I Love Typography

Identify That Font

Ever seen a typeface (font) you like but couldn’t identify it? I once knew an Art Director who was able to identify just about any typeface I showed him. However, in recent years, even he responds with, I don’t have a clue.

So where to turn? Well, rather than publishing my Art Director friend’s email address here, I’ll introduce a few resources to get you started. Although none of the following resources is infallible, they will definitely give you a head start.

What The Font?!

MyFonts’ What The Font is perhaps the first place to turn to. As with most of the sites I list, here you can search by foundry, designer or name; however, that’s rarely very useful. If you know the designer or foundry, then it’s usually very easy to quickly identify the font. Where What The Font is particularly useful is that you can upload samples of your type, which it then attempts to identify within a matter of seconds. I had mixed results.

Step I: upload your sample. If the sample image has a lot of background noise or is low contrast, then spend a minute in PhotoShop, to lighten or remove the background and increase the contrast.

aaa.gif

Step II: ensure that What The Font has correctly identified the glyphs, then hit “search”:

picture-6.gif

Initially I uploaded this image, a thumbnail of the header image for this blog:

identify Georgia font

and What The Font suggested, among others, Magna T Light and Freight Text Book which, to be fair, are pretty similar to Georgia. However, when I uploaded a slightly larger version of the same image, it was identified correctly. So upload the largest sample you have (maximum image size is approx 360px wide).

If your sample isn’t identified, then you can submit it to the What The Font Forum, a place inhabited by type-nuts, who will often go out of their way to identify your typeface. This forum has a very high success rate!

Typophile

A community of … typophiles that has numerous other resources, blogs, typography-related news and even a typography Wiki. Though Typophile does not have an automated type identifier, it has a great forum of dedicated and friendly type-geeks.

Typophile

FontShop

Although, as its name suggests, you can shop for fonts, the content recently has expanded to include a good blog, a free magazine, and really up-to-the-minute typography news and views.

FontShop

Fontshop’s approach to font identification is a general to specific one; you first identify the general form of the characters (glyphs), and then answer increasingly more specific questions about their form. Again, this is not only a good tool for font identification, but for finding new typefaces for your projects.

Something else I can recommend from FontShop is the FontBook. Weighing in at 3kg, with 32,000 type samples, it’s more of a yellow monster of a book. However, if you’re really interested in type, then reserve a place in your bookcase. I’ll be offering one of these as a prize soon, so subscribe to ensure you don’t miss out.

fontbook_sample.jpg

Sample page from the FontBook.

[Update:] The FontBook is now available as an iPad app.

Another title that I can heartily recommend (not from FontShop) is Rookledge’s Classic International Typefinder, by Gordon Rookledge et. al. It includes a useful section of so-called Special Earmarks — a typeface’s or character’s most distinctive characteristics; very useful for identification.

rookledge type finder

Identifont

takes a different approach with relative success. I often use it for a slightly different purpose: finding similar typefaces to those I’ve used before. I like font x, but I want something a little more rough around the edges, or I want something with a double-storey “a” — that kind of thing.

Identifont has you answer a series of questions, like “Do the characters have serifs?” and “What shape are the serifs?”.

Identifont, typeface identification

After this process of elimination, Identifont makes suggestions based on your answers. I like that they always have a “not sure” option; depending on the quality of your sample, it may not always be possible to accurately answer the question posed.

Tracking down a font or typeface is not always easy. No-one knows how may typefaces there are, though some guesstimate in excess of 100,000.

If you spend a little time trying to identify fonts, then you’ll learn a lot about them in the process. You’ll also increase your “repertoire” and therefore make more informed choices about the fonts you choose for your next design project.

In future I’ll feature some fonts that are difficult to tell apart at first glance, and show you the elements that distinguish them. Are there typefaces that you find difficult to tell apart?

If you have your own tips, or stories you’d like to tell, then, scroll down and type away.

[Update:] Another great way to learn how to identify fonts is by playing the hugely popular FontGame for iPhone and iPad.


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  1. Thanks for this article.

