How To Identify an Unknown Font

There have been countless times when I have encountered a font that would work perfectly as part of a logo or general design project, but I had no idea what its name could be. Of course, with a file name one could hunt and peck to learn more information from places such as, Linotype, or other sources. But what if you locate a great font from a magazine, poster, or some online source such as a jpg file? Well, unless you can identify a font by view you will have to try various steps to hunt down your mystery font.

Step 1

Take your sample and get it in digital form.

It really helps to have your font in digital form. If you find your mystery font on a street corner or at a store, it helps to get a sample so you start your search. You can use a camera phone to take a snapshot for later. If you have a sample in print form I suggest taking the sample and getting it scanned.

Now that your font is in digital form you can try various sources to see if your mystery font can be located.

Step 2

Try offline sources to see if anyone can identify the font.

I have worked with many standard fonts. Perhaps a friend can identify the font being used if they work in the design/publication industry. Send them the sample via email, or present the print sample.

Step 3

Try various online resources for identifying fonts.

There are 2 sources that I have used in the past. There is Identifont and WhattheFont. The first allows you to reference an image file and another one uses a question/answer method.

  • WhattheFont - This site allows you to upload an image or reference an image via its URL.  Once you provide the information regarding a file from your hard drive or another website, it attempts to identify individual characters within the image. Say for example, your sample contains the words, "Go get it today!" The system will ask you to identify any letters it could not identify. Thus it really helps for your sample to be clear and for your letters to be spaced apart properly. After you provide an assistance to identify the font it provides a list of possible candidates. It shows the name of each font and a sample. As you scroll downward your sample follows.  Hopefully, your font is in the list!
  • Identifont - Identifont uses a different approach compared to Whatthefont. You can search a font by name or answer questions regarding your mystery font. This would be a good time to hope you scanned in your sample well or took a clear photo. You will need to be able to answer questions to determine if your font has certain characteristics pertaining to certain fonts, like serifs. (A serif has an additional strike on their ends. Examples include Georgia and Times New Roman. A san-serif font is free of these like Verdana and Tahoma.) 

Step 4

Now it's time to start browsing libraries if your previous search failed.

If the previous step fails it's time to start browsing font libraries online like to narrow done your font. It really helps to examine your font and determine its origins based on how it appears.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Is the font serif or sans-serif? Perhaps it is monospace like Courier. A monospace font like Courier does not have proportional characters.
  • Does the font look like handwriting or script?
  • Does the font look like it would be used for professional print or corporate usage?

Use this information to help narrow down your font. Many websites use these types of categories for their fonts. And you might actually be surprized during your search to find other fonts of interest. Be prepared though just in case the font you are searching for cannot be found. It may be possible that this was font created for a particular purpose and is not available for purchase.

Good luck in search and remember to be persistent.


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