The best font identifiers can really help you out when you spot a font that you just know will come in handy for a project you're working on. They can save you from searching through screen after screen of your favourite font supplier’s site, or flicking through catalogue after catalogue.
Whether you’re creating labels for a new gin distillery, a website for a marketing agency, or creating your own merchandise, the right fonts will help give your designs the unique quality you and your clients are looking for. That’s why so many graphic designers are font hungry. We fill our bookshelves with print samples, and we’re constantly snapping signage on our smartphones.
But then what? It’s all well and good having thousands of samples, but if you don’t know what the typefaces are you can’t buy licenses and use them. That’s where the best font identifiers come in. From typewriter-inspired classics through to the best free fonts for web layouts, these font identifier tools can help you quickly identify the font you want – well, some of the time, at least, as we'll see below. Also check out MyFonts (see the box below) for one of the best ranges of fonts to download.
The best font identifiers available now
All the designers we’ve spoken to about font identifiers point to WhatTheFont by MyFonts. It’s an optical font recognition tool. You drag an image containing the font you want to identify, crop to the words or characters you want analysed, press the button, and the results are listed.
This is the best font identifier we tested, but even here the results were rather hit and miss. For example, it recognised Adobe Caslon but couldn’t identify Roboto. Success can depend on the quality of the image – with a little coaxing it was able to identify some of the wonky type we threw at it such as Hombre, Satchmo and ITC Blackadder.
02. What Font Is?
Created by Alexander Ciubari, an independent developer in Romania, What Font Is has been around since 2009. Today it contains profiles for over 500,000 fonts. The modus operandi is similar to WhatTheFont, and it’s easy to use, but the process takes a bit longer.
It asks you to enter the characters in the image to help it along. It performed better than WhatTheFont with common typefaces and a little worse on handmade-style type. One of our samples was a whiskey label and although WhatFontIs? didn’t identify the typeface, it did come close. It was the only one we tested that could handle a curved label.
03. Font Matcherator
This web-based font detection tool claims to be the most robust available, but it failed to identify a single font across our test spectrum of seven images containing 10 typefaces. On the plus side, it is easy to use – you simply drag the image file over the box on the web page and Matcherator starts analysing the glyphs, Open Type outlines, and so on.
However, while refining the detection area to words or characters to improve accuracy is easy, it doesn’t seem to improve the results. In two cases, for its own reasons, Matcherator rotated the image we used 90 degrees. Fontspring only sells one of the fonts that were in our test range, and perhaps that accounts for its poor showing. Try it; you might get better results.
04. Fonts Ninja
Here’s where things get a little more complicated. Fonts Ninja has two parts to it. First, an application that you install on your Mac. Second, an extension that works with Chrome, Safari or Firefox. When you’re browsing the web and you see a font you like, you activate the extension with an icon up by the address bar in your browser, then point the crosshair at the text you want to analyse.
Fonts Ninja will identify the typeface and offer you the option to install it on your computer. There are 3,000 fonts in its library and if it doesn’t have an exact match it will offer something comparable – such as Kontur for Graphik. It’s free for 15 days with 20 free font installs. After that, it’s $29 per annum.
Old school. There’s no optical character recognition here. No AI that we know of. No scanning of website code either. Instead, Identifont is a questionnaire that asks you what the characters and glyphs of the font you want to identify are like and continually narrows down the options from a database of around 11,000 typefaces.
It starts off simple – serif or sans serif. As you get down to things like whether the 3 is rounded or angular, the lowercase g and a, and so on, the number of possibilities diminishes. It performed well on our sample containing a lot of characters, but if you only have a handful of letters to base your responses on it will struggle.
WhatFont is another tool for identifying typefaces used on websites. It comes in two forms – a browser extension for Chrome and Safari, or a bookmarklet that you install by dragging a little icon into your Bookmarks panel.
If you’re using the extension, it works just like Fonts Ninja – you activate it by clicking a little icon next to the address bar in the browser then aim the crosshair at the typeface you’re interested in. It will tell you what it is, along with the size, weight and colour. WhatFont was created by iOS application engineer Chengyin Liu.
Fount is a bookmarklet that you drag onto your Bookmarks sidebar and works in the same way as WhatFont. Once you’ve installed it, you click the bookmarklet, point the crosshair at the font that interests you, and a popup appears at the top right naming the font and its size, weight and style.
It will also offer you a link to a foundry or distributor selling the font. Although you can find out what font a site uses by looking at its HTML or CSS code, tools like Fount, Fonts Ninja and WhatFont make it quicker and easier each time.