Font tips: Printing type samples

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When choosing a typeface to use for a project, there is no replacement for a printed type specimen. Fonts just look different when you see them in print, compared to how they look on screen. So, when you need to choose fonts for a print project, it's smart to have a type specimen book handy that shows exactly how all your fonts look on the page.

Clever developers have come up with several useful utilities for printing font specimen pages—not only for active fonts, but also for folders full of fonts you haven't yet installed. Some of these utilities are free, but the best ones will set you back a few bucks.

Let's start with the Font Book utility that comes with Mac OS X. It can print useful type specimen pages in three different layouts, but only for the fonts the user installed via Font Book. (If you use a third-party font management utility such as Suitcase Fusion 2 ( ), FontAgent Pro ( ) or FontExplorer X Pro ( ), the fonts you've activated in those utilities will not show up in Font Book.) If necessary, you can temporarily activate the fonts you need to print by choosing File> Add Fonts…, then deactivate them after you've created your font specimen pages. (Deactivating them after you print is especially important if you do use one of the third-party font managers.)

Printing dialog from OS X's Font Book utility.

Here's how to use Font Book to print type specimen pages:

  1. Highlight the fonts you want to include from the list of fonts in Font Book. To select all the fonts press Command-A or Edit -> Select All. To select all the fonts in a Collection, highlight the name of the Collection and then press Command-A. To select individual fonts to print, hold down the Command key while clicking on each choice. To select a group of fonts in a row, select the first one and then hold down the Shift key while clicking on the final font you want.

  2. Choose File -> Print and, if necessary, click on the triangle next to the name of your printer to see Font Book's printing options.

  3. With Font Book selected in the Print Options pop-up menu, choose one of the three types of reports from the Report Type pop-up menu.

  4. Set options for the report type you’ve chosen, such as Show Family and Sample Size for the Catalog report type (to cluster your fonts into their logical typeface families); Glyph Size for the Repertoire report type, and Show Font Details such as Kind, Manufacturer, Version, Designer, and so forth, for the Waterfall report type.

  5. Just under the page preview, note the number of pages you're about to print. You may be printing more than you expect, because some OpenType fonts have a tremendous number of glyphs. If that happens, you may want to scroll through the page previews, choose the pages you really need, then type specific page numbers into the Pages fields.

  6. Now click the Print button. You can also create a PDF of the pages too, for safekeeping and future reference, by clicking on the PDF button in the lower left-hand corner of the Print dialog and choosing Save as PDF from the menu.

Font Book is fine for printing the three types of layouts it supports. But if you need a more variety, or want to print uninstalled fonts without temporarily installing them, you'll want to look into third-party applications. The simplest and most useful ones I've found useful are Ksoft's FontCat ($20), which has several useful layouts, and PiDog Software's FontThing ($10), which prints rudimentary font samples.

Third-party font-management utilities such as Suitcase Fusion 2 and FontAgent Pro can also print font samples, but they’re limited to printing one line of text per font. Linotype’s FontExplorer X Pro 2.5 raises the bar for printing font specimens: it offers five professional layouts, with optional custom headers and footers, and you also can create your own custom layout.

If you use Adobe InDesign ( ) CS3 or CS4, you may want to try Chris Paveglio's ID Font Catalog. This $15 script lets InDesign create a font catalog of your active fonts. There are several layout options, including a list with family styles grouped below each font (such as bold and italic). You can omit common system fonts and select others to skip as well. If you export the catalog to PDF, the script creates bookmarks for each family.

The following utilities really stand out as professional font printing tools:

Bohemian Coding's Fontcase ($56) is incredibly cool and sophisticated, and although it has just one layout for printing font specimens, that layout is well-considered and truly useful. It's also the 2009 winner of the Apple Design Award for Best Mac OS X Leopard Student Product. (I give it extra cool points for using the pangram, "Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs" instead of the usual one featuring a quick fox and a lazy dog.)

TypeBook Creator interface.

Veenix Technologies' Veenix TypeBook Creator is the absolute best program I've ever seen for printing type specimens or books. You can print samples of active or inactive fonts in any of 16 classic layouts—and customize the text used in the samples. It can even categorize your fonts and then help narrow down your font choices by Serif, Sans-serif, Text, Condensed, Expanded, Monospaced or Shadow & 3D.

The recently released version of TypeBook Creator 2.4 has a unique new feature that assigns an "energy level" to each font. This helps you find fonts in your collection that are best suited for, say, a metal band CD cover versus a children's book. TypeBook Creator costs $50 for one user and up to 5,000 fonts and $400 for a multi-user license with unlimited fonts.

Type specimen books have a long, revered history among font fans. After spending some time with the tools mentioned above, I think you'll appreciate the value of type specimen books in your own work.

[Jay J. Nelson is the editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly, an executive summary of graphic design news.]

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