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.
Step II: ensure that What The Font has correctly identified the glyphs, then hit “search”:
Initially I uploaded this image, a thumbnail of the header image for this blog:
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!
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.
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’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.
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.
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?”.
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.