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I had a user complain a font was missing she liked. She told me was called "system". Looked in several windows computers font lists (both 7 and 10), and there is no font called "system".

But in playing around, I noticed in both Word and Libreoffice, if you type in the word system in the font selection box, you get a font called "system". What is this font and where is it really coming from? Both "Microsoft Sans Serif" and "Arial" are very close fonts, but neither is a perfect match for "system". Font identifications sites Fontspring Matcherator and Identifont both failed to ID it.

Picture of "system":

enter image description here

  • Can you upload an image where the font is larger? It's hard to see the nuances of the letterforms on a smaller specimen such as this. Also, is your "user" from the question running on Windows? – zeethreepio Jun 4 '18 at 19:29
  • Bigger picture uploaded. I also added more characters. You should be able to see it by, in Windows, opening Libreoffice, or Word, and typing system in the font selection box. – user2891127 Jun 5 '18 at 20:07
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    At the larger size I'm getting Arial as your answer. I might also add that on my computer (a mac), System is using a different font from your example. My guess is that "system" isn't a font, but rather a shortcut to choosing the computer's set default system font - in this case it would appear to be set to Arial. – zeethreepio Jun 5 '18 at 20:24
  • In Libreoffice, the lower case e's look different, but when I took a screenshot and moved around layers in GIMP trying to prove you wrong, it appears they match exactly. I agree, arial. You guess as to what system is seems correct as well. Thank you. – user2891127 Jun 5 '18 at 21:20
  • Happy to help, this was a fun investigation...had me stumped for a while. I'll move my comment to an answer. – zeethreepio Jun 6 '18 at 12:49
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Wikipedia supplies some information about the System typeface. It seems to be a raster (pixel) version of MS Sans Serif, which is used by Windows.

It should be located in your \Windows\Fonts folder (I am using Windows 10):

The font is listed as System Bold, but the file itself is called vgasys.fon. I believe .fon files is only supported by Microsoft Windows.

For me this font is not really an option for graphic design because it so closely associated with Microsoft Windows.

  • I do have a font file like you show, but that font (System Bold) doesn't match what I get in Word, LibreOffice, and, for her, MS Project. I found the same Wikipedia article, which is why I mentioned I tried MS Sans Serif. No match there either. – user2891127 Jun 1 '18 at 17:16
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After seeing this font specimen at a larger size, I'm getting Arial as your answer. I might also add that on my computer (a Mac), System is using a completely different font from your example:

System on my computer

enter image description here

Here's an interesting piece of info I found on the vgasys.fon file that Wolff posted:

A FON file is a Windows 3.x font library file referenced by programs that access system fonts.

Source: File Info - .FON File Format


System isn't a specific font, but rather an old Windows remnant; a shortcut in the font menu options to choosing the computer's set default system font - in this case it would appear your system font is set to (or the font file that vgasys.fon is recognizing) is Arial.

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I found the answer. This is font substitution at work and is the work of the program, not the operating system. There is nothing special about the name "system" other than I have no font with that name. I can type in "xyz" as the font name in the font selection box and get the exact same behavior.

You can also see this behavior (which is how I solved this) if you create a document using a font on one system, then open that document on another system lacking that font and if you fail to embed the font in the document.

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