This article is excerpted from InDesign Magazine, June/July 2007 (Issue 18).
You may work with hundreds or even thousands of fonts. The more typefaces you have, the more creative options you can explore. The downside is that managing a multitude of fonts can become a daunting task for both you and your computer.
You can dump them all in your Control Panel Fonts folder (Windows) or one of the three system folders (Mac), but this is not only extremely taxing on your system, it can overpopulate your application font menus and result in endless scrolling.
It makes more sense to use only the fonts you need, when you need them. Font managers let you do just that. So the real question is not why you should use a font manager, but which one works best for you?
And don’t think this is just a Mac thing. All designers — whether on Mac or Windows — can benefit from a font manager.
The following comparison of eight font managers — our favorites out of a larger field, plus one we can’t recommend — will help you sort through the sometimes-confusing choices. Let’s tackle the Windows side first, starting with the highest-rated applications. For the Mac side of things, go to page 2.
1 – Not worth it even if it’s free
2 – Not recommended
3 – Average
4 – Exceptionally good
5 – A must-have
FontAgent Pro 3 for Windows
Insider Software’s FontAgent Pro 3 for Windows was very promising as a public beta, and I’m happy to report that the shipping version fulfills that promise.
The ability to create a managed library, complete with the option to optimize fonts from the system Fonts folder, make FontAgent Pro 3 for Windows (FAP) a strong choice for creative professionals. FAP can also validate fonts upon import, which is a nice built-in troubleshooting feature, and its Font Compare and Font Player preview options are superb. On the other hand, it lacks font auto activation, a major detraction. In addition, there’s no secure database comparable to the Vault in Suitcase for Windows.
When you first launch FAP, it tells you that it must create its own database. You can accept the default location (C:FAP_Data) or choose a different location on your system. Once the database is created, FAP asks if you’d like to add fonts by optimizing the Fonts Control Panel or by importing a folder of fonts (Figure 1). It also gives you the option to bypass the initial auto import options and add fonts later.
If you’ve been storing all of your fonts in the Windows system Fonts folder, give your system a break and optimize the Fonts Control Panel. When you do, FAP displays a dialog box with archive and import options. I recommend backing up all fonts imported into the database from the Fonts Control Panel, especially those supplied by Windows, in case you move them back later. I also recommend enabling the Don’t Import Incomplete Postscript Fonts option, as incomplete Postscript fonts will not display or output properly.
FontAgent Pro always runs a diagnostic check on all fonts before importing them. I suggest you import all fonts except for those required by the Windows system. (FAP places them in their own category.)
Required fonts are automatically placed in their own library and locked. As a safeguard, you can never unlock, move, or deactivate required fonts. All other fonts imported from the Fonts Control Panel are placed in the Control Panel Fonts library and can be managed easily using FAP.
FAP is the only Windows font manager that lets you create multiple libraries. You can add fonts to the database at any time by dragging and dropping them into the interface, or by clicking the Import button. Doing so prompts FAP to display another dialog box with import options (Figure 2).
If you click the Import button, FAP gives you the option to locate a folder of fonts to import or search your drive for additional fonts it can manage. You can import fonts into an existing library (with the exceptions of the Required and Control Panel libraries) or create a new one.
FAP’s flexible sets let you nest sets inside of other sets and add fonts from multiple libraries. It’s easy to activate fonts and sets by clicking in the activation column or by clicking the activation buttons. If you don’t enable the preference to reactivate fonts from the previous session after restart, fonts are activated temporarily until system restart.
You can view fonts in libraries and sets in either the left or above-right panels, or both. However, to display all fonts in the database, you must select the All Fonts tab in the left panel. Fonts selected from the All Fonts, Libraries, or Sets tabs display in the bottom-right panel. You can view fonts individually by font name, or grouped by font family. You can also see fonts as WYSIWYG. By clicking the Font Compare tab in the preview panel, you can preview multiple selected fonts side-by-side using custom text (Figure 3).
The Font Player scrolls through multiple selected fonts and previews them like a slideshow using traditional ABC123, Paragraph, or Custom preview options. The Auto Play function previews each font selected from a library, set, or the All Fonts list in a slideshow. As the slideshow plays, you can click the + button to record a favorite font. FAP then creates a new Font Player set and adds the recorded fonts. You can refer to this set later to preview and compare favorite fonts.
FAP always runs a thorough diagnostic check on all fonts before importing them into the database, looking for file errors, corrupt fonts, duplicates, and incomplete Postscript fonts. When the check is complete, FAP displays a full, categorized report. You can’t run a random check on the database, nor search for duplicates or missing fonts.
FAP’s Font Export is especially useful when sharing fonts with other members of a production team. By selecting multiple fonts, including entire sets or custom libraries, you can choose the export command and copy the fonts to a specific location on your system or network. FAP automatically places them in a folder labeled “Exported Fonts.”
