It’s sometimes hard to remember that emojis are like letters in how they are rendered. Because of this, they also need fonts to work. By default, this is Apple’s proprietary
Apple Color Emoji set. However, with a bit of work, you can replace this with your own font if you so choose, potentially allowing you to use emoji before they are officially supported by Apple.
However, while there are emoji fonts like Google’s Noto Emoji, this doesn’t work system-wide. macOS seems to require sbixOT fonts for proper rendering, which encode color bitmaps instead of SVG assets.
Note: This guide doesn’t exactly apply to iOS, even though many of the listed fonts do have iOS builds available.
Removing Apple Color Emoji
Any emoji font named Apple Color Emoji are set to be the system’s default emoji set. To add support to non-Apple emoji fonts, you probably would want to disable this font.
In Terminal, run this command to disable the default emoji set:
sudo mv /System/Library/Fonts/Apple Color Emoji.ttc /System/Library/Fonts/Apple Color Emoji.ttc.org
This will remove the default emoji font. To re-enable the default emoji set, run this command.
sudo mv /System/Library/Fonts/Apple Color Emoji.ttc.org /System/Library/Fonts/Apple Color Emoji.ttc
Finding New Emoji Sets
For macOS, while you are more limited than on Linux-based operating systems and Windows 10, there are some fonts you can choose from:
Ideal for: A Different Look
JoyPixels (formerly EmojiOne) supports almost every emoji that Apple Color Emoji supports, and there are two versions available. While there is a free version, commercial use is not permitted, which may be a turn-off for some users.
Version 5.0 does require an account. Use the “JoyPixels 5.0 Fonts” link.
Ideal for: Comprehensive Catalog
Twemoji is a free, open-source emoji set from Twitter that is well-maintained and kept up-to-date. Developer Brad Erickson has developed an SVGinOT font that can be used on macOS. However, due to the lack of SBIX data, in most applications, these emoji will be rendered as outlines. It is a good font to have installed if you want to be able to see the newest emoji in some capacity.
Ideal for: Adding New Emoji
The Mutant Standard emoji set is an interesting set. While it does not support every emoji in Unicode yet (some which were not implemented intentionally), it does add some unique features such as skin tone modifiers for arbitrary colors, icons for various sexual orientations and gender identities, and new symbols the Unicode spec currently lacks. This font has a SBIX variant, so you can see these emoji in color.
Please note that any of the custom non-interchange characters require both parties to have the font installed.
Bonus: Powerline Font Patches
Ideal for: Spicing Up your Terminal
While this isn’t an emoji pack, it is worth noting because it does add some new characters you can mess with (albeit unintentionally). The Powerline font patch for
Go Mono, for example, adds a codepoint with the Go logo, while
Roboto Mono for Powerline adds some Material Design icons towards the end of the Private Use Area table.
Please note that any of the Private Use Area characters require both parties to have the font installed.
While each font may recommend a slightly different install process, if you removed Apple Color Emoji, you can install these fonts via Font Book and ignore complaints about duplicates. You can also install multiple fonts at the same time if, for example, you want to have the Twemoji outline font to act as a fallback for future emoji.
If you want to test your installed fonts, you can do so at https://getemoji.com.