Planet typography MyFonts
The typographic Times
David Johnson-Davies


[September 2003] the typographic ID archives
David Johnson-Davies


Can you present the concept of the site ?

Identifont is designed to solve the problem frequently encountered by graphic artists, designers, and printers of identifying a typeface from a printed sample. For example, a designer may need to match an existing typeface supplied by a client, or have seen a typeface in another piece of work and want to use it. Previously this would involve spending hours looking through type catalogues, trying to spot the typeface. With Identifont it takes a few minutes!

How does it work ?

Identifont uses a patented expert system containing information about a large number of typefaces, and from this asks a series of questions about key features of the typeface. For example, one question is: "Does the upper-case J descend below the baseline?".

The system is adaptive, so at each stage the sequence of questions is chosen to identify the font in the smallest number of steps. A typical identification takes about 15 steps, after which it shows the matching font or fonts, together with character-set samples to allow the user to check the answers. Identifont also includes links to the main vendors of each typeface, so the user can order the typeface once they have identified it.

How do you fill your database of typefaces ?

Foundries and designers have been extremely supportive in providing samples of their fonts for use by us in adding the information to Identifont. We do the work of training the expert system and creating the character-set GIF sample images ourselves, to ensure accuracy and consistency.

Is there any business model behind the site or it’s just for fun ?

Since Identifont was first launched, in November 2000, we have financed its development and expansion in two main ways.

Firstly, we receive commission from some of the font publishers and vendors on sales resulting from referrals from Identifont. Note that we don’t exclude foundries who don’t pay commission, but we give those that do a higher ranking in the list.

We also license the Identifont technology to font publishers and vendors who want to provide an identification service on their own Web sites. Currently we host font identifiers for the Linotype Library,, and ITC Web sites.

Who is behind the project ?

After managing the software division of the Cambridge-based personal computer company Acorn, who developed the BBC Microcomputer, I set up my own information design company, called Human-Computer Interface, specialising in technical documentation and consultancy.

Identifont is one of several research projects I have been developing alongside our consultancy work. Another more recent project is Fontscape, an independent directory of typefaces organised into categories, designed to help people find an appropriate typeface for a particular application.