Six Essential iPad Apps for Type Lovers
Above: Comparing typefaces in FontBook
The successor to the familiar yellow and black compendium, the FontBook app has already been described on this website. But it's so good that it deserves another mention. The app's minimal design focuses the user on its mind-boggling 620,000 typeface specimens instead of a flashy interface. Upon entering one of the systems used to categorize the type families -- alphabetical, typographic class, year, type foundry, and designer -- you encounter tiles cleverly sized to reflect the relative size of each group. You might notice a few of your favorite foundries missing, such as Hoefler & Frere-Jones, Village, and Commercial Type. But the advantage of a digital platform is that the database can be updated, and the editors may add more foundries in the future.
FontBook's type specimens are the true stars, however. The app presents each family through a series of cards, showing everything from an overview of the family's variants to the full glyph set. Other family members, such as a condensed width or a sans-serif version, are listed on the left, along with the designer's other typefaces and, sometimes, similar typefaces. One might be concerned that the iPad's 1024 x 768 screen would not show type near text sizes accurately, but the 18 pt. samples are surprisingly good, especially for faces with limited contrast.
FontBook also allows you to set your own samples. You can see any typeface big, crisp, and in a number of different color schemes - perfect for mocking up a new logotype on the fly. Most designers these days head to the MyFonts, Veer, or FontShop websites to see what a certain typeface looks like or browse typographic styles. Plan on visiting them less often with the intuitive, feature-packed, and fun new FontBook on your iPad. ($5.99)
When you've spent all day amid mathematically precise digital typefaces, sometimes you want to get your hands dirty with hand-set type. If you don't have a Vandercook press in your basement, LetterMpress is the next best thing. John Bonadies and Jeff Adams painstakingly scanned, photographed, and animated all the deliciously imperfect parts that go into letterpress, supported by an enthusiastic Kickstarter campaign. Just like the real thing, you use furniture and quoins to lock up your letters from one of twenty wood fonts before printing. (Luckily for those of us who never mastered this art, the app is much more forgiving.) Submit your best imitation of Power Platon to the LetterMpress Flickr group, which is already full of some spectacular designs. ($5.99)
Amid the thousands of type families in FontBook are twenty-three by Tomas Brousil. Lest they be lost in the shuffle, his Suitcase Type Foundry has its own showcase. This attractively designed app serves up specimens of angular Fishmonger, versatile superfamily Tabac and Tabac Sans, and Brousil's newest, Monopol, a compressed family poised for impactful headlines. The app's most interesting feature is "Combine," in which you can mix and match Suitcase typefaces in simplified magazine layouts. If you come up with any killer combinations, please share them in the comments below; we're partial to Kulturista headlines with RePublic text. (Free)
Typography Insight is a classroom in an app. Even the biggest type geek will learn something new from Parsons masters student Dongyoon Park's eight exercises. The terminology and historical typefaces sections are good to have at hand should you need to identify the enclosed space of an "e" or classify a serif face. In the "Compare" category, examining letters up close yields surprises -- can you name the differences between a Bodoni and Didot "r"? We could see this app being valuable for typography classes and professional studios alike. ($1.99)
Switching from the classroom to the arcade, Font Game HD is the iPad version of the popular iPhone app from I Love Typography. In addition to the classic game, in which players identify twenty type specimens as quickly as possible, the revised app features three further attractions: a reverse version of the classic, terminology identification, and a typographic take on Concentration. Watch out -- it's highly addictive. (We're not sure whether we should flaunt or deny our first place scores in two of the twelve games.) Though the Font Game may seem less educational, it may just show you the perfect typeface for your next project, especially when you set it to be "Exceedingly Difficult." ($3.99)
Elementar is an app and a type family. A strange concept, but Typotheque, its creator, does push the envelope for letterform experimentation. (The foundry's other app, Dance Writer, choreographs dancers to spell out messages.) Elementar the app is an interface for Elementar the type family, which is made of 420 individual fonts by Gustavo Ferreira. Instead of adapting a typeface's curves to the pixel grid, Ferreira took the opposite approach, designing pixel fonts for each possible height, weight, and width. Sliding your finger along the screen to control the parameters, it is astounding to think that each variant is a unique font ready for use on the web. (Free)
Thanks to FontBook editors Juergen Siebert, Yves Peters, and Stephen Coles for their assistance.