font sleuthing.

I’m more than a little preoccupied with fonts and typefaces, and am constantly vexed by unidentifiable ones on signs, etc. that I can’t place or recall. A while back Lia sent me a link to an iPhone application that actually works pretty well in this situation – WhatTheFont.  It uses the same image recognition technology behind new approaches to search and marketing: take a picture of a font using the app interface, which then queries MyFonts, a huge online collection of typefaces, to identify its name. For non-iPhone users, WhatTheFont is also available as a web app and a forum – you can upload images and/or  specify pages to scan for font recognition, or submit a hard-to-recognize font to the forum for input.

I’ve had decent accuracy with the iPhone WhatTheFont app, although this depends largely on the quality of the images I submit. Within a given typeface, individual fonts are distinguished by minute differences in slope, serif, and weight, which makes me wonder how this thing is able to produce results as consistently as it does. That said, the 3G  iPhone’s relative inability to capture clear close-up photos and lack of built-in zoom both  pose obvious problems for visual searching in general. (There  are other photo applications available that attempt to address these limitations). Despite these caveats, on the whole the ability to look up fonts out in the world is an excellent curiosity assuager.

While I’m not planning to shell out for the iPhone 3Gs model anytime soon (I’d rather buy three and a half round-trip tickets to Austin, thank you very much), perhaps the free OS 3.0 upgrade will provide some functionality improvements for image recognition searching.

2 thoughts on “font sleuthing.

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  1. first: lovely blog. i’ve added you to my daily rss procrastination fest. thanks!
    second: do you know of a symbian app like this? the newer nokia symbian phones (Nseries, Eseries) have great cameras (with great video capture too) which is why i bought one for my work. however, it seems like all the developers for mobile applications are working on iPhone now. alas.

    1. thanks, gretchen – happy to oblige. as for the symbian app, i don’t know of one, but will look into it. there is quite a brain-draw towards the iPhone these days, but i expect this will subside as time wears on. see in you chicago, friend.

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