I am assuming readers of The Graphic Mac are aware of Apple’s Font Book that ships with OS X (and is pretty robust in 10.5), and are also aware of the limitations of Font Book, as well as the need for a graphics professional to use a third-party font management application. And I know what you’re thinking: “Don’t we already have enough pro font management apps?”. Suitcase Fusion 2, FontAgent Pro 4 and of course the formerly free FontExplorer X Pro have been around for some time and each is pretty well established. So why a new font manager? I think Fontcase, the latest offering from Bohemian Coding, makers of the vector drawing app DrawIt!, is looking to fill a niche between Apple’s free Font Book and the other pro font management apps, and if so I think they nailed it. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they aren’t gunning for a more prestigious rank as well. With a very stylish interface, some well-thought out features, and a price point aggressively below the other main font management apps, I think as Fontcase evolves beyond the 1.0 release they have a good chance of doing so. I signed up for the beta (pre-release) testing of Fontcase, and of course downloaded the 1.0 release, so I have been casually monitoring its progress. I have a relatively large font collection of 1200+ fonts, which should dovetail with the average designer. At the least, it put Fontcase to a real-world usage test. I currently use the free version (1.2.3) of FontExplorer X (FEX) on a Mac Pro running 10.5.6 with 6GB of RAM. A new version of FEX was just released (and it’s no longer free) which I think may have prompted the 1.0 release so soon after the beta period. Because of the time involved in sorting, organizing and become familiar with the font manager of your choice, most creatives are familiar with just one. And on that same note, getting a creative to switch font managers is probably the second cousin to the switch from PC to Mac (nobody switches the other way, do they?). With that in mind, my primary comparison will be with what I know, Font Explorer X. And as I demoed Fontcase there was always that little voice in the back of my head asking “Is this good enough to switch?”. An initial aspect of Fontcase to note: it stores all your fonts in a custom file called the Vault – which is a fancy way of saying a small database file. Unlike FEX, Fontcase does not (at first glance) store your fonts in a Finder-like folder structure, and there is no option to only refer to the fonts when installing them. I am not sure this is a big deal, as it’s easy to access the fonts in the Vault with a right-click contextual menu item. The fonts in the Vault are stored in a master folder and not sub-sorted by letter folders (A, B, C, etc.). Font files can also be dragged right out of the interface and on to the Desktop as well.
First, the good:
Upon launching Fontcase, you’ll see great care has been taken to make sure it’s a good Mac OS X citizen — lots of polish to the interface, and also uses many 10.5 features such as Quick Look. The interface is very iTunes-like, which I think is a smart approach — stick with what users know. The sidebar has nice icon design and there are clear distinctions visually between each section. Importing my fonts went smoothly and was even smart enough to not import duplicate font files from the Finder. The 1200+ fonts took less than 5 minutes to fully import. Once your fonts are added, there are two main views, an “icon” or Grid and List view. Grid view is almost like the grid of iPhone apps on the iPhone screen, with mini-previews of each font in it’s font name. It’s a nice looking feature, but a bit unwieldly to browse through a large collection List view has the typical columns (which are customizable) and lets you sort by name, foundry, kind, etc. The text preview column doesn’t seem to allow for font previews in the font name, which I found to be a limitation. In Grid view, active fonts have a green stripe along the bottom of the block, System Fonts a yellow & black industrial “warning” stripe, and deactivated fonts are gray. In List view, the check box is your visual indication. I kinda would like to see the color indications carried over to List view, but perhaps it makes things a bit too busy visually. Both Grid View & List View have nice preview options at the bottom, with tabs for Characters, Waterfall and Body text. A very nice way to really get an overview of how the font will look in multiple settings. The Characters tab also has a very handy feature where a double-click on the character will show a popup glyph viewer which lets you view all the unicode glyphs for every font in your library. Very nice touch. With this popup, you can view the ascender, cap height and even the unicode code and HTML entity right from within Fontcase. The Compare feature also uses these tabs, so you can view a side-by-side comparison of Characters, Header Text and Body text. There are options for the type of greeking text that is used, and you can also copy it to the clipboard to place into your layout. Again, nice touch. Each font has a slide-down info window that can be populated with extensive details about the font, and used later for sort via Smart Folders. Tags are present in Fontcase, and provide a nice way to use the Smart Folders to sort fonts in different groups based on personal choices. Smart folders work just the way you’d expect, and they have extensive options for customizing your Smart Folder searches (with some limitations — see gripes section below). Another handy tool is the print feature, allowing you to print out sample pages which include the fonts metadata. The pages are auto-formatted and look sharp. One feature I did not test, as I am a one man show, is the font sharing feature. The developers claim this will eliminate the need for large companies to have a centralized font server. If true, it could be big. I have to wonder about the legality of one of the ways in which Fontcase shares fonts, which appears to physically move fonts from one computer to the other – but I have to assume they’ve done their homework on that. Fontcase has an option to import Font Explorer X metadata, which is fantastic. It keeps all your custom info intact. I didn’t test this extensively, but it seemed to work fine for me (and see limitations below).
