Best Free Font Manager

 
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Introduction

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
+ Font grouping in one file folder or many file folders = organise my fonts the way I want
+ Font file management preferably from a font preview list = manage files by managing the fonts
+ Font installation and activation (without installing) = load the fonts I need not every font
+ Flexible output whether to print or file = so I can show others what I've got
+ Compatibility with fonts types, platforms, and languages (Unicode) = free the world

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 So they have fewer updates, are generally outdated in their interface and operation, and are missing other features that I expect.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.
A typeface is a set or family of fonts with a consistent appearance or style.

Discussion

Xiles NexusFontI 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.

Crux Technologies Font RunnerVersion 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.

Veign CFontPro 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.

Ahto Tanner's Font Xplorer 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.

AMPSoft AMP Font ViewerAMP 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.

Sound Doctrine Ministries Font FrenzyAnother 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 ThingSue 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.

Stephan Scholz's dp4 Font ViewerOne 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 projectFontMatrix 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:

  • ATM Type Manager Light is discontinued and only useful for a small group of users who need its Type 1 font support. Avoid any version on Windows Vista and higher. Avoid version 4.0 from Windows 2000 onward.
  • Bitstream Font Navigator can be extracted from CorelDraw but as it is not freeware or shareware.
  • California Fonts Manager is new and has a useful web search feature but was too limited and buggy for me
  • FontHit Font Tools is discontinued but can still be found. It has some useful features such as predefined categories. But not enough to  make this list.
     
Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

Best Free Font Viewer if you only want to preview fonts

Quick Selection Guide

NexusFont
4
 
Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
font preview and categories on the main screen; displays full file properties; view and sort on many attributes; access any font while it is running; many languages
not enough fonts visible at one time in the preview list
http://xiles.net
2.5.5
1.9 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows XP, Vista, 7

Uses Type1, TrueType, OpenType, and TrueType Collection

Font Runner
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
simple interface; share fonts without installing; character search
large download compared with the other programs; doesn't default to the system font folder; uses Windows Explorer for file management
http://www.cruxtech.com/
3.2.3.157
14.5 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Vista, 7

Uses TrueType, OpenType

cFontPro
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
comprehensive viewing options; lots of different windows/panes for different views
lots of different windows/panes for different views; limited user-defined grouping
http://www.cfontpro.com/
4.0.0.20
3.0 MB
Unrestricted freeware
Windows 2000, XP, Vista, 7

Works with Type 1, TrueType, OpenType

Font Xplorer
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
widest range of features; customisable: menus, toolbars, call external programs
not Windows Vista or 7 as not updated since 2001; have to group fonts in folders
http://www.moonsoftware.com/
1.2.2
0.8 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 95, 98, NT, ME, XP

Uses TrueType and OpenType (but not with PostScript outlines)

AMP Font Viewer
3
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
categories to group fonts; temporary installs; view more fonts in one window
categories to group fonts; temporary installs; view more fonts in one window
http://www.ampsoft.neth
3.8.6.0
1.0 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows XP, Vista

Uses Type1, TrueType, and OpenType

Font Frenzy
2.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
simple interface focused on four buttons; revert system fonts to those shipped with the OS
limited font information visible; no Unicode; can't change standard text
http://sdsoftware.org/
1.5.0
0.5 MB
Unrestricted freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows 98, ME, XP, Vista

Uses Type1, TrueType, and OpenType

The Font Thing
2.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
easy to use; uses collections of fonts to make management easy
not updated since 1999; no Unicode; problems on XP
0.8
0.5 MB
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available but not from the developer.
Windows 95, 98, NT, ME, XP

Uses TrueType but was written before Open Type and True Type Collections

dp4 Font Viewer
2.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
simple; handles Unicode; temporary install for the current session
view one folder at a time; limited file management; no grouping of fonts
http://www.dp4.de
2.0.0
0.4 MB
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Windows XP, Vista, 7

Uses TrueType, OpenType, TrueType Collections

FontMatrix
2.5
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
cross-platform; some high-end features such as PANOSE font classification and glyph comparison
complex interface; no font file management; slow regenerating previews; unstable in Windows (see note below)
http://fontmatrix.net/
http://fontmatrix.net/
0.6.0
18.4 MB
Unrestricted freeware
Windows XP, Vista, 7; Mac OS X; Linux

Windows and Mac versions are usually older versions ("previews") of the Linux version and may not be fully functional.