    I wasn’t familiar with the Identifont site before this but I really like their approach because it forces you to examine the typeface details when evaluating what you’d like to use and that helps one learn a lot more.

  2. Chris
    I’m pleased you found something of use. The three sites listed all have their strengths and weaknesses. The Identifont approach is great for finding that font in your head; and educational too. Out of interest, how did you come across this post? :)

  3. Great summary of each site’s system. I think your link to FontShop’s TypeNav is missing. Also, while it can be good for identifying fonts, it’s actually designed to be a sophisticated font browser, letting you filter your results to specific characteristics, as you mentioned.

    http://typenav.fontshop.com

  4. johno

    Stephen

    Thank you. Link now fixed. It would be interesting to know a little about the workings of the application. I imagine that every font name with its respective characteristics is stored in a database, and the query is the sum of one’s choices(?)

    Are you still co-editor of Typographica?

  5. I had heard of What The Font and Identifont before. Those have been invaluable sometimes!

    The Big Yellow Book sounds useful. Do you have a copy, John? If so, do you like it? Is it a handy resource (I’m guessing yes since you profiled it here!)? Does it give a background on the fonts? I find myself more and more interested in the history of the fonts and it helps me choose an appropriate one.

  6. Thanks for the mention. It’s interesting to hear your results. One of my favourite font sites is Dafont, I know its for shareware and freeway fonts but I love the way it is organised. The Big Yellow Book sounds a good resource though I am not sure it would fit on my bookshelf, do you remember the old Letraset catalogues?

  7. Lauren
    Yes, I have a copy (it was a gift) However, I’ll be purchasing another to offer as a prize! By background, do you mean history, typographer, that kind of thing? Each typeface is accompanied by the designer and the year it was published; also, if the typeface is an adaptation of an earlier design, then the original date of publication is shown in brackets.

    You can download sample pages from FontShop.

    If I want to know a little more I just visit the foundry’s web site.

    If there’s one typography resource to have on your shelf, then this is the one—a type-sample Bible, if you like. There’s nothing to beat flicking through a real book of samples for inspiration. And one more thing: it’s great as an educational tool—just flicking through, you’ll soon be able to identify dozens more fonts.

    Tara
    Sorry, I’m too young to remember.
    Seriously, I’m old enough to remember, but don’t remember the catalogues, though I remember using the sheets of “rub-down” lettering and tones and textures (when I worked as an architectural illustrator).

  8. Oh boy! I’m going to try to win that book then! It sounds great!

  9. I’ve always been a big fan of What the Font for font identification, but I thoroughly enjoy the discussions that take place when you ask a group of type-addicts to identify something - so I prefer Typophile or other design forums (Yayhooray used to be really good when the signal to noise ratio looked better). Plus, people can often recommend good alternatives, which is always nice.

    PS: your feed URL on the Fontbook paragraph is wrong, it should be either http//ilovetypography.com/feed/ or feed://ilovetypography.com, not a combination of those two :-) Congrats on the blog, by the way.

  10. Fred
    Yes, the Typophile forum is a great one. I always feel as though I’ve entered another dimension (Type-World), when I visit that forum. Typophile has certainly generated a wonderful community.

    I like the design of webreakstuff.com. Georgia and Lucida Grande working together beautifully. The background image by Ray Fenwick on your blog is gorgeous too. I would love to have a detail of this submitted to Type You Like.

    Link now fixed. Thank you.

  11. Regarding whatthefont: I saw this bitmap to vector standalone app called Imagaro Z which can identify fonts while vectorizing. I don’t know if this really works, maybe it’s limited to the fonts you have installed to identify one, but whatever, have a href look. (avail. for win and mac)

  12. Manuel
    That’s an interesting find. They say that their FontEye technology can identify some 46,000 fonts, and “You must naturally own the font to be able to use it”—I’m not quite sure what they mean. Perhaps they mean it will only match fonts installed on your machine, or that it can match from the 46,000 in its database, but that, once matched, it can only be used/exported if one actually owns that font. it looks as though it’s main purpose is to simply turn your scanned characters into vectors (many other cheaper ways to do that. They only mention the upgrade prices: several hundred Euros!).

