Common problem: a client wants you to recreate a previously printed piece, match their corporate style, or shows you a photo or scan of some typography they like. How can you fulfill their request when you have no clue what font they are referencing?
I remember over 15 years ago, one of the most tedious, time consuming and inaccurate tasks in the prepress department involved trying to “match” or identify a customer’s typeface when resetting or designing their print jobs. Then as now, many print buyers do not necessarily know the name of the font family used for their brand. Now back in the day, we kept a print out of “Line Showings” for all the fonts to which we had access at our shop. My memory has never been anywhere near encyclopedic, so while sometimes I could luck up and recognize the correct font match, or ask a coworker to take a look, usually I had to leaf through page after page of line showings hoping to see an “a” with exactly the right terminal or a lowercase “y” with the correct tail. Needless to say this was not always successful and could eat up a lot of time. Just as Arial and Helvetica look an awful lot alike, many other typefaces closely resemble each other. I distinctly recall wishing out loud for “some kind of tool that could scan a printed font and tell you it’s name!”
Well there are several such tools out there now, and we have found them to be extremely helpful. Here are just a few that have served us well:
This site has saved several jobs for us by correctly identifying a scan of a client’s printed words. Submit a clear, straight scan of text and after typing in the letters below each piece of the scan (as seen at the right above), the site provides a list of “matches.” In the sample we submitted, the font was very close to one named MuseoSans, but the J was not right and the O not quite round enough. Whatfontis returned a long list of possible answers, and after scanning down the list (seen below) I was able to see an exact match in Novecento Wide Light. The site provides links to founderies where the font can be purchased or if it is a free typeface, to where it can be downloaded. You can submit up to 10 samples per day at no charge, or opt to upgrade membership for a small fee and submit as many as you like. Problem solved. We look great to the client, and are confident we will provide an exact match for their branded style.
This webtool over at Myfonts.com works very similarly to Whatfontis.com, whereby you submit a scan then are presented with possible matches. As a test, I tried the same scan I submitted to the previous site. Whatthefont returned five possible matches: all very close but none were an exact match of Novecento. This one sample, however, in no way shows which tool is most effective. Use them both as a resource for font identification. Often, a close match is all that is needed when a client is seeking a similar look rather than an exact match that might require you to purchase the new font.
A different approach: crowdsourcing your question to a community of font experts! On this site for all things typographic, just quickly set up your user account, navigate to the Type ID Board page and post your scan. Check back to read your responses and even an ensuing discussion about your font from people who share a knowledge, experience and love of typography. You can also join in the discussion and share your knowledge. Judging by the timeline, a lot of folks would welcome your help!
You may find other useful online tools to identify your unknown typefaces. These are just a small sampling of ones that have worked for us at ImageSmith. With all your marketing issues, your printer should be able to provide you the latest information, inspiration, technical advice, and innovative ideas for communicating your message through print, design and typography, signage, apparel, variable data printing and direct mail and integrated marketing. They should also be able to work with you to solve any difficult prepress issues with your files. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!