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Change Log

Date

Change

Editor

October 2011 Converted QSG to the new database and format. Remah

Sept 2010

Major rewrite.

Remah

Tags

Font manager, best font manager, best free font manager, top font manager, font manager review

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Comments

by Deof Movestofca on 24. January 2013 - 20:18  (104789)

Do any of these offer support for viewing .fon files? The reason I ask is because I play Angband and it's hard to find which characters a particular .fon file supports.

by rMaximus (not verified) on 6. September 2012 - 4:34  (98853)

Excellent Review. Thank you for all your time and services, making Gizmo's the place to go, when interested or researching software. Your efforts are most gratefully appreciated. Sept2012

by Remah on 6. September 2012 - 9:14  (98863)

Thanks, Gizmo and the volunteers work hard for that.

by DebbieM (not verified) on 26. June 2012 - 22:41  (95416)

Your download link for Nexus is broken http://www.xiles.net/nexusfont/

by Jojo Yee on 27. June 2012 - 6:15  (95430)

Thanks for pointing out DebbieM. It's now updated in the product database.

by Peteo (not verified) on 13. June 2012 - 7:12  (94781)

Tremendous work on these reviews as well the ones for "Best Free Font Viewer". After getting involved with fonts recently, doing extensive research (and being money-limited), this site is the #1 I've seen for reviews of these programs. So nice work.

A couple of points as of this date regarding your recommended managers. The biggest thing seen with Nexus Font here (current version is 2.5.7) is that it calls home on start-up. And there is no option to disable that behavior.

Its likely just to check for updates (it also has an option to "Check Update"), but who knows. Also, the fact you can't turn it off is very annoying and something I've not seen often among any other programs.

Another thing is that after testing about all of the programs you mention (and a few you have not :)), there is one consistency among them. If you use bitmap fonts and find a manager/viewer that can show them (see below), you usually will not be able to filter or see which fonts among the ones you have are monospaced (or otherwise) or not.

For example, my favorite manager among the ones you've tested is AMP Font Manager (current/last version 3.86, circa 2008). Its one of the only free managers I've seen that clearly shows all your installed bitmap fonts and lets you know that they are bitmap (including the Windows built-in ones that do not display in the Fonts folder). Along with TrueType, OpenType & Type 1 fonts as you mention in the review.

The major problem with it (here at least) is that it does not easily filter among those types or categories such as "monospaced", "Serif" and so on that some other managers do. To filter font types, you have to manually create "categories" and put fonts in them, which is a big hassle. At least you can make filters instead of being without them.

Another big advantage with it is that it can automatically make backups of fonts you want to delete to any folder you like without issue. Too bad its no longer updated.

CFontPro (v4.0.0.20) looked good at the start for dealing with bitmap fonts, as well as backing up. But when filtering the "raster" category (another name for bitmap fonts), it left out about half the bitmaps I had installed. For example, it never shows the Terminus, BorlandTE, Raize, Sheldon & BSU_Kermit bitmap fonts (among others) I installed that show up properly in the Fonts folder and AMP shows without issue.

About the only free thing I've seen that can show you both bitmap fonts as well as whether one is monospaced or not at the same time is a viewer you have yet to rate: SIL View Glyph. Selecting installed fonts individually out of its list, an info panel on its right side will let you know if the font is "fixed pitch" (monospace) as well as if its TrueType or not.

Lots of the TrueType/OpenType-only managers and viewers (above and on your viewers review page) can easily filter monospaced & other types, however.

Again, great work and thanks for putting these reviews together.

by Remah on 14. June 2012 - 2:18  (94818)

Thanks for all that info.

I gave bitmap fonts a low priority in my ratings as they are increasingly less important. I may well include some of this info when I update this category.

by Holly V (not verified) on 4. June 2012 - 6:22  (94365)

I was amazed at how fast NexusFont installed my almost 2,000 fonts! Incredible!

The only other thing I'd like to have is a way to sort the fonts by things like serif, sans-serif, mono, fancy, etc. Does NexusFont do that, and if so, how do I get it to do that? If not, is there another application that does that function well? I could use it just when I needed that function.