And now, some of the big gripes:
Smart Folders do not auto-update (you need to click away then back for them to update). I don’t know how this made it past the other beta testers, but this needs to be fixed pronto. For me the beta period was so short I didn’t even get a chance to send feedback before 1.0 was released. There are no number counts next to sets, collections, etc. There is a running total displayed at the bottom of the app window (a la iTunes) but for me it’s confusing to have to look all around the window to see counts. I’d rather have it like Apple Mail where the count is next to the folder itself. Generating previews as you scroll through the app slows things down. To be fair, Font Explorer X is no speed demon in this aspect either. While I was scrolling through my fonts in either List view or Icon view, I continually ran into delays and in the Icon previews a “generating preview” message as I scrolled quickly. Not a deal breaker, but something to be aware of. Fontcase seems to be no better or worse than FEX in this regards. Can’t seem to find a way to use the font name as the preview text. This limitation rears up in List view, where the font name text can just blend in with the interface. I can only assume this option is easy to add and will be coming soon. FontExplorer X sets import, but the fonts weren’t placed into them. Kind of a bummer. When I saw the import options for font Explorer X, I was stoked. Actually using them was a letdown. One needs to manually drag all their fonts to their respective sets/folders/collections. One possible workaround would be to drag or export your fonts from your existing font manager to the Desktop, then drag & drop from the Finder onto the newly created folders in Fontcase. Of course I didn’t realize this until well after I had already done the batch import in one fell swoop.
UPDATE: Fontcase was updated to version 1.0.3 after this article was written, addressing FEX import bugs.
On the plus side, Fontcase did generate Smart Folders based on the FEX Smart Folders. Because Fontcase doesn’t have the extensive Smart Folder criteria that FEX has, some manual editing may be necessary. Smart Folder criteria is lacking. While there is a good number of options for Smart Folders, I found the ones I used most in FEX were not there:, Date Imported and Date Last Activated. For a font manager to have Smart Folders, but not allow you to quickly sort the fonts you recently added or recently used today, this week or this month is a huge oversight in my opinion. I dropped a line to the developers on this and was told it would be implemented “in a future release” with no indication of time. Until these are included, I just cannot use Fontcase as a replacement for FEX. There is no “Date Imported” metadata automatically added to the fonts. Really? This is a font manager. We need to know when we added fonts, trust me. Along with “Last Activated”, this seems a serious omission or oversight. No auto-activation. For some, this may not be an issue. I however have come to rely on this heavily in FEX and see it’s omission in Fontcase to be something that will put off some potential adopters. This too I was told was planned for a future release. Whether these future releases are 1.1 or 2.0 releases, and what sort of general timeframe we’re looking at was not disclosed.
And a few small gripes:
There seem to still be some small details that need attention, not unusual for a 1.0 release. When in List View, there is no horizontal scroll bar if your columns do not fit in the window, and the columns have limits to their resizing. Fontcase attempts to fit everything in the window, but if you have many columns activated, this looks terrible. Quick Look seems redundant with all the graphical previews in the main interface. Perhaps handy for the Icon/Grid view though.
Overall Fontcase is pretty solid for a 1.0 release, and in general I think Bohemian Coding did a great job. It’s definitely a step up from the OS X Font Book (and maybe the target buyer) but it still seems to have small oversights throughout the functionality. For my money, it’s always those small details which make or break an app — not the showy “front page” features, but the little things that show the developers have thought through things thoroughly. While in general I think Fontcase has indeed been thought through, as I mentioned in the gripes section above there are just a handful of small things that for me will get in the way of my workflow. In my opinion, none of the gripes I mentioned are major faults with the software, so I will definitely be keeping an eye on the progress of Fontcase. For such a strong 1.0 release, the inevitable 0.x releases should round out the rough edges and I can seriously envision myself considering Fontcase as my new font management app Fontcase is currently €35 (about $46 USD) until February 4, 2009, and €42 (about $55 USD) after the promo ends. A five pack, and a ten pack for business is also available. There is a 15-day demo available, to test out Fontcase to see if it’s right for you.
About the author: George Coghill is a freelance humorous illustrator/ cartoonist and sometimes graphic designer with over 10 years of professional experience and a lifetime of geeking out on the Macintosh. As a graphics software junkie, he also spends too much of his free time testing out new apps for that ever-elusive perfect workflow. His work can be seen at Coghill Cartooning and at his cartooning and illustration blog.