonts may cost hundreds of dollars, make sure the font you get is useful on your Mac. Some fonts marketed as "for Mac OS" do clearly not work on current Macs.

    Which to choose, freeware or commercial? Professional means of course that, more care is taken and the fonts are created by real type designers, while freeware fonts are often fairly similar to each other - that is, made on the basis of established styles. On the other hand, since piracy is such a problem, many commercial fonts are copy-protected in ways that may hamper our work (I have certainly had fonts disappear from old documents, when the copy-protection no longer works after an upgrade). Professional fonts are generally priced by weight (regular, bold and italic separate) rather than by family, and while prices vary considerably, $100 to 150 per weight is normal, a full familiy at $500 or more. Thus, considerably more than your word processor or DTP program for a single font. So, it is a matter of preference whether to go for the more original professional fonts or the free, some of which are certainly also very carefully and professionally made, others not.

    Below I list some relevant commercial sites for Arabic fonts. It is a site survey only; economics show that I could not buy these fonts to test if they work! So, this is only an educated guess based on what the websites say.
    How wide does our choice appear to be? Well, I am afraid that for users of regular programs on Mac OS 10.4 or older, very slim indeed. In fact none of the sites below offer anything that we can with certainty say works under Apple's AAT system in regular programs. For Macs with 10.5 or later (or Mellel / InDesign ME earlier), the choice is wider. The survey here shows around 100 fonts clearly labelled as OpenType (and thus useable), some of those not clearly labelled may also in fact be in that format.

      (a) Resellers
    • Fonts.com has around 35 Arabic font families in OpenType, mostly from Linotype, body-text and headline fonts. They are mostly priced around $130 per weight. What characters they contain, varies between the fonts; most have just Arabic, Persian and Urdu, a few have wider options (thus Helvetica World, with a full 'ajami set. Beware that not all fonts listed as "Arabic" actually contain Arabic characters. Check the character map provided for each font.)

    • Lotus from Linotype
    • FontShop lists 26 Arabic OpenType fonts, mostly the same Linotype fonts as from fonts.com, but also a handful of others. (Typing "Arabic" in the search field brings up 455 fonts, but most of them have no Arabic at all!)
    • Ascender Fonts has around ten OpenType fonts, from Boutros as well as from Microsoft; the Microsoft website points to this reseller. Microsoft fonts are priced at around $50 per weight, those from Boutros from $100.

    • Helvetica World from Linotype
    • Fontworld has its own package of eleven OpenType fonts (in 18 weights total). Price is not indicated. It also offers the advanced Tasmeem calligraphic font package, which it appears can only be used in InDesign ME, for about $110 and up per weight. They also appear to cover Arabic, Persian, Urdu and other ajami scripts.

    • Farasha from FontWorld

      (b) Foundries

    • The Linotype site offers some 35 Arabic OpenType fonts, for $135 apiece. These are the fonts also sold through Font.com and FontShop, with some extra information about the fonts. Linotype appears to be the largest commercial producer of Arabic fonts.
    • Monotype lists eleven Arabic fonts, but does not indicate format (whether it is OpenType or not - the single Arabic Monotype font on Fonts.com is Windows Truetype, unusable on Mac). Their Arabic fonts are not sold on-line, and do not appear in the shops listed above.
    • Adobe has one OpenType Arabic font with four weights at $30 each.
    • One of the most established foundries for Arabic is Boutros Studio. On their site, they list thirteen fonts with prices varying from £40 for one weight, to 350 for a font with eight weights. But of these, only one is listed as OpenType. Most others are said to be available "in PostScript for MacOS with Arabic support". That is not very helpful, to my knowledge, Apple's AAT technology is based on TrueType only. The wording would indicate that these are fonts for Classic, which will not work today. More informative is the Ascender reseller, which carries ten of these fonts, four in OpenType and the rest in TrueType. It is most likely these four, then, that can be used on current Macs.
    • WinSoft has a long tradition for Middle Eastern software for Macs, and is the company that makes the ME versions of Filemaker and Adobe products. With InDesign ME, they also bundle half a dozen Arabic OpenType naskh and thuluth fonts, named "WinSoft ... " and "AdobeArabic" (and "-Hebrew"). In addition they sell about a dozen fonts for the Tasmeem system; that is, for use in InDesign ME only, with prices ranging from $100 to $700 per weight depending on complexity.
    • Arabetics promotes a special typography, Mutamathil, where as far as possible, the same shape is used for isolate, initial and medial, etc. form. That gives their fonts a particular appearance. They are however technically OpenType fonts, and should work fine. They list 20 fonts, at around $30-40 per weight. They also claim that their "one shape per character" system will work in older AAT-based system (10.4 and below).