    Anyway, I’ve ordered a demo version, and will take a look at it. I should imagine that WhatTheFont employs a similar method - vectors of fonts matched against the glyphs in the uploaded image.

    There’s certainly room for improvement in this field. I will ask my Image Recognition expert friend about this.

  13. Another option worth mentioning, should all else fail, is the Typeface Identification pool on Flickr. Upload an image of your unrecognised type there and you just might get it identified—in my experience it can take up to two weeks to get an answer (thus if all else fails) but it’s inhabited by some quite knowledgeable typophiles.

    Excellent blog, by the way.

  14. Richard
    That’s the first I’ve heard of the Flickr Type Identification Pool. Great find.
    Thank you for that and for your kind words. I hope to see you here again.

  15. Hato

    Hi there to all. It has been a while since I heard of What The Font somewhere around 2002-2003 and I crossed it by accident, again and many thanks to ilovetypography blog. A great tool for designers. I guess fate does work in mysterious way.

    I’m using many typefaces and fonts and at once I can recall and identify those typefaces from my memory instantly, but now because of my coming age, my memory deteriorates, killing those precious memories. During working with fonts and typefaces, sometimes I found many imitation fonts that almost similar or identical to the original typeface. But thanks to What The Font, I can identify those font I’m looking for in just seconds away.

    Now I can’t live without it. Hope I can experiment again with new project, creating my own customized typeface (and hopefully soon!)

  16. Hato
    I’m pleased this article jogged your memory. I wish you luck with your next typeface; perhaps you could share the results with us.
    Thank you for reading and for taking the time to leave a commeny.

  17. Hato

    Hello again and I have a suggestion to make. Once during my free time, I would sit down in front my pc, doodling away with my illustration tool and experimenting with many possibilities of creating new typefaces. Sometimes such experimentation (and even by accident) expands our creative thinking and even mistakes may lead to remarkable findings.

    My suggestion is that why don’t we create our own typeface? We can add comments, discussing ways for improvement, expressing bright ideas and what matters to me that everyone should get down and dirty and it should be enjoyable. It doesn’t matter whether it looks childish or whatsoever, but we aren’t amateur, aren’t we?

    We do have everything that we need, from hardware to software, but the only thing that matters is effort. What do you think?

  18. Hato,
    i think it’s a good idea - in general, but i think that a iLT fontsuite, or whatever you are after, won’t work out. There would be too many people involved with their own definitions of what looks “right”. It would be like a whole school with all kids would paint a big picture. “Well, that looks kinda… hmm, well — cute?” is certainly not what you are after :)

    The only thing i could imagine what could work is some sort of a typeface where every character looks differnt. We pick our favorite characters and send them in, and then we make a poll where all registered iLT fanatics can choose their favorite A, a, 1, B, b, 2, C, c, 3…

    It would look like one of those “hostage taken, now we want money” letters. There are such fonts out there, but they were designed to look like those hostage papers, they were probably not based on which character, aesthetical wise, rocks the most.

    John,
    my dad just ordered new special Poster Markers for the new supermarket ads cheatsheet (i forgot to tell you that the old one couldn’t be found), looks like he is really “innit”.

  19. Wow! Using “What the Font”, I uploaded twice with “typography” written in “Tahoma” and “Vivaldi” in 72 points.. It correctly matched the fonts both times inspite of failing to recognize “grap” for vivaldi font… A great App…

    Thanks for introducing this app.. btw I reached your site following a post at inspirationbit… hope to learn a lot from you.. thanks

  20. Jalaj
    That’s great news. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something like “What the Font” on this site!

  21. n3rdski

    Thats not a bad idea Johno. You should look into that.

  22. Michael R

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve used Identifont, but now I will try some of your other suggestions, too.

    I design ads for a small-town movie theater, and the materials provided by the movie companies sometimes doesn’t suit my needs. To fit the space we have, occasionally I need to reposition elements. If I can’t identify the font that the movie’s title is created in and re-create it, I must either [1] trace it into a vector program (works OK for short titles, but time-consuming); [2] cut the type section from the provided raster art and paste it in (not always effective when combining with vector art); or [3] find a font that’s “close” and re-create it (my least favorite option; works on a small scale and most readers will never know, but I do!).

