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By Nancy & Don Wansick

The IdentaFONT system is impressive: more than 2,000 fonts from most of the larger font foundries and distributors are represented here. Among the companies listed are Agfa, Adobe, Bitstream, Emigre, Linotype-Hell and ITC, to name a few. Even Handcrafted Fonts, Galápagos, House Industries and GarageFonts enjoy a home here.

The guide is logically divided into four softcover catalogs by the common classes of serif, sans serif, display and script. The over-simplification inherent from reducing an almost infinite variety of font characteristics down to only four categories of type could be argued, but as the disclaimer in the guide itself states, " (IdentaFONT) was not created to stimulate discussion on the nuances of type style and design. It was created to make fonts easy to identify. Period." And this it does quite well.

This means, of course, that it is not as comprehensive as Rookledge's International Type Finder*. There is no detailed information on characteristics, no earmark tables. It will not show you the the difference between a postmodern typeface and a neoclassical one. However, what it lacks in the technical and historical areas it makes up for in its ease-of-use. To begin with, the guide is well organized. Like Rookledge's, fonts are assigned a number which corresponds to an index but IdentaFONT has taken this one step further. Typefaces are cataloged first in a decimal system which is continuous throughout all four volumes. Next, the font list for each volume is arranged by alpha. For example:

772 Adobe Caslon Swash Italic
773 Castellar
774.1 Fontek Caxton Roman Light
774.2 Fontek Caxton Roman Light Italic

The fonts are then displayed by individual characters (Aa, Bb, Cc, etc.) whose positions on the page are maintained throughout the index. Next, every font is displayed (somewhat small for my taste but functional) in full or if you prefer, "composite", but is limited to numerals, upper and lowercase characters, the dollar sign ($) and the type designers beloved ampersand (&). It excludes special characters such as diacritics, fractions and ligatures. A convenient list of manufacturers and distributors for each font, including their contact info, is the last index of each volume.

For those who have a small library of catalogs from every type foundry around and find themselves hurriedly flipping through these on a regular basis looking for that one face--you'll get some good mileage out of a system like this. But don't throw out all those foundry catalogs just yet. A shortcoming of this guide is that it does not include fonts from every well-known commercial foundry. If the font you happen to be looking for is from Font Bureau, P22, FontHaus, Psy-Ops or FontFont, for instance, you're out of luck. Also take note: Multiple Master fonts are listed here only in one weight and axis other instances are simply not acknowledged.

Finally, as with so many type and design related titles these days there are the almost obligatory free fonts for your computer. Linotype-Hell's stand-alone Fonts Just In Time CD is thoughtfully packaged with IdentaFONT. You'll find twelve fonts unlocked on this type library CD for Mac or PC. I used the IdentaFONT system as I normally would any of my font catalogs in the studio for a month before writing this and have found it to be quite useful. Although I'll probably never throw any of my font catalogs out (I love them too much), I'll reach for this system when I need to verify a font's identity quickly.

--Delve Withrington,
Oct. 17, 1997

Authors: Nancy & Don Wansick
Publisher: Mansell Pulishing [1997]
ISBN: 0-9652922-4-X
Binding: 4 Paperbacks w/ CD-ROM (Mac & PC)

*As of this writing, both Rookledge's International Type Finder and Precision Type's Font Reference Guide (ver.5) are currently out of stock from their publishers. So if you find a copy of either in the store, don't pass it up.

The IdentaFONT system is available from Mansell Publishing (Toll Free: 1-888-265-3668) for $195.00 (US).

Word from FontShop International partner Erik Spiekermann is that the next edition of FontBook will be out around the end of '97.

  Relevant Links:
Mansell Publishing
Adobe Systems, Inc.
Bitstream, Inc.
Emigre, Inc.
Handcrafted Fonts
Galápagos Design Group
House Industries
Font Bureau, Inc.
P22 Type Foundry

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