I have been trying to find a way to locate suitable fonts for a book project. For the purposes of this question, I want to find all the fonts I have available on my Mac which

  1. are serif fonts, and
  2. have particular font features (e.g., Old Style Figures).

With regards to the second issue, using otfinfo on the command line, I can determine which fonts have a given feature (in my example, any ones which have 'onum' among the features).

But, as for the first, I have been looking at fc-list and the like, but it's not clear to me what I should be passing either it, or an alternate command, to determine whether a font is a serif font.

Is that even possible? I.e., is there any internal encoding to that effect, or is it strictly a matter of visual inspection?

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    Style or Family don’t have what you want?
    – Allan
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 20:50
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    Appartenly there is a command, fc-match that allows you to check if a font is a serif font: fc-match -s serif fontname. I couldn't get it to work on my Mac though. If that doesn't work, maybe I need to think about a Python script with the fontTools library. Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 12:39
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    The only other way that comes to mind on how to find serif fonts is by creating a new smart collection from within the Font Book app. In there set "Design Style" "is" "Serif". The fact that Font Book can filter by design style says that this information is stored somewhere in the font file, but million dollar question is how... Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 13:20
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    While some Pro sans fonts will have alternative numeral styles; you probably won't find many Std sans fonts with them. So if you're making a list from which you're going to make a choice anyway, I'd just use oftinfo to get all fonts with onum.
    – benwiggy
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 16:17
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    TBH, I would only use non-lining figures on traditional Humanist or Transitional typefaces anyway: so Minion, Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville; but not a Century or Didone. And I would choose the face for the book first, and then decide whether I was going to use non-lining figs or not! For page numbers, probably not. But this is probably something for GraphicDesign SE....
    – benwiggy
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 9:25

1 Answer 1


As far as I can see after some experimentation, the strict answer to my questions is, can't really be done. A more pragmatic answer would be, 'can be done after a fashion, but not perfectly'.

With respect to #2 (font features), otfinfo obviously does list fonts with particular special features, but if the question is (as it was in my case), which font has old style figures, then only fonts which have them as an Open Type feature will be listed; fonts whose default figures are old style will not be captured; this has to be inspected manually. (Not really suprising but a potential pit for the unwary.)

As for #1, the various suggestions given here will tend to yield the desired response, but it turns out that (e.g.) fonts internally identified by feature as serif may not be and vice versa.

The only way to be absolutely comprehensive seems to be by visual inspection.

(I have learned that font classification is quite complicated--rather like trying to make a continuous variable onto a discrete one--though one might expect the presence or absence of serifs to be straightforward. Apparently, it isn't!

And for the record, this is true though font files are obtained reputably, i.e., via major vendor apps and the like.

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