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Pretty much every designer has seen a font they love on the web, a billboard, packaging, in a magazine… maybe even in a TV commercial. Maybe it’s an oldie but goodie, or a trendy new font that seems to be showing up just about everywhere. You want exactly that font to use in one of your projects.
The tough part is when you don’t know the font’s name.
We’ve all been there, right? That’s why I recently took an informal poll of some fellow designers on how they “find that font.” I asked them: Do you use a font-identifying website? Consult a “go-to” friend? Do you scour a print catalog hoping you find it? Maybe go about ID’ing through your knowledge of font anatomy?
What I found is that the “correct” is a combination of all of these options, with some interesting nuances in everyone’s unique specifics.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road, i.e. FontBook
Designer extraordinaire and Essentia Creative Creative Director and founder Shannon Stevens takes a stack-ranked “1-2-3″ approach. His first tack, he says, is to “reach out to design buddies” on Skype or IM. The second is to scour his personal collection of 3,121 fonts (!) on his Mac for a match.
His last resort is to flip through the pages of the FontBook by FontShop International, which bills itself as “the most complete digital type reference in the world.” It probably won’t include all the new fonts appearing online, but if you are more of a “book in your hand”-type of font sleuth, FontBook is the undisputed mother of all printed font catalogs—now available, naturally, as a handy new iPad app.
Font ID websites
It should come as no surprise that there are several online resources to help you find that font. This article on I Love Typography provides several online font ID tools, including What the Font?!, FontShop and my personal favorite, Identifont. Veer.com‘s Font Finder lets you browse fonts by Styles and Classification. If you’re looking for web fonts, WebINK’s own online catalog offers even more ways to search, including by Classification, Foundry, Languages, Width, Weight, Library and Tags.
Of course the font-finding websites option may not work for everyone. Like many other pro designers, Owen Troy, owner/co-founder of Design des Troy has a veritable “font catalog” in his head. Even so, he confesses that certain font sites aren’t always his first go-to choice. “While it may seem like they should be leading me to the right font, they don’t ultimately give me the right answers,” he says. “However, the algorithmic and relatively democratic ‘fonts like this’ feature from my closest guess on myfonts (and then typing into the sample text the letters available to match) tends to get me to an answer pretty quickly. Repeat as necessary.”
Spot identification, or ID on sight
This may be reserved for only the most hardcore typophiles (…our own Thomas Phinney comes to mind, ahem). Blue Collar Interactive Creative Director/Partner April Donovan points out that between companies commissioning new or modified versions of existing fonts, the slew of “hobbyist” fonts flooding the web, and knock-offs, variations—and spin-offs of all of them—finding the name of that font becomes that much more difficult.
April recalls having to memorize font names as part of her design school college days. “Part of our ‘Introduction to Typography’ course was to memorize typefaces for identification,” she says. “This was kind of hard at first, but then it became fun to drive around and have the ability to identify fonts used in signage and such. My roommates and I would drive into Reading, PA, to hit up Dairy Queen and we’d be yelling ‘Benguit! Hobo! Eeeeew, Curlz!”
Founder/Creative Director at NJ-based design firm Element 28, Brett Nichols, tends to initially take a similar approach founded in his design training. “Honestly, I’m pretty good at pinning down a font or its lineage because of how I was taught at RIT,” he says. “One of my professors required each student to provide three different hand-drawn font sets every week—10 weeks of class. One in pencil, one in pen, one in brush of EACH font. Royal pain in the a**, but It helped me identify characteristics of certain styles of typefaces that has served me well to this day.”
Even for pros like Owen Troy, spot ID’ing, and even websites don’t always result in a direct hit. “Like a spelling bee champ memorizing the rule-breaking oddballs, I need only memorize House, vllg and H&FJ catalogs to keep up with a huge percentage of the type not on myfonts (if I had a penny for every time someone’s asked me to identify Neutra, Apex or Archer…) Free fonts aren’t often what people are looking to track down because they tend not to be too great,” he adds, “but dafont is a good backup which organizes by pretty specific themes and then by popularity, so when, say, Bleeding Cowboys or Tiza stump you, they’re not hard to find.”
Community: No Font Finder is an Island
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just hop online and have an expert ID your fonts for you? To that end, April Donovan points out Typophile, which offers several font-related forums for members, including a ‘Type ID board‘ dedicated to finding that font. And while FontShop offers powerful browsing and searching tools, it’s also worth noting that they also offer experts to identify fonts at no charge for members.
“The Typophile ID board is really great,” Owen adds. “The Typophile community makes a game of sorts out of outdoing one another and generally you get an answer very quickly. I just don’t use it because I’d have to swallow my professional pride (worse than asking a NYC cop for directions) and I’m pretty good at finding the answer myself. But it’s almost certainly the single best resource out there for font identification—for me, at least.”
So there you have it, typophiles—a ton of resources to help you find that font that’s perfect for your next project. If you have any other “go-to” methods, please share in the comments—we’d love to hear from you.
Take our “Find that Font” quiz and win a free WebINK account! Identify the fonts in the three photos below in the comments in the next two weeks. We’ll pick one lucky winner at random and award them a free WebINK account. That’s over 4,000 web-safe fonts for life!
Mystery font #1 (The blue “Absolut” font)
Mystery font #2
Mystery font #3