Fonts here. Fonts there. Fonts everywhere, especially
in OS X. What’s a font owner to do? Today’s
designer not only needs to have fonts available when
required, but also demands the ability to manage an
entire font library, which can consist of hundreds
if not thousands of fonts in a variety of formats
(Type1, TrueType and OpenType).
What do I mean by manage? In general, manage
means to organize, create sets, auto-activate, handle
font conflicts and generally make life easier so you
can concentrate on the task at hand. Today’s font
management tools have come a long way and can not
only accomplish these tasks fairly well, but in some
cases can do a lot more. Depending on your needs
and preferences, one tool might serve your purpose
better than another. So let’s take a look at three of
the leading tools—Suitcase Fusion, FontAgent Pro
and FontExplorer X—and see what each has to offer.
Each has a different interface with its own look
and feel, but all are relatively easy to get used to.
They share many of the same features, but often
with different names, locations and graphics. All
three do a decent job of auto-activating fonts, either
globally or with plug-ins. Individual fonts within a
suitcase can be activated by all three, saving time and
memory, eliminating a mile-long font menu. All let
you create libraries, sets and nested (or cascading)
font folders. All have decent font previews that can
be customized to suit your needs.
As for performance, this will vary from user
to user depending on your hardware, software, the
integrity of your font library and other particulars.
Just as with cars, some people have their favorites,
swear by them and never drive anything else; some
get stuck with “lemons” which have constant problems;
and others are always looking for something
bigger, better, faster and with more features. As with
cars, don’t make your choice based on one person’s
“trash talk” or another’s constant evangelizing. Know
your needs, have an open mind and proceed forward.
Extensis Suitcase is the grandfather of font management
tools and was the utility of choice for the
majority of designers years before the current competition.
In 2003, Extensis acquired Font Reserve.
The acquisition resulted in Suitcase Fusion, in
which Extensis was able to incorporate the best of
both Suitcase and Font Reserve.
Fusion does a decent job at what it sets out
to do. It imports fonts, scans for problems and
attempts to repair whenever possible. It can either
collect fonts into a font Vault that filters out any
duplicates, or it can leave them where they are. It
can identify and activate the exact version of a font
used in your document—a useful feature if you
have multiple font versions in your library (different
foundries or formats).
If you are a former Suitcase or Font Reserve
user, this utility is comfortably familiar, reducing
your learning curve accordingly. Fusion has the
ability to import the folders, sets and suitcases from
either of these programs, which you will lose when
switching to another program. But don’t make your
choice based on which tool is easiest to migrate to,
but rather which is best for you in the long run. So
what about other features? Read on.
An outstanding feature of Fusion is the Attributes
palette. With it, fonts can be viewed by classification,
foundry, keyword and style. Many of these tags
are automatically assigned by Fusion when fonts are
imported, but all are editable. All but keywords have
preexisting lists to choose from. Keywords allow you
to create your own descriptors in order to customize
and identify fonts by the attributes of your choice,
including client, project and the like. The Attributes
palette is a great tool if you want to locate, sort and
organize your library for easy reference. The interface
is clean, simple and easy to manage.
Printed font samples
Fusion has a respectable font preview function, as do
all the other programs. You can view any number of
fonts at a time and customize the settings. But what
I like best about Fusion is the Print Sample Pages
feature. Select a single font or an entire set, and
Fusion allows you to print a sample page for each
font, including name, family, foundry, classification
and much more. Below all this is a showing that
includes a waterfall, ABC123 and paragraph sample.
You can either print these pages and create your own
custom typeface catalog or convert them into PDF.
Type specimen materials are few and far between
these days, yet are a necessary part of typeface selection.
I applaud Extensis for this very valuable and extremely useful feature.
Suitcase Fusion now
includes an Attributes
palette where individual
fonts as well as
sets can be tagged by
keyword and style.
The font preview
allows several fonts to
be compared at once.
FONTAGENT PRO 3.3.0
FontAgent Pro from Insider Software is chronologically
the middle child of font management tools,
but it is by no means a passive contender. In fact, it
is an elegant, powerful, professional program created
to meet the needs of designers. Insider Software has
incorporated the most useful features from other
font tools and added some new ones.
When loading fonts into FontAgent Pro, it will
either copy or move them into a location of your
choice. It organizes them alphabetically, which can
be great if you have fonts all over the place. You
can even drag-and-drop your entire hard drive into
FontAgent Pro—it might even find fonts you forgot
or didn’t know you had. Another convenience
is the ability to load separate libraries for different
clients—even if they have duplicate fonts from other
libraries—that can easily be collected for output or
removed later. All methods work seamlessly.
One of the coolest features of FontAgent Pro is
that it can work in the background. That is, it doesn’t
have to be running to auto-activate fonts, which it
does effortlessly. How it does this is a mystery to me,
but nonetheless it allows you to do your work easily
and without interruption.
FontAgent Pro’s innovative
allows you to view
selected fonts in a
slide show. By clicking
on the Record button
during the slide show,
you can save fonts in
a folder for viewing at
a later date.
True auto-activation is a tremendous time-saver for
designers. If you’ve ever had to manually search and
activate dozens of fonts in order to open a document, you’ll know what I mean. Auto-activation can
be a bit dicey and unreliable with some font utilities,
but FontAgent Pro has truly mastered it. Open
a document, and as long as the fonts have been
imported into FontAgent Pro, they will be scanned
and activated. This feature is particularly useful if
you are switching from one font manager to another
and you can’t take (or import) your sets with you.