Thanks for the great article and smart comparisons! =)

by papin (not verified) on 31. May 2012 - 13:52  (94242)

I think you've been a bit unfair with The Font Thing.

- Can browse multiple folders with explorer-like tree (with rename/copie/install/uninstall on right-click)
- Fonts can be grouped by collections
- Fonts can be filtered by type: mono, serif, sans serif, ...
- Fonts listed are tagged as installed or not installed
- Multiple views (tabs) : compare, customized samples, characters, full info, personal notes
- Multiple windows (!). Extremely useful if you want to explore 2+ folders at the same time

Most of all, The Font Thing works perfectly under XP (from Home SP1 to Pro SP3) as a portable application. I've been using this software for centuries, always satisfied with it --no bug bugging me.

If you "much prefer newer software even when it doesn't offer as many features", I (and most probably other people), on the contrary, prefer more features. Thus, age is not a valid criterion here.

Sure, one could find weaknesses:
- Cannot handle multiple sets in a font (like in Arial Unicode); limitation to 256 characters: but there's the font control panel, good enough for the purpose.
- Cannot activate/deactivate a font. IMO, this feature is very overrated because one tends to use the same handful of fonts, so they're all installed. Activating/deactivating is more a hassle than productive: today you activate and deactivate, the next week you'll do the same? All my fonts are stored on external disk or CD. So each time I activate a font I must insert a CD or plug a USB disk? Come on.

Managing fonts is not an every day task; by putting these defaults in perspective, they become forgettable.

In brief, I think Ms. Sue Fisher had done a very good job with The Font Thing. Moreover, the software is that good I need not a font viewer o)

Sorry for the long post, but justice needed to be rendered!!

by Remah on 31. May 2012 - 21:31  (94257)

I agree with you that The Font Thing is very good that's why it is on this list. I also agree that it is very capable and, as I say in the article, more capable than some of the other products.

But I prefer newer software primarily because the developer is working on it to improve it and fix problems. For example, I had to use the portable version of The Font Thing because the installable version has problems that have not been resolved because of lack of support. Similarly, The Font Thing has not kept up with the newer and more widely used features of fonts because of lack of development.

by Micke (not verified) on 23. April 2012 - 22:54  (92472)

FontMatrix

The domain for that software is now on park.
Perhaps time to retire it from the list.

by 3j3x on 31. March 2012 - 0:54  (91457)

Fontmatrix.net is dead. :(

by Endless (not verified) on 9. March 2012 - 13:05  (90135)

I am a person always in search of good software as and whenever required... I must say here that your provided lists are great I mean simply awesome... I have been using hundreds if not thousands of softwares and testing and etc... and it;s always a problem to find the best unbiased review... but your reviews are way much better and definitely give the best.... This site is definitely my all time favorite for any software if one wants to review.

by Doug.S (not verified) on 29. January 2012 - 13:38  (87985)

Thanks for the reviews.

Font Xplorer does work just fine on my Win7 x64 pro...for over a year now with no problems....suggest you adjust the review info above to reflect that.

I did not have to even run as admin nor in compatability mode....just installed (it is a 32 bit program; installs to C:\Program Files (x86)\Font Xplorer automatically.

Vista = I have no idea...but if win7 I might assume Vista may be OK too.

by Remah on 30. January 2012 - 3:22  (88005)

Thanks for that info. I'm busy working on other articles so I haven't had the time to update this article. When I do I'll try it.

by John Perniak (not verified) on 20. January 2012 - 20:10  (87499)

I must admit, Font Runner is the best free font manager i used and i found out about it 10 minutes ago.

It is like [commercial reference edited out] but free. Allows you to use fonts temporary and you can organize fonts by having them in different folders :)

by Designer801 (not verified) on 7. January 2012 - 23:05  (86782)

Thank you. Gizmo & Nexus. Does what I need it to. Very helpful overview!

by Philipz (not verified) on 30. November 2011 - 8:07  (84159)

Wanted to report a bug on the page, as CFontPro's mini pic is actually the pic of character map.

Must say that NexusFont is the best, though initially i didnt think it could handle non-installed fonts, but was able to drag-and-drop the folder with the non-installed fonts into the 'Sample Group' and it worked. It was puzzling seeing the 'View\Include Subfolders' when i couldnt understand how to display non-installed fonts. :) Well though its the best out there, i was disappointed that some parts of fonts are chopped out from the bottom when they exceed the given area (font runner does it correctly).