    • Mutamathil font
    • Hacen provides sixteen OpenType fonts as shareware: You can download them, but are required to buy a licence if you use them commercially. Headline fonts; in some weights, harakat cause word gaps, but the majority are fine. No Persian characters.
    • The Arabic calligraphy firm Sakkal displays about a dozen OpenType fonts of their creation. Some of these were made for other companies for "bundling" (thus Arabic Typesetting, for MS Windows), or for particular publishers. Purchase information is not indicated.
    • AvanType is an Israeli site that offers nine Arabic fonts (format not specified, nor price or order info).
    • Hiba Studio displays eight OpenType fonts that "will be for sale". Price not indicated.
    • The Dutch company Typotheque displays the font Fedra Arabic for €90 (sold by resellers, above).
    • Another Dutch company, Decotype and its owner Thomas Milo, is a driving force in advancing Arabic computer typography. The site has information about its Tasmeem "calligraphic" font system, which is designed for InDesign ME (sold e.g. by Winsoft and FontWorld).
    • Ihsan Type displays his Insan type (sold by Linotype).
    • The book Typographic Matchmaking on Arabic fonts comes with a CD with "beta versions" of ten new free fonts (€30). (Apparently only for Adobe programs. More info here and here.)

      (c) May or may not be useful, ask.

      The sites here do not give adequate information whether their fonts are OpenType (useful for us) or not. That may be an oversight, but it is adviceable to ask directly before purchase.

    • URW a German site, sells eight of the Boutros fonts, at $90 per face ($250 up per family). They are labelled Mac Postscript Type 1 and Mac Truetype. In theory, the TrueType fonts may be AAT-based fonts for current Macs, in case they would be the only commercial fonts in this format. However it is, as mentioned above, more likely that this refers to Classic fonts without AAT support, and thus useless today.
    • Letraset offers an Arabic font CD for Mac, format and number of fonts not indicated, for £680. These are also Boutros fonts. Since nothing else is said, we must assume the same as for the other Boutros sites, that these are outdated fonts for Classic (that the details link is dead, also indicate a certain datedness). At least an interested buyer should make sure before putting down 700 pounds.
    • Diwan is the company that actually created several of Apple's Arabic fonts, which are of course the most generally useful fonts on the Mac. On their site, they advertise about twenty further fonts, in packages of four-five apiece, price not listed. However, these packages were also sold in the Mac classic days, and it is not clear whether they still are in this format. But since their own DTP program, Nashir, only accepts such obsolete fonts (see the programs page), care should be taken. In addition they offer one calligraphic AAT font (Misahfi), the only commercial font I have found with this technology. However, it only comes bundled with the Classic-only Nashir Dibaj application, at $700. It is unclear from the site whether it can only be used with this program or not. (Further, they also list some Linotype fonts which they specifically say can only be used on classic Macs.)

      (d) "Mac" fonts that probably will not work

      These sites market "Mac" fonts that, as far as can be understood from the description, are pre- or non-Unicode fonts that will not work on current Macs (without special software the same sites also sell...)

