If you have a font collection of any size, you probably have many fonts for which you have multiple files. You might be confused about what to do with all those font files and how they differ from each other. How do you detect whether a font is the real deal, a doppelganger or a duplicate?

There are many ways that apparently similar fonts can differ from each other. It’s important to understand those differences so you can decide which fonts to use in your creative projects.

Start with the Right Tools

It’s crucial to begin font research and organization initiatives with the right tools. Good font utilities and font managers like FontAgent® expose and clarify differences among your fonts.

Image of two purple-and-white panels depicting duplicate fonts

Fingerprint Conflicts

FontAgent performs fingerprinting procedures to verify whether two font files are identical. If they are, you only need to use one of them and you should archive or delete the other version. Unfortunately, getting your arms around all your fonts can be a bit more complicated.

Conflicting Family Names

On occasion, you might detect two fonts that look identical, but whose designers have assigned them different family names. When this occurs, you clearly have different fonts despite their similar appearance. To avoid confusion in applications and font managers, choose one of the fonts and archive the other.

Iconic image of magnifying glass examining a font and its digital fingerprint

Similar Font Names

Sometimes fonts appear to be the same, but their names are slightly different. Know that such fonts, like their names, are similar but are not identical. Here are a few examples:

  • Univers is a popular typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger, while Universe is an imitation
  • Futura BT is Bitstream’s version of Futura, while Futura PT is Paratype’s version of the font
  • ITC Garamond was created by International Typeface Corporation, while Adobe Garamond is a similar font offered by Adobe Systems

In cases such as these, use the font from the more well-known vendor, or use the one you like better—or use both but know that they are similar but different fonts.

Varied Font Styles

When you have two font files with different style names, they are variations of the same font. Style names can include words such as Regular, Book, Roman, Italic, Slanted, Thin, Light, Bold, Heavy, Black, Compressed, Condensed, Narrow, Wide and Extended. By definition, while these fonts might have similar names, the fonts render differently. A quick check of the foundry and family names will confirm if you’re dealing with style variations from the same font family.

Graphic of a font family depicting regular, italic, bold and black styles of the fonts

Distinct Fonts with the Same Name

Just because two or more fonts were given the same name by their designers doesn’t mean they are the same font. Such confusion can occur when an opportunistic designer creates an imitation version of a well-known font, or when two designers choose the same name for two completely different fonts.

When this happens, you can import both fonts into your font manager, but you must be aware that their matching names could confuse you or your applications downstream. Alternatively, you could use a font editor such as FontLab to edit the internal name of one of the fonts before importing it.

Differing Foundries or Designers

When you have two fonts that look the same, but whose foundry or designer names conflict, you’re dealing with different fonts despite their similarities. To avoid problems, the best practice is to use one of the fonts and archive the other one.

Multiple File Formats

When you have fonts in more than one file format, they may appear the same, but they are different fonts for a variety of reasons.

  • The glyphs in PostScript Type 1 fonts contain different mathematical outline formulas than TrueType fonts for every character
  • OpenType fonts can contain many more character glyphs than TrueType and Type 1 fonts
  • Type 1 fonts include multiple files for each font
  • Type 1 fonts are specific to Mac or Windows platforms
  • Mac computers can use Mac and Windows TrueType fonts, but Windows computers can only use Windows TrueType fonts
Iconic image of FontAgent interface depicting various font file formats

OpenType is the newest and most detailed of today’s font format standards. It was preceded by the emergence of TrueType, which followed the original PostScript Type 1 standard. Therefore, if you have an OpenType version of a font, use it instead of the TrueType or Type 1 versions.

Also remember that while PostScript is a long-trusted font standard, Type 1 fonts are no longer supported by many applications, so it’s best to retire them and use OpenType or TrueType.

Modified Character Sets

Detecting differences in the character glyphs in font files can be challenging. If glyphs are modified by font publishers, they usually change the version numbers of the fonts at the same time.

Things get more confusing when someone has manually edited one or more of the glyphs in a font file. For example, they could add an icon to the font’s character set, replace a specific character, or adjust the height of an ascender or descender. When this occurs, a good font manager treats the font as new and unique. To detect a character change visually, use a good glyph viewer like the one in FontAgent.

Once you understand what’s been changed, you can decide whether to use the original font or the modified version.

Iconic image of FontAgent's Glyphs View, which you can use to quickly detect differences in individual glyphs

Mismatched Version Numbers

Contrary to popular belief, fonts actually do change over time, albeit slowly. And when they do, their version numbers change. New releases of fonts can include:

  • New glyphs including international characters
  • New font metrics or other metadata
  • Updated copyright, foundry or designer details

Fonts with different version numbers are not identical. Use the newer version with the higher release number and archive the earlier version in a folder in case you have prior projects that still use it.

Iconic image of calendar showing the release of new version of fonts

Different Dates

When the publication or modification dates of two apparently similar font files are different, they might be the same font. If their file sizes are identical, they are probably the same and you should archive one of them.

Unequal File Sizes

If the file sizes of two font files are different, the fonts could have differences in their glyphs, metadata, version numbers, copyrights or other descriptive information as described below.

Dissimilar Copyrights and Descriptions

The copyrights and descriptions found in font files don’t impact how the fonts function. These comment fields are included in the files to convey information and to protect the legal rights of their publishers. If you have two fonts that appear identical but have different copyrights or descriptions, compare their version numbers, foundry names and dates. Use the most recent version and archive the other font.

Iconic image of font copyright and comment information

Licensing Considerations

A small number of foundries and font vendors include licensing text in the fonts they distribute to customers. You should abide by the licensing rights included in the font to avoid legal issues with their publishers. Using the license management features in FontAgent and FontAgent Server helps you stay in compliance with your font licenses. Note that the inclusion of license information in a font file does not affect the way the fonts function but could cause two versions of the same font file to appear as unique to font management software.

Iconic image of font license document and which users have been granted permission to use the font

Resolving Font Duplicates

By eliminating near-duplicates and imitations, you can add tremendous value to your font collection. More importantly, you lay the foundation for a clearer and more productive font management and creative workflow experience.