The best font manager

This item was written by subscriber Peter McDonell, AKA "Font Pharos". Peter has had a consuming interest in fonts and typography for more than ten years and is a regular commentator on the subject. Peter and I had a long email discussion about font managers and in the end I asked if he would write up his recommendations. Here they are:

Confused about the relationship between a font and a typeface? Then you had best read this (1) first.

Well, what do I want from a font manager? Several things:

I look for a utility which can present to me samples of fonts, probably using my own text phrase.
I want to be able to check out True type (TTF), Type 1 (PFB/PFM) and Open Type Fonts (OTF), all whether installed or not.

I may want to use the utility to install or uninstall fonts, and I’d prefer it didn’t lock up just because I’ve pointed it at a folder containing several thousand typefaces.

Over the years some excellent font utilities have emerged and then stagnated, perhaps in part because more recent versions of word processors incorporate font viewers to help in choosing between your installed typefaces. Additionally, font viewing functions have now been incorporated into the Windows and OS X operating systems.

The good news is that the field has not been entirely abandoned. Have a look at the following utilities – I’ve used them all:

AMP Font Viewer 380 handles/browses all uninstalled and installed fonts (2).

FontPicker is a handy comparative tool to compare installed fonts (3).

Extended Character Map is a boon for dingbat (4) fonts. It can be found at the following obsolete software sites (5), (6).

If you are mainly interested in reviewing your installed fonts the free Fast Font Preview (13) provides a quick multi-line view but doesn’t review all types of uninstalled fonts.

Not all fonts contain Unicode characters (10) but if that’s your thing BabelMap may be just what you want (11). Start with Basic Latin! See also this neat Unicode Viewer (12).

Among commercial products Typograf is the very best I have found; it’s well worth registering (7). Typograf reviews installed and uninstalled typefaces of all kinds. It has an excellent keyboard representation for making dingbat font use easy. It installs, uninstalls and does all but wash the dishes. The makers, Neuber, also offer an impressive little type twisting program – excellent for creating banners, headers and so on (8). There is a certain thoroughness about their products that makes them a delight to explore and use.

Bitstream Font Navigator, though discontinued, is still in CorelDraw as version 6. This site (9) shows how you can get it. I tested this and it does work, but it’s a pain to download the huge CorelDraw Suite just to get the font manager.

Several other commercial products are worth a mention as they also understand TrueType, OpenType and Type 1 typefaces, whether installed or uninstalled.

Font Map (14) has a range of character views but recent updates are only available to registered users.

MainType (15) is an excellent multi-line font viewer and management utility which handles all forms of typefaces, whether installed or uninstalled. This font viewer was recently created (December 2005) and has gone through various contemporary updates. It has plenty of printing options but no keyboard character map.

So what do I recommend? Among the free managers AMP Font Viewer is the best overall for average users, while for commercial managers Typograf is an easy first choice.

(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Typeface
(1a) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Font_%28disambiguation%29
(2) http://www.ampsoft.net/utilities/FontViewer.php
(3) http://www.charten.com/Products/FontPicker.htm
(4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dingbat
(5) http://www.woundedmoon.org/win32/extendedcharactermap141.html
(6) http://www.pricelesswarehome.org/2007/PL2007TEXT.php#0261-PW
(7) http://www.neuber.com/typograph/index.html
(8) http://www.neuber.com/twister/index.html
(9) http://www.noscope.com/journal/2004/09/font-management-solution
(10) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicode
(11) http://www.babelstone.co.uk/Software/BabelMap.html
(12) http://www.soft-gems.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=26&Itemid
(13) http://www.lanmisoft.com/fastfontpreview.htm
(14) http://www.ccountry.net/~dix/fontmap.htm
(15) http://www.high-logic.com/maintype.html

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