FontExplorer X Pro 3.0 review

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  • Price When Reviewed: £59 + VAT

  • Pros: Multilingual functionality; Transparent previews; Can activate fonts in placed graphics; Advanced functionality but easy to use and learn

  • Cons: None significant

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FontExplorer X Pro has long been a fine font manager for graphic designers and publishing pros. Despite its professional target market, the program is easy to use and thoroughly customizable. FontExplorer X Pro 3, a recent upgrade, provides additional improvements over the previous version—if that's possible—while maintaining the same intuitive, iTunes-like interface that made version 2 a superlative font manager.

New features for type specimen pages

Version 2 was already chock full of features, such as drag and drop addition of fonts; creation of both general sets and application-specific sets; auto activation; the ability to purchase fonts needed for specific documents; backup and cache cleaning; font technical data; server-side management; and more.

Updates to version 2 facilitated the direct printing of type specimen (sample) pages while keeping the program simple enough for beginners. The excellent sample pages feature offers the five most-commonly used specimen page layouts, but also lets you design your own.

To create a custom layout, simply drag any of five different information icons onto five distinct areas of the page. Each icon has a substantial set of options to accommodate just about any need you may have, including which information to print on the first page but not on succeeding pages. You can then enable optional headers and footers that contain page numbers, as well as your own custom information. Version 3 adds the ability to include your own graphics in those headers and footers.

This is one of the best implementations of font specimen printing I've encountered, and for some users, it alone would be valuable enough to justify buying the program. Plus, as an extra-added bonus, FontExplorer X Pro 3.0 employs an updated version of the venerable Mac OS Dogcow, the original page orientation icon used in the old page setup dialog box.


Character Toolbox

FontExplorer X's new Character Toolbox is a powerhouse for multilingual publishing because it will show you if the glyphs (characters) you need for your project are included in the fonts you want to use. For example, you could paste in some sample text from your project, or type in some characters or punctuation, to be sure your chosen font actually has them. So if your project will appear in, say Eastern European languages or languages that have accent marks or special characteristic letter combinations, and you know the languages your project requires, but not the specific glyphs, you can simply check the Character Toolbox list of supported languages for that font.

The Character Toolbox is also useful for publishing long documents because it can compare ink and paper usage for various fonts. When designing a book or other long document, it's common to set a portion of it in each font you're considering, to determine its effect on the document length. The Character Toolbox shows you how each selected font compares with your chosen base font for the project: in the example below, we see that a long document set in Minion Regular will require approximately 6.2 percent fewer pages than the same document set in ITC Galliard.

Another Character Toolbox feature—ink usage—is valuable to corporate identity designers. Large corporations print untold reams of paper every day. Saving a few percentage points of ink or toner can have a huge impact on the total cost of printing. In the example above, we see that using Minion Regular for corporate communications will require approximately 7.4 percent less ink or toner than using ITC Galliard. Nice!

One complaint I have about the Character Toolbox is that you have to close it and reopen it to change the fonts it is showing.

Set smarts

In addition to its modest number of new features, there are many improvements to FontExplorer X Pro 3. This new version makes it easier to switch to it from other font managers by letting you import the sets you created in those programs. You can now import complete libraries, with structure, by simply dragging all the sets from inside Suitcase Fusion or FontAgent Pro into the Fonts area of FontExplorer X.

Version 3 also builds on the program's previous Preview feature: you can now watch a slide show to flip through multiple fonts, and drag a sample over any area of your display—using your own text in any color, size, leading, tracking, and so forth. This is incredibly handy for exploring headline options on a document you have open in any program. It will even show the slideshow as a transparent overlay on your documents.

Version 2 allowed you to define "smart" sets that would automatically add any fonts that met your specific requirements, such as font format, manufacturer, classification, designer, number of activations, embedding rights, label, rating, and so on. Version 3 now lets you organize your smart sets into folders.

You can now add comments to sets, either for yourself or to inform other users about them. This feature is especially handy when using the server version of FontExplorer X Pro, because when users mouse over a set, they can see the comments added by administrator.

Another helpful new set-related feature is the ability to create a new "Ad hoc" set and add selected font(s) to it with one keystroke. This is helpful when you're watching a slide show of possible fonts, or skimming through your font collection, and don't want to stop to create and name a set. Until you name that set, you can add additional selected fonts to it by pressing Command-+.

Auto activation

One of the program's most useful Version 2 features was its ability to scan proprietary documents from Adobe and Quark and create a report or a set from the fonts within them. Version 3 can now scan Illustrator CS3, CS4, and CS5 files, as well as InDesign files. It can also export its report in plain text or XML format.

Version 3 has new auto-activation plug-ins for QuarkXPress 9, InDesign CS5, Illustrator CS5, and Photoshop CS5, and the Plug-In Manager now has a "Check for Plug-In Updates" button. This allows Linotype to release updated plug-ins without requiring an update of the entire program. Previously, if fonts resided on a server, the auto-activation plug-ins couldn't activate them. In version 3 they can. Administrators can now export font sets, with improved security settings. And, FontExplorer X Pro can now identify and activate fonts used in placed graphics, which is amazing.

Version 3 can clean the font caches for all recent versions of its auto activation applications, as well as for the system. This is incredibly useful for designers who use multiple versions of a font—otherwise, applications may remember a previous version when you're actually using a newer one.

Attention to detail

Version 2 had a supremely useful and detailed information window for any selected font. In version 3, it is more streamlined for widescreen displays.

FontExplorer X Pro now has keyboard shortcuts for enabling and disabling the most commonly accessed features in the Preview window: kerning, tracking, and ligatures.

When exporting fonts, you can now keep their folder structure instead of exporting a single folder containing all your selected fonts. The exported folder can even include duplicate fonts, which is useful for exporting multiple sets. This feature can also can be used to archive your entire font library.

With FontExplorer X Pro 3.0, Linotype significantly improved an already stellar font management utility. Its set migration capability makes it much easier to switch from competing programs, and there are an abundance of new features to justify an upgrade. Its feature set is still far beyond its competitors, yet it remains approachable even for casual users. I recommend it to anyone with more than a casual interest in managing their fonts.

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