Font Runner's biggest flaw is that for custom text, you have to go into the View\Options dialog and under the Font Viewing tab, you change it there. I dont get why they didnt have the custom text simply in the bottom section as part of the preview mode.

CFont Pro has a major issue in my view, which is the display of custom unicode text. It just changes it to question marks. Also the interface is all over the place.

The Font Thing lacks in unicode and its characters tab only show the fonts default codepage character set.

Before coming to this page, though i saw the best font viewer page, I was set on X-Fonter v4.6 which was its last free version. < http://www.aplusfreeware.com/categories/util/fonttools.html > Unfortunately, it doesnt have a list view (though the current paid version has it), the most you can do is compare two fonts in list view, and the interface wasnt as neat as NexusFont as it used tabs.

I think the author should consider adding a note to each entry of its unicode capability.

by Susana (not verified) on 17. November 2011 - 19:33  (83447)

Great article. The most useful on the internet i've found on font managers. Nexus is really great. And has a cute UI too. :D

by Remah on 22. November 2011 - 9:16  (83686)

Thanks for the positive feedback.

by Laser (not verified) on 7. November 2011 - 15:55  (82862)

Fontmatrix seems to have disappeared, or at least its website has.

by Remah on 7. November 2011 - 22:21  (82880)

You're right. The site has been gone for over a month.

I will update the article when I find out what has happened.

by ohno on 26. July 2011 - 5:31  (76245)

Ive been using Nexus Font for a while, and whilst my needs may be different to others, my main priority is to be able to activate fonts, that is use them as though they were temporarily installed. I know there are others listed here that do this NOW but nexus looks the goods. I flirted with AMP for a while but kept coming back to Nexus. Another benefit of Nexus is that there is a portable version which works great on both win7 and xp. Nice basic free software, thanks Nexus, and Gizmo of course

by Sjo (not verified) on 31. May 2011 - 19:45  (72993)

Damn, this was usefull!! Thanks!

by r|z (not verified) on 22. May 2011 - 7:45  (72481)

i just installed font runner.
a small criticism is that it doesn't seem to indicate if a font is installed or not in the font list. only once you try to install the font does it tell you that the font is already installed. i have seen other font viewer that indicate if each font in the preview list is installed or not. this would be helpful. other than that...a very nice, simple font manager.

on other issue...only shows true type TTF and open type OTF fonts.
does not display postscript fonts. PFB/PFM/MMM
thats actually a real problem. this manager won't work for my needs.

by Remah on 22. May 2011 - 8:23  (72483)

Thanks, for both comments.

There are too many details to put in these reviews. So I am thinking about publishing the scorecards I used But that wouldn't have helped you because I didn't have a check box for indicating if previewed fonts are installed.

I agree that it is "a real problem" not having your font formats supported. That's why I've included them in the Quick Selection Guide. You can see that Font Runner "Uses TrueType, OpenType". Adobe Type 1 fonts are supported in NexusFont, cFontPro,AMP Font Viewer, and Font Frenzy.

by Janet Kaiser (not verified) on 18. April 2011 - 12:57  (70455)

Tried downloading Sue Fisher's The Font Tool, but the link is to Font Frenzy. I am in a frenzy enough without getting the wrong package, thanks. Am I suffering from leaping senitlity, or did Windows (95, 98 and later) used to have a way of browsing fonts? I have over 200 I need to uninstall/delete, but it is not going to happen if I have to click on/off each one individually!

by Anupam on 18. April 2011 - 14:24  (70462)

Thanks for bringing this to the notice. There is indeed a mistake with the links. We will fix it soon :).

by Remah on 18. April 2011 - 21:54  (70494)

The links for The Font Thing are now correct.

by Anders (not verified) on 17. March 2011 - 18:23  (68108)

Great overview. I see you tried California Fonts (my tool) and found some bugs? If you have time I would love to know what you found so I can fix them. We're currently on version 2.3 and 2.4 is coming out soon with even better Type 1 support. I understand if you don't have time, but appreciate any feedback you might have.

Cheers
Anders
http://californiafonts.com/pages/freefontmanager

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