    I wish the movie distributors would provide some vector art with their promotional materials. It’s so hard to get what I do get from them, however.

    Anyway, thanks again!

  23. Michael
    Thanks for contributing. I would love to see your ads. I’m surprised they don’t at least name the faces they use — would certainly save you some time.

  24. Ya know, it seems like there are a lot of creative folks around here. I’m thinking maybe a cool thing would be to have an iLT Flickr group or something similar for iLT fans to post their typographic work to and comment on.

  25. Hi Alec

    Johno set up a group a while ago (under his redsil blog name)

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/426471@N23/

  26. Alec
    Yes, I’m working on (in addition to so many other things for iLT), a showcase of readers typography and typographic inspiration. It will take the form of a gallery, where everyone can comment on and rate the work. It will be divided into several categories — something like: 1/ found type; 2/ web typography; 3/ print type, etc.

    Tara
    Thanks. You found the uri faster than me.

  27. Ah, I’m always late to the party. Thanks, Tara! And Johno — awesome idea!

  28. TL

    I’d like to see them use their font-similarity databases to suggest alternative fonts for web stylesheets. “My design uses Foobar Black, but not everybody has that installed - which similar typefaces could I specify as a fallback?” That would be extremely handy.

  29. Michael R

    Thanks, johno. I’ll send you some samples.

    The problem is that the big movie companies treat us they same way they treat the megaplex chain theaters. They expect we’ll run a two-column-by-six-inch ad for each film every day. We’re a two-screen non-profit independent, we can only afford a one-by-six ad for both films (sometimes more if we split times), and since the only newspaper in town is a weekly, we have to get a week’s worth of showtimes in for each film.

    Some may say get bigger ads and you could make them more attractive. I say the ad can be attractive and attention-getting no matter what the size. (I love the challenge!)

  30. TL
    I’ve never heard of Foobar Black. Could you send me a sample or the url of your site? The question you raise is something I’ll be looking at in a future article.

    Michael
    It certaily is a challenge. The bigger it is, the easier it is to grab the viewer’s attention (simply because it take up more of the viewer’s field of view.) By all means send me those pdf’s. Thanks.

  31. I used Identifont the other night and I really surprised how on easily it found what I was looking for.

  32. A very nice list - kind of reminds me of the colour picker list over at http://twisted-barfly.co.uk/

  33. Aw, thanks Sqwark!

    Wow some great tools - these could come in handy - I find nothing more satisfying then downloading fonts. Some would say that I have a problem.

    I’m going to have a mooch around your site ;-)

  34. “I’ve never heard of Foobar Black. Could you send me a sample or the url of your site? The question you raise is something I’ll be looking at in a future article.”

    lol… i’m pretty sure that ‘foobar black’ is just a placeholder for any other font name, johno. more info here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foobar

  35. Brandy
    Thanks for the clarification. That’s what comes of responding to comments in the early hours of the morning. (blush)

  36. Hatosan

    Hi guys. It’s been awhile since I drop by and by the way, I need some help. Can anyone identify this typeface for me? I’m sure I have used it before but I can’t recall at all. I’m stuck with this typeface. Sigh.

    Here’s the unknown typeface and sorry, the image is quite small.

    I tried with Whatthefont and Identifont but there’s no acceptable result. Nothing is close as the original.

    If I’m not mistaken it looks like from Adobe Font Folio but I’m not sure if I’m right. Maybe it’s from ITC family?

    Thanks.

  37. Hatosan

    Hi guys. Help me someone. Sorry for the last message but apparently it didn’t appear and hopefully now it’s OK. Here’s the unknown typeface that I can’t identify and sorry, the image is quite small. Does anyone recognize it?
    http://i215.photobucket.com/albums/cc188/hatosans/maca_.png

  38. I had never heard of the Identifont site before I read this post - definetely a useful tool

  39. Alex

    hey font–watchers,

    can anyone suggest a font similar to Avant Garde but maybe more modern or slightly different, or in the same family type.

    Alex

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