    • AraMedia, basically a Windows company, sells a number of font packages "for Mac", priced at $150-350 for 10-100 fonts. Information about how these fonts can be used is unclear, some are labeled for "Quark XPress with ArabicXT", others are not. However, these are also sold on Amazon, and there they say "for layout programs and Adobe Middle Eastern applications only". That would indicate that all these font packages are of the "ArabicXT" type. These are not Unicode fonts, and cannot be used by regular Mac Arabic programs (ArabicXT and Kalimat are utilities that trick English-only applications to display Arabic, by using special fonts with Arabic shapes coded as "English". Such fonts cannot be used outside these utilities. Adobe Middle East applications are actually based on regular OpenType fonts, but have conversion tools to allow these non-standard fonts as well, for users who have already invested in them.)
    • Thus, when you search for "Mac Arabic fonts" on Amazon, do note that the fonts you come up with cannot in fact be used for Arabic on the Mac.
    • SoftSkill, the Emirates-based producer of "ArabworX" lists about 100 Mac OS X fonts, neither format nor price is indicated. The company had an OpenType-based DTP program, but these fonts are said to be of the "Kalimat" type (of which they sell their own variant, "ArabiX", a third non-standard utiltiy of the same type is "Arabic Genie"). That thus means that they are non-Unicode fonts and not useable without this utility. The website seems anyway abandoned, there is no purchase info there.
    • Linguists's Software used to be a major font provider for the Mac in the 1990s, and their website is still up, offering "LaserArabic" for the Mac. Those are Mac Classic fonts from the 1990s, and do not work on current Macs (which they also specifically say on their site).




    Footnotes and technical detail

    Some finer points of detail, for special-interest users:
  • If you have been a Mac user for some time, since the 1990s for example, you may still have access to some of the fonts Apple produced back then. Some of these actually still work. Not the Arabic fonts (which you have anyway already in current versions pre-installed), but some of the Persian fonts from the '90s, like Amir, Asfahan, Mashad, NadeemP, Kamran (the files have "PS" in front of the name). They tend to have Persian shapes only, thus Persian k and y and the numerals, not both Arabic and Persian as current fonts, but otherwise they work.

  • I mentioned briefly that the SIL fonts come in two versions, which you can install alongside each other, one in OpenType and one for Apple/AAT, this is also mentioned on the Arabic Programs page. But just a rundown of what works where:
    • Under system 10.4 and lower,
      1. You must use the AAT versions in: TextEdit, NisusWriter, NeoOffice, and almost all programs except those mentioned in 2 below. You cannot use the OT version.
      2. You must use the OT version in Mellel and InDesign ME, you cannot use the AAT version.
    • Under 10.5 and higher,
      1. You must use the AAT version in: NeoOffice and OpenOffice, the OT version does not work there.
      2. You can still use only the OT version in Mellel (and, I assume, InDesign, not tested).
      3. You can use either version in TextEdit, NisusWriter and most other programs. The difference is marginal; the harakat move slightly, the AAT version has more typographical options.
  • Finally a footnote which does not have anything to do with Arabic, but which can bedevil those who work with many fonts and happen to have Microsoft Word on the machine. You may then have met the "The font is corrupted" bug: Whenever you make a change in the Fonts folder, next time you start Word it will tell you to discard one font after the other because it is "corrupted". The fonts are OK, of course, it is just Word that has got confused. I do not think anyone has found out exactly what the cause of the bug is, but a couple of solutions have appeared.
    First, just force-quit Word (press command-alt-esc) when the bug appears, you do not need to go through all the fonts and say "OK" to each message.
    • The "official" suggestion from Microsoft requires two restarts of the Mac: First restart holding the Shift key down until you see the sign "extensions disabled". That disables network etc., but also all fonts except the basic set which is OK. Then start Word normally, let it do its repair, and quit. Then another restart, Word should then display all fonts properly.
    • Another method that has always worked for me, requires one restart. Go to the folder "[hard disk]/Library/Caches". The top folder there is called "com.appple.ATS". Drag that to the Trash can (you will be asked for the password to the machine), and immediately restart. Word will then work fine.
    • In both of these solutions, the bug may reappear the next time you add a font. A third, and simpler, solution seems to be permament, but at the cost of "wysiwyg" font menus: Go to the folder "Micosoft Office 2004/Office/Support Files". Drag the item FontCacheTool out of that folder, and restart Word. Then the bug is gone, but the fonts will now be listed just with their names in Word and Excel, it is this tool that makes them appear in their own typestyle in the Fonts menu. It seems, though, that it is also causing the bug.

    You will find more historical information about the difference between Arabic fonts on the Mac today and earlier, particularly about Arabic fonts on Classic (1990s and early 2000s) and between Macs and other platforms at the further details page.


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