FontCase iconAny graphic designer or production artist worth a darn has a multi-gigabyte collection of fonts, many rarely used, just waiting for the perfect job to come along to use them with. The difficult part of having such a large collection is managing it. With nearly 4,200 fonts in my collection, I’ve never run a Mac without a font manager. Since the days of Mac OS 8, I’ve been an avid Extensis Suitcase user. But when the developers of FontCase offered a review license, I decided it was time to take a look at an alternative font manager.

The first thing I noticed about FontCase is it’s gorgeous Mac-like interface. Clearly Bohemian Coding was borrowing from iTunes here. While the overall layout of virtually any font manager is the same, FontCase managed to really make it look good. Everything just “fits” in the Mac GUI. In fact, one could make the argument that FontCase is what Apple’s own Font Book should have been. This is one area I’ve never liked about Suitcase Fusion, it just looks bad. While the appearance of the app has nothing to do with how it performs, for most Mac users it’s still a point of interest.

FontCase GUI

FontCase is so Mac-like in appearance, you'd swear Apple designed it

Importing my collection of 4,000+ fonts took only a minute or so, and FontCase identified a few stray duplicates. FontCase uses a vault to store all your fonts in, making activating, searching and working with your fonts safer, easier and faster. Suitcase Fusion also uses this method of storing fonts, so I was used to the concept – and prefer it. One single file containing all my fonts makes it easier to backup and keep track of – rather than having them scattered all over my hard drive.

Once my fonts were imported, I began creating collections to make it easier to find fonts I use often, and categorize them by style. FontCase makes the job easy with the ability to add tags, rating, foundry, and custom notes. You can even see when you added the font to your database, as well as the last time it was activated.

Even with 4,000+ fonts loaded, FontCase launched quickly and didn’t appear to add any delay to the system or other apps. I had no issues manually activating or deactivating fonts, and none of the Adobe Creative Suite apps had a problem updating their font list after doing so. However, I ran into a brick wall when I began testing the auto-activation feature of FontCase. I simply could not get it to work with any of my fonts (most of which are OpenType, if that makes any difference). No matter what I did, InDesign CS4 never once automatically activated a single font in my documents – and I tried many. At this stage, my bubble was burst. But I decided to press on anyway.

One of the best aspects of working with FontCase is the multitude of ways you can view your fonts. The main preview area allows you to view the font faces in a small preview box, with a number in the corner letting you know how many font faces are in each font family. You can click a button and get a nice preview in a bezel overlay. But the magic happens when you click the Compare button.

FontCase - comparing fonts

The best feature of FontCase is its font comparison capabilities

Comparing fonts displays all the faces in a selected font family in a variety of ways, including as headlines and body text, as well as all the glyphs contained in the font. You can choose to display the fonts using Lorem Ipsum, Gibberish, or even your own customized text. Because this is probably the number one reason I use a font manager, I found FontCase to be stellar in this area.

One of the highly-publicized features of FontCase is the ability to share the fonts on one Mac with another Mac on your local network. Normally this capability is reserved for expensive font server software that can even require the use of a separate server.

FontCase - sharingA few simple options in the preferences allow you to share all your fonts, or specified sets of fonts with other FontCase users on the network. This ability makes FontCase perfect for small workgroups who wish to share fonts without the cost associated with purchasing multiple copies of a font to comply with the license agreements, or the hassle of manually sharing them over the network.

Because I couldn’t get auto-activation to work, I wasn’t optimistic about this sharing feature. But to my surprise, it worked just fine. I did notice a bit of a delay when sharing fonts, but it wasn’t noticeable enough to make me throw my mouse at the wall. I’m not really sure if it’s physically copying the fonts and moving them around like Apple’s Font Book does when activating fonts, but quite frankly I don’t care as long as it cleans up its mess when it’s done – which it appears to have done.

Should you buy it? That depends on your needs. FontCase looks great, runs smoothly, and for the most part works as advertised. Obviously I can’t whole-heartedly endorse it because I couldn’t get auto-activation to work. That being said, I typically keep a large group of fonts I use most often open at all times, and it’s fairly rare that a font gets auto-activated for me anyway. And manually activating fonts only takes a second, so it’s not too much trouble. There is of course the strong probability that there’s just something wrong with my setup or some software conflict that prevented FontCase from auto-activating. I’ve not heard of this sort of trouble with FontCase from others, but I also haven’t looked too hard.

FontCase is definitely what Apple should have built to begin with. It’s simple to use and offers enough features to satisfy even demanding font freaks. In short, I really like it. And at only $56, you can’t beat it. And that license includes the use of FontCase on up to five Macs. FontCase requires Mac OS X 10.5 and up, and a demo is available.