FontExplorer X for PC, Public Beta 1
Windows XP (Vista not recommended)
At press time, FontExplorer X for PC was in beta. Although I wouldn’t recommend that you depend on the beta in a production environment, its enormous potential means I’ll be eagerly anticipating its final release date. Something else to look forward to is the price tag: free, even after its release.
The interface is easy to use. When you first launch the application, it displays a warning that it must copy fonts into its own database. You can accept the default location for the database (C:Document and SettingsAll UsersDocumentsFontExplorer XFontsManaged) or choose another location on your system.
Once it creates the database, FontExplorer X for Windows (FEX) tells you that all of the fonts in the system Fonts folder must be deactivated and moved to a FEX System folder (C:Documents and SettingsAll UsersDocumentsFontExplorer XFontsdeactivate). You can keep all fonts not required by the system in the FEX System folder (recommended) or move them back to the system Fonts folder upon activation (Figure 4).
You can then drag additional font folders into the import startup window, or click the + button to locate them in a separate dialog box. Once you’ve added all of the fonts, click the Analyze button to validate them. If you try to import a font that’s already in the database, FEX warns you and gives you several duplicate-handling options.
You can easily activate fonts by clicking in the activation column or choosing the activate command. You can activate fonts permanently or only during the current Windows, or FEX session. There are some interesting preferences for working with sets (Figure 5). For example, when deactivating a set, you can choose to not deactivate fonts in other sets.
Via a plug-in, FEX can auto-activate fonts for InDesign and Illustrator files, though this applies only to CS and CS2 versions at press time.
Fonts removed from the database aren’t removed from the managed folder. To remove the fonts from the folder, you must choose FEX’s Clean Manage folder option under the Tools menu.
You can hide and show the FEX preview panel by clicking the P button in the bottom right corner of the interface. You can compare faces side-by-side by selecting more than one font at a time and referring to this panel (Figure 6).
There are several text-preview options, including the traditional uppercase and lowercase character set. FEX is uniquely equipped with several foreign language previews. You can edit the existing preview text options, as well as add custom text, in the Preview section of the File> Preferences dialog box, or by simply typing something new into the field.
The font list lets you view fonts individually or by grouping font families together. You can display additional information about the fonts, such as version and format. The Format (detailed) option tells you whether OpenType fonts are Postscript- or TrueType-flavored.
FEX comes with several troubleshooting options. It performs an automatic check on any imported font, and you can remove missing font files from the database and clean up the Windows font registry at any time. You can also run a check on the entire database by choosing Tools> Optimize Database. To view database conflicts and missing fonts before repairing them, select Conflicts from the Source panel.
Suitcase for Windows 11.0
Windows 2000 SP4/XP SP2/Vista x86
With its latest upgrade (version 11.0), Suitcase for Windows has incorporated some of the better features previously available only in Suitcase Fusion for Mac OS X. Suitcase for Windows now gives you the option to copy your fonts into a secure database (called the Vault), and also includes font auto-activation for such applications as InDesign and Illustrator, in both CS2 and CS3.
Combining these great features with its easy-to-use interface and a copy of Font Doctor makes Suitcase a much better choice for Windows-using creative pros than Font Reserve.
However, Suitcase for Windows loses points for its lack of font database search functionality. The application doesn’t search your system for manageable fonts. This means that to manage any fonts installed by software such as the Creative Suite (CS), you must copy them manually into the Vault, or tell Suitcase where they’re located on your system to manage them locally.
Suitcase for Windows uses FontSense, a precise font matching system developed by Extensis to auto-activate fonts. Keep in mind that this type of auto activation is application-specific, not global or system-wide. When you first install Suitcase for Windows, the installer asks if you want to install auto-activation plug-ins. If you choose to do so (and you should), Suitcase installs the plug-ins in the relevant application’s Plug-Ins folder.
With the plug-ins installed, Suitcase automatically locates and activates necessary fonts when you open a document in one of those applications. It’s a huge time-saver and one of the primary reasons for implementing a font manager.
You can also activate fonts quickly by clicking in the activation column or by clicking the activation buttons. A preference lets you choose whether to activate fonts permanently or temporarily (until system restart). You can add fonts to the Vault by dragging and dropping.
You preview selected fonts from within the same interface window as the font list, which allows you to select multiple fonts and compare them side-by-side (Figure 7).
In addition to Waterfall, Paragraph, and ABC 123 preview options, Suitcase for Windows also has a QuickType feature that lets you enter custom preview text. To view all of the preview options at once (with the exception of QuickType), select the font and choose Get Info. This opens a separate window that you can also print from (Figure 8).
Figure 8. Suitcase for Windows provides in-depth information in this separate, printable window.
