capsule review

Suitcase Fusion

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Many graphic design, print, and publishing professionals have thousands of fonts stored on their hard drives, and managing them is essential. Extensis Suitcase Fusion 1.0 is designed to handle OS X’s font complexity, but it’s also user-friendly.

Suitcase Fusion 1.0 combines the front end of Suitcase with the font intelligence of Font Reserve, a competing font manager that Extensis acquired in 2003. If you’re upgrading from Suitcase X1 or Font Reserve 3, Fusion will import your existing fonts and font sets.

A huge number of graphic designers have used Suitcase for many years so its interface is not only familiar, it had been developed to suit their specific needs. Extensis has preserved and improved this interface for Fusion.

Font Reserve was developed from the ground up to meet the needs of publishing and prepress professionals who require precise identification of every version of every font, and rock-solid, reliable performance. Font Reserve accomplished this feat with three tricks: copying all your fonts into a database named the Font Vault; identifying every font down to the bit level; and building plug-ins for popular design applications that add a tiny bit of code to each document to identify the exact version of every font used. The Vault will accept only one copy of any font, which prevents problems caused by duplicates. And, because the fonts are no longer scattered across your hard drives or network, it can’t lose track of them. Suitcase Fusion adopted all of these technologies.

Because the Vault is a new concept for graphic designers, who are used to having direct access to their font files, some may be reluctant to use it. To accommodate them, Suitcase Fusion can also manage your fonts without copying them into the Vault.

Better auto-activation

If you open a document that uses inactive fonts, Fusion can automatically activate them. In addition, Fusion has special plug-ins for QuarkXPress, Adobe InDesign, and Adobe Illustrator that allow it to auto-activate the exact version of each font used, rather than guessing. Without those plug-ins font managers are basically guessing as to which version of a font was used. These plug-ins can also deactivate fonts when you close the document or quit the application.

While Fusion does display a list of auto-activated fonts, it doesn’t indicate which application requested the fonts. This information would be helpful because I was often surprised and baffled at the fonts that were auto-activated. In addition, I’d like to see a plug-in that auto-activates fonts for Adobe Photoshop. And I’m eager to see a server version of Fusion, which Extensis says is in the works.

What’s new

When you add fonts to Fusion, they are broken down to individual styles. This lets Fusion activate individual font styles for a document, which uses fewer system resources and avoids individual font conflicts that may occur by activating entire font suitcases. This also lets you use harmonized fonts. (Harmonized fonts are a product of an old utility called Font Harmony that was popular among designers. It let you change a font suitcase so that its font styles would collapse into the main font name in Font menus. This produced shorter Font menus, as well as the ability to apply a Bold or Italic style to a font by using keyboard commands.)

Fusion’s Font Sense, a utility that looks at font metrics, creation dates, and kerning pairs to precisely identify fonts, now tracks fonts in PDF files that were created by InDesign and Illustrator, as well as in EPS files exported from Illustrator. When you place those PDF or EPS files into a document in QuarkXPress, InDesign, or Illustrator, Fusion can activate the correct fonts.

Fusion also features a truly useful database that classifies fonts from many commercial foundries into categories such as Script, Decorative, Oldstyle, Transitional, or Sans Serif. This makes it easy to compare, for example, Script fonts. You can also add your own keywords to fonts, which can be helpful for keeping track of which clients own specific fonts.

In addition to creating your own font sets for projects, clients, or any other purpose, Fusion now lets you create application-specific sets that activate and deactivate fonts whenever the application is launched or quit. You can nest sets within sets, and even make aliases of sets to place within sets—when you change the original set, the alias updates as well.

Safety first

Because system fonts sometimes conflict with preferred fonts in a publishing workflow, Fusion lets you safely deactivate or override them with your own fonts. And because font files sometimes get damaged and collections get scattered, Fusion includes a copy of Morrison SoftDesign’s FontDoctor (   ), which can diagnose, repair, and organize your font collection into family-based folders.

The interface

Fonts can be listed as suitcases, typeface families, or individual styles, and can include columns showing each font’s foundry, version, file size, kerning information, and classification. You can sort any of these by clicking its column head. Finding a font is easy: you can either type the first few letters of its name or keyword into the QuickFind field, or use Fusion’s Find feature to combine multiple criteria, such as foundry, type, and classification.

A Preview window displays a sample of any fonts you select, including deactivated fonts. It can display your own string of text (useful for choosing a title font), or text in paragraph, waterfall, or ABC123 format. You can also choose the size of the display type.

One easy way to create a font set is to drag a folder of fonts from the desktop onto the Suitcase Fusion window. Conversely, you can drag a font set from the Suitcase Fusion window onto the desktop to create a folder containing a copy of those fonts. The quickest way to activate or deactivate font sets is from a list that appears when you click and hold Fusion’s Dock icon.

If you hold down the Command key while dragging fonts onto either the Suitcase Fusion icon in the Dock, or into its open window, those fonts will be temporarily activated and all other active fonts will be deactivated. This trick is tremendously useful for prepress service bureaus that need to be sure that only the client’s fonts are active.


In my test, I chose to not use the Vault, instead leaving my fonts in their original locations. It took about 20 minutes to migrate more than 10,000 fonts and 30 sets from Suitcase X1 to Fusion on my 1.67GHz G4 PowerBook. I noticed that font previews and lists of duplicate fonts displayed much more quickly than they did in Suitcase X1.

While I like to think that I keep my font collection pristine, the included FontDoctor utility ferreted out several questionable fonts, and flagged parts missing from PostScript font pairs. Performing this clean-up task before importing fonts into Suitcase Fusion was essential to avoid potential problems during font activation or auto-activation.

Macworld’s buying advice

Suitcase Fusion 1.0 is a powerful and capable font manager for creative professionals, and well worth the upgrade price. Existing Suitcase users will benefit from the stability of the Font Vault, while Font Reserve users have an entirely new interface to explore. New users, however, may want to compare features and interfaces with Insider Software’s competing product FontAgent Pro 3 (   ) before deciding.

[ Jay Nelson has been the editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly for 13 years. ]

Editor’s Note: After this review was published, Extensis informed us that although Suitcase Fusion is a new product, and did not have a version number on its packaging or press materials, the company is retaining Suitcase’s historical version numbering convention. It is now at version 12.0.1, and the company will be referencing that version number in future upgrades of the software.

Suitcase Fusion’s Attributes panel lets you assign Classifications, Foundries, and Styles to fonts that the program doesn’t already know. Also new: Application Sets, Nested Sets, and View by Suitcase, Family, or Style.
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