How to Identify Fonts from Images: We test 3 Popular Tools

How many times have you seen a t-shirt or decal out in the real world and wanted to make a version of your own? Have you ever tried to match up a font but could never get it exactly right? There are online tools to help you identify fonts from images and screenshots, but how well do they actually work?

A few months ago, I was working on a bunch of SVG designs inspired by David Rose (Dan Levy) of Schitt’s Creek. Replicating one design in particular was troublesome because I couldn’t find a matching font.

trying to identify the font from David Rose's Possessed sweater

I tried using as many font identifying tools as I could find – Font Squirrel, Fontspring Matcherator and What Font is and I was having no luck; I ended up spending an evening scrolling through DaFont until I finally found a match for a freeware font (Glass Houses).

So that left me asking, how well do these font finder tools work? After my first experience using font identifier tools, I decided to devise a more comprehensive test and share the results.

Evaluating Font Identifying Websites

I did the test in two phases.

  • Using famous logos with well-known typefaces.
  • Using photos of random text and seeing how results matched up

I began with Digital Synopsis’ Fonts Used In Famous Logos. This article lists 50 fonts used in famous logos. It’s surprising that most of these world famous brands use fonts that are part of the default set of fonts included with Window and MacOS.

So here are the first three test cases: Will these font-identifying tools be able to come up with the correct answers?

Font Test Group 1

1. American Apparel logo
(Helvetica Black)

2. Aston Martin logo
(Optima Black)

3. Giorgio Armani logo
(Didot)

Here is the second group of test cases: I don't know what these fonts are, but what is the quality of the results?

Font Test Group 2

mystery font sample number 1

"Rene Linier"

mystery font sample number 2

"pizza pizza"

mystery font sample number 3

"Falafel"

Tools we tested: Websites that identify fonts from images

(note: popular free font site Font Squirrel also uses Matcherator).

 

How do these tools work?

Each of these tools has a similar interface and method of operation. Start with an image of the text you are trying to identify. That could be a photo of a poster or an advertisement out in the world, or it could be a screenshot of text from a website.

how to upload images to a font identifying website

Sample screenshot of the photo upload menu of whatfontis.com. Edited to increase color contrast. 

Upload this image to the font identifier website and make the necessary adjustments when prompted. These font identifiers sometimes ask you to identify each letter in the pictured text, or adjust the contrast of the photo or orientation of the letters.

Finally, the font identifier's algorithm does its work and gives its results. You get a list of fonts ranging in similarity to your original; truthfully, some are pretty close and some are way out there.

Round 1: How well do they identify logo fonts?

How well did What Font Is identify fonts from images?

One out of three!

WFI correctly identified the Optima font family from the Aston Martin logo at #3 in its list of 60 options.  As for the other test options, WFI suggested several Helvetica variants when trying to identify Helvetica Black, but not actually Helvetia Black. As for identifying Didot, WFI didn’t list it at all in the 60 font suggestions.

whatfontis.com successfully identifies the Aston Martin logo font

What the Font! – How did WTF! do with our test cases?

One out of three!

  • Helvetica Black – no
  • Optima Black – yes
  • Didot – no

What the Font! correctly identified Optima as the Aston Martin logo font, but didn't list Helvetica or one of its variants in its list of suggestions for the American Apparel logo font. In fairness, while WTF does not identify the Armani font as Didot, it suggests Bell, which is a font "influenced by the radical Didone styles of type...in particular the work of the Didot family." [Wikipedia]

What The Font! scores 1 out of 3 on identifying fonts in round 1, but comes close to identifying a font related to Didot

Fontspring Matcherator – How many fonts from images identified?

Zero out of 3!

  • Helvetica Black – no
  • Optima Black – no
  • Didot – no

Fontspring's Matcherator tool returned a disappointing round of results. It did not get the font family right on sample 1 (Helvetica), nor did it get the correct font family for Optima or Didot. 

fontspring matcherator results from round one
Cricut access has over 400 fonts specifically chosen for their appearance and functionality within Cricut Design Space

If you are looking for fonts for crafting projects, consider subscribing to Cricut Access. You will get access to 500+ fonts, 100,000 images and thousands of projects for about $10 per month.

Cricut offers a free 2 week trial with unlimited access to this huge library of creative building blocks for crafting projects of all kinds.

Round 2: How well do font identifiers match mystery fonts?

WhatFontIs.com

mystery font sample number 1

image 1 – match found! WhatFontIs included FF Newberlin Regular Rough font at #27 on its list of fonts. It’s a commercial font, and it’s very close to the original sample.

whatfontis.com successfully identifies the the sample font as New Berlin

Image 2 – close, but no exact matches

image 3 – Lots of really close matches. There should be no problem finding a suitable match to this font.