You can sort the font list alphabetically by font type, but you can’t filter the list to show only one type of font (such as OpenType), as you can in Font Reserve. There’s also no Explore tab in Suitcase for Windows, which means you can’t manipulate fonts stored in the Control Panel Fonts folder. Any adjustments to the Fonts folder must be done manually. See the application’s PDF guide for a list of system fonts you should never remove from the Fonts folder.
Identifying and managing duplicate fonts in Suitcase for Windows is fairly simple. When you attempt to activate a font that’s conflicting with a duplicate in the system Fonts folder, the preview panel displays a duplicate warning.
Suitcase for Windows can show you a list of missing fonts and their last known location. If that was a CD or external drive, you’ll know that the font wasn’t copied onto your system. If the last known location was on your system, chances are that the font was deleted from your hard disk.
Unfortunately, there’s no font export or collect option in Suitcase for Windows. However, it does have a browse and buy command, a thorough PDF guide, and a good printing feature: You can print a sample page for individual or multiple selected fonts. The sample page includes the Waterfall and Block Text preview options, plus the full character set. You can’t print the full glyph set.
Included with your purchase of Suitcase for Windows is the powerful Font Doctor troubleshooting application (Figure 9). Font Doctor diagnoses, repairs, organizes, and archives fonts (other than those in the system Fonts folder). From my experience, there’s no better tool than Font Doctor for cleaning up a cluttered font library.
Font Reserve for Windows 2.6.5
When Extensis purchased Font Reserve from DiamondSoft a few years back, Extensis merged its own Suitcase application with some of the better features from Font Reserve, creating Suitcase Fusion for Mac OS X. Unfortunately, a Fusion version of Suitcase hasn’t yet emerged for Windows; however, you can separately purchase the older apps.
Although Font Reserve for Windows is a good font manager, it’s somewhat limited. For example, it doesn’t auto-activate fonts. That alone makes Suitcase for Windows the better choice. Nevertheless, there are useful features unique to Font Reserve, such as Quick Preview.
When you launch Font Reserve for the first time, you can perform a system-wide search for available fonts it can manage, including those installed by third-party products, such as the Adobe Creative Suite (CProgram FilesCommon FilesAdobeFonts). This is one of the best features of Font Reserve, as it lets you make the Adobe fonts, which are predominantly cross-platform OpenType, easily available to other non-Adobe design applications. When the search is complete, Font Reserve manages each font’s activation status from its current location on your system, rather than moving them into a managed library.
Font Reserve lets you activate fonts quickly by clicking in the activation column or by clicking the activation buttons. A preference lets you choose whether to activate fonts permanently or temporarily (until system restart).
The Explore tab gives you access to system folders, where you can move fonts from the Windows system Fonts folder. This feature is good in that it lets you keep fonts managed by the system to a bare minimum. But it’s also something you should be very careful with, because certain Windows fonts must remain in the Control Panel Fonts folder for the system to run properly. Font Reserve’s thorough PDF guide includes a list of system fonts you should never remove from the Fonts folder.
The best way to preview fonts in Font Reserve is to use the Quick Preview feature. It displays a preview window when you click and hold down the mouse button on a selected font (Figure 10). By default, it identifies the font using its PostScript name, but you can enter custom text in the Quick Preview tab of the Preferences dialog box (Edit> Preferences).
Another way to preview fonts in Font Reserve is to select them from the list and either double-click with the mouse, or click the Preview button. Font Reserve then opens a separate, resizable preview window. The drawback to the preview windows is that they can display only one font at a time. To compare selected fonts side by side, you must open multiple windows and manually size and position them.
Preview windows contain their own set of Options, some of which are very useful. For example, Character Map displays the corresponding keystroke for any glyph you select (Figure 11).
The Capabilities option shows you what the text looks like rotated or reversed. You can also choose to display custom text for Waterfall, Single Line, or Block Text preview options.
Font Reserve for Windows doesn’t check or repair fonts, but it can manage duplicates and missing fonts. By enabling the Display Name Conflict Warnings option in the Activation tab of the Preferences dialog box, you can tell Font Reserve to display a warning when it activates two fonts with the same PostScript name. If the font is an exact duplicate (same name and kind), Font Reserve permits you to activate only one at a time.
You can also search for and delete missing fonts from the Font Reserve database. Note that you should do this only when you’re sure that the fonts are missing (deleted from your system). If the fonts are on an external drive that’s offline, Font Reserve considers them missing. Before you delete the fonts from the Font Reserve database, check if the external drive is off. Simply turning it back on can solve the missing font problem, without having to delete any information from the database.
The printing option in Font Reserve for Windows lets you print sample text for single or multiple selected fonts as a specimen sheet, which includes a printout of the Waterfall and Block Text preview options, plus the full character set. You can also print a full chart of a selected font’s available glyph characters as seen in the Character Map preview option, but without keystroke indicators.