Designers have a need for relevant fonts in all creative mediums. Both print and digital design follow a similar track when choosing and composing typography. But there’s always the nuance of actually choosing which font to use. While on the search for a terrific typeface it’s all-too-common to bump into a great font that’s also hard to identify.
Thankfully in our modern high-tech era there are plenty of font identifier tools which can help. All of these tools can be accessed using a web browser and they’re a lot more accurate than you might assume.
The following resources are meant for designers and developers who often need to identify a particular font. Up until recently this was an arduous task which required hours of research and letter matching. But nowadays you can find the exact font family(or at least related choices) in just a matter of minutes.
Using a Font Identifier
The two distinct methods of font identification are image-based and text-based recognition. Typography in an image is often trickier to analyze because it requires matching the shape of letters to other letters in many different families. Text on a website or in a PDF is easier, but can also be simplified with the help of browser add-ons.
When using a font identifier make sure that you have a high-quality sample of the font. This is especially true for images which need to be scanned letter-by-letter. Aim to get the highest resolution possible and crop out any surrounding content on the page. This will ensure the font itself is the primary focus and other items won’t be picked up by mistake.
Another handy trick is to single out just a few letters. For example you might be looking for a particular font used on the cover of a magazine. If some of the letters appear blurry or just too generic they could skew the results. Try creating a separate image with 3-5 distinct letters and then analyze both. It’s not a foolproof trick but sometimes it can yield different results.
Overall just have some patience and be willing to try out a few different tools if necessary. Short of memorizing typefaces you’re going to rely on font identifiers quite a bit. They’re not always 100% accurate but even the suggested typefaces can be surprisingly useful.
Checking Fonts from an Image
First let’s take a look at different resources for image typography analysis. This is the most troublesome method of font identification because an image has no source code to examine like on a webpage.
In order to obtain the best results try to make the image very clear and legible. If the picture is hectic with lots of stuff in the background try cropping it smaller to focus solely on the lettering.
Perhaps the #1 choice for font identification is WhatTheFont. This tool has been online for over a decade and the technology has really advanced with time.
All you need to do is upload an image and let the scanner do its thing. If some of the letters are ambiguous then you’ll be asked to manually key in their values. Afterwards the site will put together a list of related fonts based on letter height, kerning, shape, and some other related properties. If you’re having trouble or want to ask about a particular font you can post a topic onto WhatTheFont’s forum.
Another popular choice is the website What Font Is. This site has a few detailed options that include parsing image text based on a light or dark background. You can also choose to upload an image from your computer or link to one that’s hosted elsewhere online.
But one of the best features is that you can limit results based on fonts that are either free, commercial, or both. So if you’re looking for a related font that won’t cost any money this webapp really comes in handy. What Font Is put out a cool demo video which explains how the site works and the process of font identification.
One of the lesser-known solutions is FontEdge which behaves like a true web application. On the page click anywhere in the big white box to upload an image. Your image will appear on the page and as you click each letter a small box will appear underneath the window. If the letters can’t be automatically determined you just manually enter each letter then click “Identify”.
It’ll take some time to load a list of suggested fonts – but once the inspection is complete all fonts are easy to peruse and check at your own volition. FontEdge may fit better as a secondary or tertiary option compared with the other two. But it’s still a great resource and it’s nice that designers have so many options for analyzing graphic-based typography.
Web Font Typography
The alternative to image typography is digital text-based typography. Most notably this will relate to a website and various webfonts. CSS3 allows web developers to incorporate their own custom font files onto a website, so now it’s even easier to add completely unique fonts onto the web.
It’s possible to dig through a website’s source code and eventually locate the CSS which initiates a particular font. But not everyone knows how to do that and even those who do would prefer an easier method. Thankfully some browser add-ons and webapps have been made to condense this process into quicker steps.
If you want to try another bookmarklet take a look at WhatFont. This is another free option which can run directly from your bookmarks toolbar. Simply activate the bookmarklet on any website and you can easily distinguish between various fonts on the page. There is no “best option” because these tools are relatively subjective. Try out both of these bookmarklets and see which one feels easier to use.
When it comes to specific add-ons there are plenty to choose from. Modern browsers all support the ability to install extensions which expand upon the base functionality. Web font identification extensions aren’t crazy popular but they are certainly useful and save a lot of time.
Firefox also has a number of alternatives which behave in a similar fashion. Context Font uses a context menu and allows the user to download font files of possible. Other alternatives are Font Finder and Fontinfo.
There aren’t many choices for other browsers so you’ll have a tough time finding extensions for Opera or Internet Explorer. Safari does have a WhatFont extension that works pretty well, however the bookmarklets can work in any browser so they’re always a safe bet.
Font Identification Communities
When you’ve exhausted all these resources there is still one last option you can try. Although it’s a long shot there are online communities dedicated to font identification. Some are more popular than others and it may help if you lurk around the community for a while before posting.
However it seems that a lot of members are willing to help just for the sake of helping. As long as your text sample is easy to view and offers some level of detail it’s feasible that a member could have the perfect solution to your typography conundrum.
Quora is a Q&A type website that allows people to ask questions from all areas of business, economics, marketing, design, or just regular life. One particular category is dedicated to typeface identification and has some very knowledgable members. Although you may not find an exact typeface matchup, it’s highly likely that you will find a couple similar options.
TypeID is the bulletin board community on Typophile. Based on the website’s name alone it should be obvious that the community really loves typography. But it’s even more interesting to see the 150+ pages of archives with a lot of great threads on font identification. If you’re ever having trouble with the font identifiers this forum is a good starting point to ask for help directly from live human beings.
Among many social news communities it’s fair to say that Reddit is perhaps the most diverse and heavily-trafficked. The website is made up of mini-forums called subreddits that each focus on a particular topic. One such forum is named Identify This Font and I’m sure you can guess the community’s purpose.
What I like most about Reddit is the variety of fast-paced topics. Most subreddits with over 3k members tend to be quick and snappy with new posts. If you throw up a question for font identification or ask for related fonts you’ll typically have a few responses within 24-48 hours.
The battle for typeface identification is getting easier with more designers around the world coming together to solve this problem. It’s fair to say that the design community has made great strides in this area since it’s now easier than ever to inspect and identify digital fonts. Keep these resources in mind for future reference and never give up on achieving personal mastery over font identification techniques.