How well did What the Font! identify fonts from images?

image 1 – match found! WFT ID’d this font as FF Newberlin Std Bold as its first suggestion.

image 2 – No exact match found. There are some suggestions that are close, but the first few fonts suggested are nowhere close to a match.

WhatTheFont misses the mark identifying the PizzaPizza logo font

image 3 – A lot of close matches were suggested and it wouldn’t be a problem to find a lookalike font from this list.

Fontspring Matcherator

image 1 – No close matches

No close font matches from Fontspring Matcherator

image 2 – Fontspring had a lot of problems with this font, so I had to make some adjustments on photoshop to erase the second line of text, convert the image to black and white and increase the spacing between the letters. It finally was able to read the font and gave a few close-ish matches, but nothing exact.

mystery font sample number 3

image 3 – Egregiously bad results. The Matcherator literally threw everything they had at this query, including script fonts, serif and sans-serif fonts, Cyrillic, medieval, woodcut, and carnival style fonts.

The Fontspring Matcherator offers head scratching results for round t test font

My personal favorite was this suggestion. WTF Matcherator?

What is this font and why did Matcherator think it was appropriate?

Are these Font Finder Tools worth it for personal projects?

These font identifier tools that we tested are all provided by commercial font sites. Font Spring and What the Font (MyFonts) only recommend licensed, premium fonts, and WhatFontIs’s free font recommendations aren't very close to the source font we were trying to identify.

This isn’t surprising. After all, these sites are presenting their services as tools for professional designers, rather than home crafters.

By all means, if you need a premium font for commercial projects, please pay for it. If you would rather have a free font for personal projects, there are other methods of identifying fonts available.

Alternatives to Font Finder Websites

The alternative to these automated image-scanning font identifier sites is to go old school, ie, ask some font nerds. You may not get an answer instantly, but there are several active online font detective communities. You will usually get results at least as good, if not better than, the AI-driven identifiers.

The downside, besides the wait time, is having to create user accounts for new sites. Personally, I try to keep this to a minimum so as to minimize the risk of having my identity compromised online. Big communities like Reddit and Quora invest in user security, but the same can’t be said for every font forum. User beware!

4 font forums worth checking out

Reddit (/r/identifythisfont) has a very active font identifier community, and their success rate for obscure, pre-internet or distressed fonts seems to be quite high. All you need is a Reddit account (free) and an image of the font you want to ID. It might take a day, but usually a kind stranger will supply you with a name and a download link.

Dafont forum – Dafont has a very active forum (about 70+ posts per day). The forum layout is a very interesting gallery-style to make it easy to browse. The font mega-site also incorporates a color-coding system to identify correctly identified fonts (green), suggested fonts (yellow) and non-identified fonts (white). You need to sign up for an account before posting.

dafont-font-identifier-forum-screengrab

Quora Type Identification  – Quora collects all font inquiry questions under the Typeface Identification tag. You can browse other people’s questions, provide answers, or ask your own question. It’s not like other forums, it’s not organized chronologically, and it includes lots of other font and text questions unrelated to identifying fonts (ie. how do I change the type on my Instagram account, etc). A Quora account is required to post.

Identifont offers users a few different ways to identify fonts: by appearance, name, or similarity. Identifont uses a questionnaire format, asking about the shapes and characteristics of specific letters of the font alphabet and then gives a list of fonts that meet the criteria you selected.

Identifont questionnaire screengrab

This unique site also offers a curated selection of free fonts, although you must follow the link to the publisher’s site to download the font. For the most part, Identifont will help you find a font match or close approximation and tell you where to buy it. The owners of the site take licensing seriously and want you to pay for the creative work of others.

One thing to note about Identifont is that it is an older, non-secure site, but you do not need to create an account or provide any personal information to use the services.

Conclusion

Identifying fonts from images is an emerging function for AI and algorithms, meaning the machines are okay and getting better, but are still not as good as a human (or group of humans) with detailed personal knowledge and years of experience.

The main font identifying sites that come up in Google search results (WhatFontIs, What the Font, Fontspring Matcherator) provide mostly decent results, but it’s important to remember that these services will (almost) exclusively refer you to commercial fonts.

If you are looking for free fonts for personal projects, you are better served by using old fashioned methods that rely on the wisdom of the crowd: forums, Reddit and Quora.

Check out our related articles:

Cricut access has over 400 fonts specifically chosen for their appearance and functionality within Cricut Design Space

If you are looking for fonts for crafting projects, consider subscribing to Cricut Access. You will get access to 500+ fonts, 100,000 images and thousands of projects for about $10 per month.

 Cricut offers a free 2 week trial with unlimited access to this huge library of creative building blocks for crafting projects of all kinds.