Font Player is my favorite FontAgent Pro feature
by a landslide. Not only will the Player preview
fonts in a customizable format (text, point size and
color), but also it will “play” or automatically cycle
through a group of fonts, families, sets or libraries
while you just sit back and watch, with the speed
adjustable via a slider. What’s more, you can add
any of the previewed fonts to a Font Player Set for
future viewing, or save by clicking the “record” button.
You can even print the previews—whether just
one or an entire set or library—automatically. If you
prefer, they can be converted into PDF. Font Player
allows you to easily view and collect your favorite
fonts, conduct a font exploration for a job and even
make a type specimen book. The only problem
with this feature is that there isn’t a pause button,
an annoying inconvenience when one plays through
dozens or hundreds of fonts at a time. Insider says it’s
working on this oversight.
Font Compare allows you to display sample text in
multiple fonts of your choice for easy comparison.
These showings can also be printed or converted
into a PDF, just as the Player previews can. This
is extremely helpful when doing font explorations,
eliminating time-consuming steps required
to manually accomplish the same thing. I’ve spent
many hours viewing, selecting and comparing fonts
manually. I have thousands of fonts in my library.
No more whining! FontAgent Pro can accomplish
this task quickly and effortlessly.
FontAgent Pro’s Font
allows you to display
sample text in multiple
fonts of your choice
for easy comparison.
These showings can
also be printed or converted
into a PDF.
LINOTYPE FONTEXPLORER X 1.1
Linotype FontExplorer X is the newest addition to
the font management market. This utility is different
from the others in a number of ways, most
notably that it’s developed by a type foundry and it’s
free. Why, you might ask? What’s in it for Linotype?
Plenty, actually. FontExplorer X has a built-in Font
Store which links to Linotype’s website, kind of like
an iTunes for fonts. This makes FontExplorer X the
sweetest, slickest of marketing tools for Linotype.
But more on that later—there is a lot more to this
feature-rich tool than just slick marketing.
The most instantly noticeable thing about
FontExplorer X is its interface; it looks very much
like iTunes. Its icons, buttons, use of color and
arrangement all mimic iTunes—creating a comfortable
familiarity for OS X users.
FontExplorer X imports fonts and libraries easily
and quickly. It alerts you to conflicts, duplicates,
missing printer fonts and the like, highlighting them
in red with options for repair. You can label, rate and
add comments to fonts, folders and sets—a convenient
feature for exploring, organizing and prioritizing
fonts. You can also create Smart Sets, à la OS X.
Another nice feature of FontExplorer X is the
ability to clean your font caches without the use of
a separate utility. Cleaning your font cache regularly
can eliminate many font problems, and this feature
makes it easy.
One downfall of this smart little utility is the
lack of decent documentation. There virtually is
none (nope, not even a PDF manual), except for
the Apple Help Viewer, which is sparse and difficult
to navigate. Learning this tool isn’t brain surgery,
but it could be made user-friendly with a manual.
Another downfall is the inability to temporarily activate
fonts—once they’re on, they’re on, even after a
restart, until you manually turn them off—a small,
but irritating inconvenience. Hopefully these issues
will be addressed in future upgrades and releases.
While some font management utilities require
you to download and manually install the autoactivation
plug-ins required for many applications,
FontExplorer X makes it fast, easy and painless.
It has a smooth plug-in manager which can be
accessed from the menu bar and upon installation. Plug-ins can be installed and removed from here
with ease in seconds. Kudos to Linotype for finessing
When opening a document, a dialog box alerts
you to available, missing and duplicate fonts and
deals with them accordingly. It also gives you the
option to purchase missing fonts via its Font Store.
FontExplorer X’s Font
Store is the iFonts of
the design world. It
includes many recognizable
cart, order history—
in addition to a top
10, staff picks and
One of the coolest and most unique features of
FontExplorer X is the information button. Click
here and you can access an expansive array of
information and visuals on any font. The submenu
includes summary, characters and detailed preview.
• The Summary lists font particulars—including
name, format, copyright, embedding rights and
designer (if included in the font by the manufacturer),
vendor, as well as your rating, label
• The Characters palette shows the complete
character complement (similar to the glyph
palette located in many apps), whose point size
can be adjusted by a slider. Now for the really
cool stuff: There is a sub-palette which shows
an enlargement of any character, adjustable up
to 250 pt.—great if you want to see a character
blowup before making a font selection. There
is another layer of detailed info on each character
… and the most useful for some might be
its HTML code. This is a real convenience if
you have ever had to hand-code smart quotes,
ampersands, dashes and the like.
• The Detailed Preview lets you customize any
font to the max, including size, color, line spacing
The Font Store is a brilliant marketing concept
that is as beneficial for the font user as it is for
Linotype. The store has lots of amazing features,
including a powerful Font Finder, Top 10 for text
and display, Staff Picks, Unseen Charms, as well as
a gallery called Designers In Focus. Clicking on a
font takes you back to the preview window to view
and explore each font in depth. All this plus fabulous
graphics of typefaces, designers and the like
make Linotype’s Font Store entertaining as well as
useful and convenient.
All three utilities are decent, reliable font management
tools that do the basics, but they all have
their own landmark features. If you are considering
exploring or switching to another program,
my advice is to do your research, then “test drive”
before you switch over or buy, using trial versions
(available for the two utilities that are not free),
and decide which works best for you and suits your
The character preview
in FontExplorer X has
a scalable character
palette with the ability
to view an enlargement
of any character,
as well as key information
on that character.