FontBook, Now An iPad App

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News | Jürgen Siebert | July 21, 2011

New at the App Store: FontBook for iPad – not a book, but a typographic atlas which can be Facebooked and Tweeted, and with its 620,000 font samples the equivalent of 20 printed FontBooks. In app form it costs just $5.99/€4,99.


The FontBook team of Mai-Linh Thi Truong, Erik Spiekermann, and Jürgen Siebert at TYPO Berlin 2006, the year the last printed version of FontBook was released. Photo by Gerhard Kassner

Five years after the publication of the last printed FontBook FontShop turns a page in its rich history and starts a bold new chapter by releasing its iconic FontBook as an iPad app. Although it still carries the word “book” in its name conceptually this app has nothing in common with an actual book. Rather it solves many of the problems which for 20 years made FontBook increasingly cumbersome in usage: its heavy weight (3 kg / 6.6 lb) and voluminous size (the 1760 pages for the last edition proved to be a physical limit, yet insufficient to properly display everything); the missing index, cross-references, chapter organisation; content that was quickly outdated; and so on. The linear alphabetical arrangement of information is only one of the many possibilities when producing a work of reference – perfectly suitable for experts, but less so for the large number of novices who discover the world of type. This makes us believe that today the FontBook app with its multiple entry points and myriad references is a far more practical tool for typographic inspiration and for comparing, selecting, and licensing digital typefaces.


The five entry points for the FontBook app: Classes, Designers, Foundry, Year and A-Z. The magnifying glass for accessing the Search function is at the top right in the menu bar.

Accessing the huge amount of information in FontBook is very easy and straightforward. There are five entry points, plus a full text Search (symbolised by a magnifying glass icon). To start with the last option – the search is precise and presents – faster than one can tap – the search results as a list of single-line font samples. For example when looking for “Helvetica” you can already stop typing when you reach “helv”, then six search results will be displayed on the iPad screen in their respective typefaces:

  • Helvetica
  • Helvetica Inserat
  • Helvetica Monospaced
  • Neue Helvetica
  • Helvetica Rounded
  • Helvetica Textbook

Besides for searching for font names the Search tool can also be used for finding type designers and foundries.

Now to the five entry points for the FontBook app. Those are marked with Classes, Designers, Foundry, Year and A-Z. The names speak for themselves; behind each one of them hides a different approach of searching for a typeface, type family, or group of typefaces. Let’s take a brief look at all five separately.


The five subclasses of the sans serif section: Humanist, Gothic, Geometric, Grotesque, and Free/Hybrid. The size of each area hints at the quantity of the contents concealed behind it.

Classes: The classes correspond to the traditional chapters in the printed FontBook: Sans, Serif, Slab, Script, Display, Blackletter, and Pi & Symbol. The complex Non-Latin section is in production and will be included in an upcoming app update. A new aspect introduced for the first time in the FontBook, but which was already implemented in our free iPhone app FontShuffle, is that these type classifications are further subdivided in five more detailed subclasses. For this categorisation the FontBook editorial team was very fortunate to receive help from a renowned type historian, typographer and author, the professor for Typography and Communikation Design at the Hochschule der Bildenden Künste Saar Indra Kupferschmid.

As a result of this new listing a total of 7 × 5 = 35 type classes are available for visual browsing, with each font family only appearing in one single class. The illustration above shows an example of the new FontBook classification – the five subclasses of the sans serif section: Humanist, Gothic, Geometric, Grotesque, and Free/Hybrid. The size of each area hints at the quantity of the contents concealed behind it. On a general note this system of visually indicating the amount of content is used throughout the entire FontBook app.


This specific Designer page displays all the type designers whose names start with the letter B.

Designer: Something which has been very common on the internet for a long time, but simply wasn’t feasible in the printed FontBook – unless it were published in several volumes – is looking up type designers. The app offers this option as an elegant map, however white on black in this specific case. With only three finger taps one can access the body of work of her or his favourite type designer, for example David Berlow, one of the 1572 type of designers represented this way in the FontBook app, up-to-date with a collection of 378 type designs published by multiple foundries.

