A look at Linotype FontExplorer X Pro 4.0

To be completely honest, with very few exceptions (you know who you are), most graphic designers do an absolutely abysmal job of font management.

Years of design software updates, free font internet sites, purchases, and let’s not forget those “borrowed” fonts, have left most professional graphic artists and design enthusiasts with an unwieldy collection of type that’s difficult to control. That’s not counting the myriad of duplications, incomplete sets, and corrupt sets with which one has to contend.

To be fair, neither the Mac OS X nor Windows platforms make this job any easier. The font handling tools on both operating systems are rudimentary at best.

Linotype FontExplorer X Pro 4.0 for MacintoshSince the early days of desktop publishing, there has been software to to help designers manage this load – most notably, Suitcase, which is quite good.

In more recent years, the German firm Linotype, a division of Monotype, has added the very notable FontExplorer X Pro to the field.

FontExplorer X Pro has always been an excellent program with a nice set of features. Now they’ve upped the ante with the new Version 4.0 for Macintosh.*

FontExplorer X Pro gives you an iTunes-esque way of adding, purchasing, and managing your fonts. Like iTunes, you can create manual sets (make sets for individual clients, projects, whatever), smart sets (eg, anything with the name “Helvetica” or any font categorized as “Dingbats”) that you can turn on and off with a single click. Plus, you can go directly to the LinoType Store and purchase new fonts.

There are also tools for removing duplicates, clean font caches, see special characters associated with a particular font, install plug-ins to automatically open needed fonts in Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign and Quark XPress, and more. But that’s all old hat. I don’t want to talk about any of that. If you are new to FontExplorer X Pro, you can get the details on all the previous features here.

Version 4.0 does add some helpful new features to its already impressive list. So let’s take a look at a few of those.

* There’s also version 2.4 for Windows which now supports Windows 8 – you can get more information about that here.

Web Design Tools

FontExplorer X Pro WebfontsBetter Webfont Support. HTML5 and CSS3 allow the use of webfonts – greatly expanding design options. FontExplorer X Pro now supports EOT and WOFF webfonts in addition to OpenType TTF, but not the SVG format used on iPhone/iPad. This isn’t that big a deal since just about all webfont packages are supplied in all four formats – and you really only need one to preview and use for webpage mockups.

That said, WOFF is an emerging standard*. So it is foreseeable that at some point, WOFF will be the only format supplied. So FontExplorer X Pro is ready when that day eventually comes.

fep_webpreviewNew Web Preview. This is a nifty feature that allows you to experiment with different font looks – without having to launch a website design program such as Dreamweaver or even a text editor to edit code. In fact, there’s no coding involved here at all.

Simply open the Web Preview window in FontExplorer X Pro paste in a URL – any URL, select a region of text (or choose the appropriate CSS name – that list is also imported), pick a font from your list, change size, spacing, color, background color .. boom, instant preview.

From a practical standpoint, Web Preview will be a phenomenal timesaver in sampling different looks should you be considering a redesign or a simple font refresh. On the other hand, this can be a total timesuck should you get bored one day, and just play around the internet for a few hours redesigning other people’s sites. (I plead guilty.)

*I once had an associate who was fond of saying, “I love computer standards. You have so many to choose from!”

Font Slideshow

This sounds really silly until you see it work. Since Version 2, FontExplorer X Pro has had the ability to superimpose a small amount of sample text on top of a layout (say in InDesign or Photoshop) so you can get an idea of how the layout looks using different fonts without having keep changing the font in the application.

Font Slideshow takes this a big step forward. In a nutshell, open your layout, select the fonts you are considering in FontExplorer X Pro, open the Font Slide Show window, enter some sample text, choose font size, line spacing, resize the window to how you want it, click Transparency, overlay the slideshow window on top of your design .. and you get what’s in the video below …

SkyFonts – Fonts.com and Google Fonts Integration

SkyfontsSkyFonts is a free separate application that allows you to quickly preview, acquire, and directly install into FontExplorer X Pro the desktop versions of the Google Fonts collection free of charge for use in print. (These fonts can also be used in web designs via other channels – but that’s a separate piece.)

It also syncs with the Fonts.com collection of over 20,000 fonts. If you are a Fonts.com subscriber, you can quickly browse and install fonts directly into FontExplorer X Pro as with Google Fonts.

Another benefit of being a Fonts.com Professional or above subscriber is that it also includes a license to use FontExplorer X Pro.

If you are not a subscriber, you can get five-minute previews of Fonts.com fonts for you to quickly test in a design to determine whether or not you’d like to purchase the type package separately – or become a subscriber.

In addition, should a font ever be updated — such as when new characters or kerning pairs are added — SkyFonts will automatically update the font on your device.

Unfinished Features

Linotype FontExplorer X Pro 4.0 adds a two more features which at this point show more potential than current functionality.

Mini-View. Exactly what it you would think. A condensed window that allows you to see the list of your fonts and turn them on or off individually or in sets. Unfortunately, that’s all you can do in this view. You need to go full view to get info on a font, classify it, or perform any other task.

FontExplorer X Pro Preview ShareShare Font Preview. Social media comes to fonts. This feature allows you to share a non-editable type sample via e-mail, Apple Messages, Air Drop, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr. However, only one at a time. It would be great to be able to do this for several fonts at once – as in “These are the fonts I’m considering for the body copy. Which one do you like?”

Hopefully Linotype will beef both these features up in a future update.

Price

Linotype FontExplorer X Pro 4.0 is available via direct download for $89.00. Owners of Version 2 or 3 licenses can upgrade for $39.00. Anyone who purchased a license after March 1, 2013 is eligible for a free upgrade. A free fully functional 30-day trial is available should you want to try before you buy.

Conclusion

Linotype FontExplorer X Pro has always been an excellent way for professional designers and other typeface hoarders to manage and control their font collections. Version 4.0 adds some very innovative features as well as some that need a tad more innovation.

If you don’t have a type management program at all, I highly recommend it. If you are upgrading – from Version 2: most definitely – from Version 3: you’ll need it if you also are running the new Adobe CC applications or Quark XPress 10 to get the new auto-open plug-ins. Otherwise, while there’s nothing earth-shattering here, there are enough nice additions to make this a very worthwhile upgrade.