Monday, April 16, 2007

For font's sake!

This is a bit of a technical note here, but it applies to any of you that have a number of typefaces hanging around; that's right, it's font management time!
(I should point out here that, technically, fonts and typefaces are different things, but I'm going to use the terms indiscriminately anyway.)

Your humble Devil has managed to amass some several thousand fonts over his decade in design, and managing those typefaces is always something of a nightmare. For obvious reasons, one doesn't want one's fonts all loaded up at the same time—can you imagine scrolling through thousands of fonts to find the one you want (especially if it's Zurich)? Quite apart from the system resources (memory) that it would use up every time that you launched the font menu. So, font managers evolved.

Font managers allow you to activate fonts temporarily for certain projects, and then deactivate them again afterwards. The best ones allow for auto-activation so that, when you open a certain project, you don't have to remember and then manually activate the fonts in question.

Even better are managers that actually help you to manage the font files themselves. To begin with, after switching through numerous Macs—counting those both at home and at work, I think that it's of the order of twelve or so—I have accumulated an awful lot of duplicate fonts. As an added bonus, some of the fonts are missing parts and, unless my font manager can help me, the only way that I can judge which is which is by going through all of the suitcases and folders and comparing like with like. Not a good thing when you are talking, as I have said, about several thousand of them.

Also, when faced with duplicates, I want to use the Opentype or Truetype fonts over the Postscript or Type 1 fonts. Without a font manager to help, telling the difference can be a little tricky. Especially if they're in different folders in different places, or even on different disks.

Furthermore, fonts do have a tendency to get damaged and, if you load up a damaged font, quite often you can bring your application—if not the system—crashing down.

So, you can imagine that a font manager gets a lot demanded of it. Mac OS 10.4 does have a Font Manager built in, but it is far too basic for my needs (and rather opaque in use) and so, tonight, I was looking around for something else to use.

I was finally steeling myself to lay out some money on Extensis Suitcase Fusion, when I found a review of something a little different; something free, in fact.

So, I have downloaded Linotype's Font Explorer X for nowt and it's really very good. It will copy your fonts into a new folder and arrange them. It flags up font conflicts, damaged fonts and fonts with missing parts to them. Although I am having to go through and manually sort and remove fonts that, whilst they are duplicates, don't look like it, the iTunes-style interface does, at least, makes this sorting process very easy.

Linotype Font Explorer X
Font Explorer X: the fonts in red are missing pieces or are damaged. The fonts in blue are system fonts and should not be removed. There is a font preview at the bottom, along with other assorted pieces of information. To the left, you can sort fonts into sets and iTunes-style smart sets. All very useful and extremely intuitive to use.

Once it is done, I will have a pristine new fonts folder and database, and I can throw out the other three or four folders of duplicates and other assorted crap. Happy days are here again and it being free is the icing on the cake. In the meantime, I'm on "C"...

I highly recommend downloading Font Explorer: and it is available for both Mac OS X and PC.

For those who are interested, four hours after installing Font Explorer, I have just finished sorting. In a mere four hours of the most mind-numbingly tedious work, I have trimmed my fonts from 9,608 to just 5,986; Font Explorer itself performed flawlessly.

I have now arranged various styles of font—scripty, handwriting, woodtype, etc.—into Sets (which I have always wanted to do but couldn't face the time needed to do it manually) by using the dynamic Smart Sets, which took about 30 seconds. I only wish it were so easy to sort Serif, San Serif and "odd" ones.


james higham said...

So, I have downloaded Linotype's Font Explorer X for nowt and it's really very good. It will copy your fonts into a new folder and arrange them.

Most interested in this. Will it work on Windows or just on Macs?

David B said...

Brilliant find! My Windows system's been laggy lately and I suspected I too many fonts installed. This program has just cleaned everything up for me and I've managed to deactivate over two thousand fonts. I'm so happy!

Kim Vern said...

On Windows I use MainType. It is not free, but it's worth the money, since it is fast and easy to use.

Unity said...

Nice one, DK.

Most of the PC font manager are a crock o' shite but this looks the business.

It would be wise to note that it is still beta software, although Linotype have been pretty good in acknowledging its existing flaws and where they plan improvement - let's hope it stays a freebie when it gets to a full release.

Devil's Kitchen said...


Yes, I agree, but it's working far better than even the (paid for) Suitcase X11 ever did. It may have glitches but -- damn! -- it's good...


Oh yeah? So what has happened for the last ten years, exactly?

Over at the ASI, they are posting some of the winning entries of the Young Writers on Liberty. One does not want to put such keen minds off,...