Foundry: This entry point is pretty much self-explanatory as well, allowing you to immediately find what you need if you somehow can’t remember the name of a specific typeface but still know the type manufacturer (for example Emigre). With this method almost forgotten hidden gems like Loz Feliz, Motion or Suburban can be brought back to the attention of the discerning type enthusiast.

Year: The perpetual calendar of the history of type, beginning in 1470 with Jenson and ending very much up-to-date in 2011 with for example FF Sero, released this very week. This last example convincingly shows the true potential of a digital FontBook.

A-Z: Perhaps this last entry point is meant for all those type lovers who know the name of the typeface they are looking for, but can’t be bothered to use the Search function… because three finger taps is still faster than typing more than four letters. Sounds unbelievable, yet is actually true. Try it!


Just like opening drawers, pulling out from right to left the different preview levels delves ever more deeply into the design of the typeface.

All the scenarios for looking up fonts mentioned above finally result in a family view of the typeface, also if this typefaces consists of only one single weight like many headline fonts do. This is the default viewing method for the FontBook app, which is divided into a narrow navigation column on the left, and an overview of type samples on the remaining area covering the majority of the screen. The navigation column display in the upper portion (on yellow background) the name(s) of the designer(s), the year of publication and the foundry. Directly underneath follow the type family name with sub family names for extended families including for example condensed or wide cuts, See Also cross-references to similar typefaces (if available), and references to other typefaces by the same designer (if available). From this navigation column it is possible to directly conjure up all cross-references and display them in the right-hand main display area. Just like in the printed FontBook 4 we owe the expanded See Also cross-references to similar typefaces to type experts and partners-in-font-geekery Stephen Coles and Yves Peters.

The type sample area offers no less than six different preview levels, which can gradually be pulled out from right to left like drawers, and which delve ever more deeply into the design of the typeface.

  • Type sample poster (on millimetre paper)
  • Interactive three-size type sample player
  • Sorted type sample in display size plus alphabet
  • Sorted type sample in text size
  • Complete character set table
  • Summary (on yellow background)


One of the new features unique to the app version of FontBook is the possibility to compare three different typefaces and customising the colours of the typefaces and backgrounds independently.

Tagging typefaces with bookmarks and comparing. One of the most valuable tools in the FontBook app is the possibility to compare typefaces side-by-side. This section can be called up either from the home screen or from the share palette (symbol: +). It is possible to compare up to three typefaces which were tagged as a favourite (symbol: ★) in three different sizes: display, deck, and text size. Colours of both type and background of all three previews can be changed independently, and the sample words in the display size previews can be modified at will using the iPad keyboard, which allows for fast comping fonts for logos and/or word marks.

To conclude our brief introduction to the FontBook app we’re including a little simulation of the app at work. In the coming days we will show a few practical examples, answer your questions, and publish an interview with its creators. Until then have fun exploring type in a whole new way.


FontBook on iPad from FontShop on Vimeo.

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19 Comments:

  1. Amazing App! Only gripe: some rocking fonts missing because FSI don’t represent Village etal… (In other words: Where is Kris Sowersby, my favorite designer?)

    Posted by Bert Vanderveen on Jul. 21, 2011
  2. I like to invite every foundry that is not represented by the FontShop network to join the FontBook. This is FontBook policy since 20 years. FontBook was always and will be an independent typeface reference guide.

    Posted by Jürgen Siebert on Jul. 21, 2011
  3. Some more details would be welcome:
    So there will be no printed version anymore?
    How would FontBook be accessed by people who are not interested in a tablet but have a Mac or a PC?
    How would it be made available to people who are interested in tablets, but not the iPad?

    Posted by Dragos on Jul. 21, 2011
  4. So there will be no printed version anymore?

    No. As the first paragraph explains, there are too many practical problems. We truly hit a physical wall with the last edition from 2006; for example during the first tests the book itself proved to be so heavy that the binding ripped loose and it literally “fell” out of the hardcover. Unless it would be published as a very expensive multi-volume reference series, it simply can’t be done. And we think the cost would be prohibitive for most users.

