by Ilene Strizver
How do you know what a typeface looks like before you buy it? Ideally you’d want to see the whole character complement, check out how the face holds up in a range of sizes (especially the sizes you’ll be setting it at), and see samples of the design in use.
Type specimens are the answer. The problem is, comprehensive type specimens aren’t as readily available as they used to be. Nowadays it takes a little digging to turn up the information you need. Here’s how:
Foundry printed specimens. Some type foundries offer specimen books, catalogs, brochures and posters. Some materials are free (you might have to register on the company’s Web site or send an email request). Others cost money, but are often well worth it – a comprehensive typeface collection catalog is a reference you’ll turn to again and again.
Download and print. Increasingly, foundry websites offer downloadable PDF specimens. These are often multi-page showings that offer text blocks and other examples of type in use, along with full character complements. You can collect these and keep them in a special folder on your computer, or print them out and put them in a binder. Now you’ve got a custom-made specimen book that can be easily updated.
Take a test-drive. When printed specimens aren’t available or time is of the essence, use one of the font “try-out” utilities available on many font Web sites. These let you set text of your choice in a variety of sizes and type styles onscreen. Some even allow you to compare two fonts. But be careful: these utilities are most useful for viewing larger type sizes. Text sizes won’t be represented accurately due to the low resolution onscreen.
Plan ahead and stay organized. Don’t wait until the last minute to start looking for printed samples. Collect specimen materials ahead of time, and sign up for print or e-newsletters to keep abreast of new releases and pricing specials.
Once you’re in the habit of collecting specimens, keep them organized! This way you’ll be able to find the type you need, when you need it.
- Editor’s Note:Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.