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|Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide|
Go straight to the Change Log to see what's new since the major update in September 2010.
What do I want from a font manager? There are several things that are the basis for this review:
+ Font lists with each font previewed = no guessing what font I'm working with
The last might be a bit of a surprise for those North Americans who are blissfully unaware that there is anything more than the ANSI characters. There is a whole world with many languages and the need for more than 256 (actually 224) characters in a font.
Note that these programs are usually developed by individuals and are not limited versions of commercial products. So they have fewer updates, are generally outdated in their interface and operation, and are missing other features that I expect. For example, they store their application settings and font files in the program folders. So if you have documents and settings stored on a drive separate to applications, as I do, then you have to do a bit more work to move them or back them up.
If you only want to preview fonts and do not need file management capabilities then check out this companion category Best Free Font Viewer.
Finally, if you are confused about the difference between a font and a typeface then read this:
A font used to mean one specific member (or representation) of a type family or typeface. Now it usually means one specific style (e.g. normal, italic, bold).of a typeface.
I was pleasantly surprised at NexusFont from Xiles (Noh JungHoon). This is an application that is actively maintained and has a relatively simple interface so it is a great option for the future. It is a powerful font manager with an extensive range of font and file attributes that can be viewed and sorted by. Unlike most of the other programs, NexusFont mainly works from the main window instead of having many different windows or panes. While NexusFont is running I can access all the fonts including those that are not installed. NexusFont allows me to work with fonts in folders anywhere. There are two ways to organise fonts: groups of folders and sets of fonts. For example: with a "Blurry" set I can collect all blurred fonts; with a "Monotype Corp." group I could pull together all fonts from that publisher. All the font files remain in their original folders and can be included in many sets and groups.
Version 3 of Font Runner by Crux Technologies is similar to NexusFont. It is actively developed, tries to simplify the interface (but not as much as Font Frenzy), has a preview list rather than selecting one font at a time, displays Unicode, has user-defined group by favorite folders or projects (sets in NexusFont), and allows drag'n'drop of files and folders even from Windows Explorer. You can search by font name, by similarity to the selected font, or for characters in other fonts that match the selected character. The latter is useful for finding Unicode fonts with similar character blocks. A few features initially frustrated me but aren't big problems. For example, you have to specify the default folder for Font Runner to display when it opens - most programs default to the system font folder. Also, Font Runner does not allow you to select the Unicode character block to view.
CFontPro from Veign will be the top choice for many. It has a wide range of views including a glyph viewer and character zoom to pixel level. It provides more font information than any of the font managers here. Fonts can be installed for the current windows session but do not appear in the installed font list.
I think that it has some weaknesses. The user interface can be too busy and it still only previews one font at a time. Also, CFontPro lacks an attractive method for grouping fonts. Finally, it is only the second font program I've used that terminated due to an error the first time I used it - I had uninstalled to backup with no font selected.
Font XPlorer by Ahto Tanner, Moon Software, might be down this list but it is excellent for a free font manager. Unfortunately it doesn't run on Windows Vista and 7 because it was last updated in 2001. The list of features is extensive. It has previewed font lists; works well with fonts in folders although it does not recurse subfolders when searching for fonts or duplicates; loads the fonts I want to use without installing them; exports an image file; prints with 4 pre-defined samples; handles Unicode; and is highly customisable as you can call other applications and add them to the menu. For example, you can define a different default character map viewer. Toolbars and menus can also be modified but just the way it was done for Windows 2000. It has a registry check and you can make the system font folder view normally.
It does have issues other than not being actively developed. Font Xplorer has limited grouping through favorites but if you use folders you should be OK. It found several fonts that it couldn't work with because they had been installed by other software. This is a problem with the other programs as well. The solution is to only use one program to install all fonts.
AMP Font Viewer by AMPSoft (Alberto Martinez Pérez) seems to be a popular choice although I don't really like using it. The last revision was in 2008 and the interface could be improved. You can organise fonts in one window, categorise fonts in another, edit the categories in a third, etc so it is not as integrated as NexusFont. AMP Font Viewer allows you to create categories (groups) of fonts. You can view any folder then add the font files to categories, view those not installed, or view those installed with those in the folder.
Like most font managers, font files cannot be deleted until they have been uninstalled. The usual file operations are there: copy, delete, move, rename. Temporary font installs minimise the size of the system font folder but I prefer NexusFont which makes all fonts available while it is running.
Another good option is Font Frenzy. by Sound Doctrine Ministries. It is a stylish and useful font manager with a relatively simple interface. The central theme is managing fonts to install and uninstall from the system fonts folder. Font Frenzy can revert (Defrenzy) the installed fonts back to the original OS install.. The removed fonts are stored in the same set of folders as the backups (FrenzySnap) and can be restored (Refrenzy) at any time. File management (FrenzyMan) provides for adding, deleting, installing, unloading and storing, and viewing fonts in a folder. There is also a feature to repair the fonts folder.
Be careful running Defrenzy. For example, on Windows XP it will remove the Office 2007 fonts that provide compatibility with Vista's new fonts.
Sue Fisher's The Font Thing is very good for a 1999 beta. It is easier to use than AMP Font Viewer and Font Frenzy and has some features that they don't. The view options are varied including the ability to create more than one sample text. You can group fonts in collections which you can then install or uninstall together. I also had some problems installing it in Windows XP so I used the portable version.
I much prefer newer software even when it doesn't offer as many features. For this reason, I would bypass The Font Thing and Font Xplorer and look at software that offers new features and is being updated. Such software will move up the rankings.
One emerging option I'm going to watch is Stephan Scholz's dp4 Font Viewer. It's biggest shortcoming is that you can only view one folder at a time and you cannot group fonts. You could use folders to group your fonts except that you can only install or delete font files as there is no copy, move or rename. On the positive side it is portable, has a 64-bit version for Windows 7, is simple to use, handles Unicode, temporarily installs fonts, and has some nice filtering options such as by line weight (so I could select fonts to save on printer toner/ink).
FontMatrix is the current heavyweight in this category. It is the largest and most complex application and runs on a wider range of platforms. It is primarily developed for Linux but has versions for Windows and Mac OS X. It would be more highly rated except that the Windows version has some bugs and is not very easy to use.
FontMatrix is harder to use because It is more complex and has more high-end features. You can activate fonts in tagged groups, view many sample texts in many languages, classify fonts using PANOSE, view and compare glyphs, find a font from a raster, extract fonts from PDF files, and test layouts in a free-form "playground". Some of these features of FontMatrix are not available in any of the other programs.
Yet, FontMatrix needs to do some of the basics a lot better. Tagging of fonts to create groups is inflexible. For example, you are best to tag fonts when you import them otherwise you'll be tagging fonts one by one later on. File management is non existent: no copy, move, delete, or rename of font files. Previewing installed fonts works fine but you can't preview some of those font types in folder view.
There are other products I looked at which I don't recommend for various reasons:
Related Products and Links
You might want to check out these articles too:
Best Free Font Viewer if you only want to preview fonts
AMP Font Viewer
The Font Thing
dp4 Font Viewer
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