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How to Identify a Font

What is the font used for the title of Friends? How about the typeface of that old copy of Moby Dick you picked up at that garage sale? The back of your Starbucks pastry bag? And please tell me, how can you find the font on a worn out birthday card that your client wants you to replicate?
Graphic designers are consistently asked to use a client’s nameless favorite font. Thanks to the typeface renaissance spurred by increasingly fantastic font tools and talented foundries, the font identification game is getting harder by the minute. Unless you happen to be a first-class typeface aficionado, you probably aren’t going to be able to call the latestGothicsans serif, such as Avenir, Geogrotesque, or any of the approximately 100,000 other fonts available today, by name.
Thankfully, the font culture boom has also spurred some excellent solutions to solve the identification problem it has created. You can track down your ITC Cinderella using the following things:
  • Internet identification tools,
  • Exhaustive print catalogs,
  • Or the crowd-sourced expertise of the Internet’s font lovers.

Identification Tools

These web-based identification trees should be your first recourse in finding the name of a font. By posting an image of the font, or by answering questions about your mystery font’s features, you help the font identifier winnow the sea of typefaces until only your desired font remains.
The most popular image-based font finder is MyFonts’ playfully named What The Font! The identification engine does a bang-up job of finding a typeface, and if it fails, the engine refers you to the typeface forums so the local typophiles can take a crack at identification, as well.
What The Font!
When you don’t have an image, your best bet is a game of 20 Questions with Identifont. Try it now! Open your nearest book, and find its font. (No peeking at the colophon!) Chances are, you can do it within a few minutes.
Identifont

Books

If you have neither a font sample nor a photographic memory, your best bet may be to flip through a font catalog to pick the best match. Fortunately, there are books made especially for the task of font finding. Try the original Yellow Pages for fonts, Rookledge’s International Type Finder. The book’s secret power is the special sidebars highlighting a font’s most distinguishing features. This is great news if all you can remember is the font’s breathtaking ascender.
International Type Finder

Real People

Science sinks millions of dollars into face recognition algorithms, but they’ll never replicate the powerhouse combo of an eye and a brain. Same goes for font recognition—the only thing that can beat a font nerd is a giant horde of nerds. Once again, the Internet provides!
Most font sites have helpful forums. Two that merit special mention are the font lovers at Typophile.com and Flickr’s font identification forum. If they can’t find your font, it might not exist.
type id forum
The three-pronged arsenal of Internet tools, typeface catalogs, and crowd-sourced font knowledge should be able to meet your font-finding needs. The elementary school optimists were right—you can solve any problem with books, technology, and the help of some kindly nerds.

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