Even under the best of circumstances, font management is complicated. Fortunately for creatives, the formerly crippling font problems in Mac OS X have mostly been ironed out by the current crop of font management software.
Products such as Suitcase Fusion 3 capably weed out problem fonts and duplicate fonts, organize and categorize your fonts, and can auto-activate necessary fonts when you open a document. As with all professional font managers, it lets you create sets of fonts for various purposes, manage system fonts, preview and export fonts, explore technical font details, and so on.
So, what’s left for a company such as Extensis to add to their font manager? First, a few features were added to catch up with the competition: you can now create application sets that activate specific fonts whenever a particular application is launched, you can export a .png image file that shows your custom text in any font (with transparency), you can clear the font cache files to resolve font display glitches (including caches for Mac OS X, Adobe applications, QuarkXPress and Microsoft Office), and auto-activate fonts in Photoshop CS4 and CS5 documents.
But two new features are unique to Fusion 3: QuickMatch and WebINK integration. QuickMatch lets you explore your font collection to find fonts that look similar to a selected font—a tremendously helpful feature for people who are new to choosing fonts, as well as for deadline-driven designers who have more fonts than they can remember. To use QuickMatch, you simply choose a font in your library and choose Edit -> QuickMatch. Fusion 3 then examines the shape of the glyphs in your selected font and searches your selected library for fonts that are similar in appearance. You can then adjust the number of results you want to see, and whether you want to search your local fonts or Extensis’ collection of WebINK fonts (see below). I found the QuickMatch feature to be accurate enough to be useful, as well as joyfully addictive.
The new WebINK integration feature opens a huge new world of fonts to Website designers. Extensis is one of a number of companies hoping to persuade Web designers to rent their fonts, which are licensed from font designers around the world. (Right now, their WebINK collection includes almost 2,100 fonts.) These Web fonts can be used on any Web page by adding an @font–face tag to its CSS definitions, and are viewable in most modern Web browsers. The fonts are stored on Extensis’ servers and streamed when a visitor loads a page that requests one. A monthly fee is paid to Extensis by the person or company who owns the Website, based on the Website’s traffic and the base price of the fonts used. The monthly rental price ranges from $2 to $40 based on the amount of bandwidth your site requires. Bandwidth is determined by the number of fonts on the page and number of unique visitors to your site.
This is a potential gold mine for Web font distributors, and Extensis has brilliantly integrated this feature into Fusion 3. For example, you can type in the URL for any CSS-based Web page and then preview what it would look like using any of the WebINK fonts. (You can also preview Web pages using any of your local fonts as well, which can be useful in combination with the QuickMatch feature to find a WebINK font that resembles your project’s printed material.) If you’re working on a Website design, you can preview Web pages on your hard drive and create a Type Drawer to keep track of the fonts under consideration. You can even print any Web page using the new fonts to show your clients.
Once you’ve chosen the WebINK fonts you want to use, Fusion 3 gives you a snippet of code to drop into your Website’s CSS definitions. When you tell Extensis to activate those fonts, your credit card starts getting charged to rent them. It’s important to note that if payment isn’t made, your Website’s fonts revert to default Web fonts defined in its CSS definitions.
Macworld’s buying advice
If you’re a designer wanting to use the Web Font capability in CSS-based Websites, Suitcase Fusion 3 will speed your work dramatically—as long as you want to use Extensis’ collection of WebINK fonts. For other designers, the new QuickMatch feature is a handy way to explore fonts with similar appearances, and the new Photoshop auto-activation plug-in is a godsend. The ability to create application sets, drag previews to your desktop, and clear font caches may also tip the scales in favor of this upgrade. If you use another font manager, the main reason to switch would be for ease of use with Extensis’ WebINK fonts.
[Jay J. Nelson is the editor and publisher of Design Tools Monthly, an executive summary of graphic design news.]