    How would FontBook be accessed by people who are not interested in a tablet but have a Mac or a PC? How would it be made available to people who are interested in tablets, but not the iPad?

    This is an iPad-only product for the moment. You have to realise the budget to develop and produce this was huge and the final app is sold at a very low price, so I guess FontShop wants to wait and see how well it is received before developing it for other platforms and OSs.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 22, 2011
  5. “One more thing” regarding the need to develop a version of FontBook for non-iPad tablets:
    iPad Trouncing Android in Enterprise

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 22, 2011
  6. Answers to frequently asked questions about the FontBook app on the FontShop blog.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 22, 2011
  7. Can’t wait to buy this. Most excellent. Have the book, but this is just killer. How often will the app be updated?

    Posted by Lars Hedemann on Jul. 22, 2011
  8. More often than the original book for sure! ;-)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 23, 2011
  9. Just a short note to say thank you. This was clearly a lot of work, and a labor of love. It is genuinely impressive and everyone associated with it should be quite proud.

    Posted by Marti Gold on Jul. 24, 2011
  10. so what, fontshop cares only about customers who have ipads?

    that is not cool..

    Posted by maeda on Jul. 26, 2011
  11. Maeda, get a printed version of FontBook here: http://www.fontshop.com/products/fontbook/
    Doesn’t include all fonts, but as many as possible.

    Posted by Indra on Jul. 26, 2011
  12. tnx for the help ku, but it’s sold out, and this is only $5.99 :]

    anyway, i didn’t mean to go into android ipad waters..
    I was surprised only because vast majority of people use desktop platform (Windows, Mac), so i hope we will see digital equivalent on win, osx..

    Posted by maeda on Jul. 26, 2011
  13. Sorry Maeda, it’s a cool app for cool people.
    Nothing to do for uncool users like us. :(
    (I’m joking)

    Posted by Luca on Jul. 26, 2011
  14. What is the process as to who gets in and who doesn’t? Just wondering cause I don’t see, for example, Lineto or YouWorkForThem in there — I thought that they were pretty heavy hitters :)

    Posted by Mark on Jul. 27, 2011
  15. Like Jürgen explained in the second comment – although FontBook currently lists only the foundries represented by FontShop, basically any foundry can apply to be included in FontBook.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Jul. 27, 2011
  16. After reading the FAQ and articles, I still can’t understand why this couldn’t be made as a web app, accessible to any user of a modern web browser on any tablet or desktop platform. The message that you’re sending is quite worrying and disappointing.

    Posted by Dragos on Jul. 28, 2011
  17. Most Mac platform designers use their MacBook Pro/iMacs to do all their creative work. It’s beyond shortsighted to limit this app to just the iPad. The OS system is the workhorse of the creative industry and not some glorified web browsing device. So we are supposed to sit there with our iPad aswell as our laptop/desktop Macs to cross reference a particular font? That’s nuts, and not every graphic designer has the iPad in addition to their main Mac. It’s great you are saving some trees by not printing the brick anymore, but using another electronic device to reference something does nothing for sustainability. I’m sure most designers would have no issue with paying a bit more than $4 or $5 for this app if it worked on the OS aswell.

    Posted by Leon Hayden Nagatomo on Jul. 29, 2011
  18. Very cool app. This is the first one that has made me really want an iPad. Yes – perhaps a web app rather than an iOS app would have been better – but that’s hindsight – by the look of it I’m sure this has been a long time in development – since before web apps become [preferred] but I’m engaging in conjecture.

    The future is on tablets though – and a reference book in digital form needs to be free from the desktop – right? What’s on your desk?

    Posted by Gabriel de Kadt on Aug. 5, 2011
  19. Seconding Leon’s argument: we really need a Mac version of this!

    And since I have a Barnes & Noble Nook Color, I wouldn’t mind an app for it, but that’s such a small market compared to the Mac OS that I won’t hold my breath for it.

    Posted by Eric Ladner on Sep. 18, 2011

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