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Appiphilia: Fun with fonts on the iPhone

March 10, 2009 |  9:55 am

Remember print? It often involved paper and ink. And so many typefaces. Some even had these things called “serifs.” 

Those long-ago days gave rise to a cult of type geeks who loved them some fonts. Some of them even turned to kidnapping just so they could make ransom notes. Heady times, indeed. And now you can relive those olden days, just like Civil War re-enactors or people who go to “Renaissance Faires.”

WhatTheFont app for iPhone WhatTheFont (Free)

What it is: You take a photo of some type from within the app or select a photo from your camera roll and upload it. It asks you to confirm or correct selected letters. It then gives you a selection of fonts that most closely match what you shot. Once you pick a font, it links you to, where, natch, the font is available for sale. You can also e-mail yourself the link to that font in case you don’t want to download to your iPhone, a device with pre-set fonts. The website itself will allow you to upload images or supply a URL to identify fonts.

What sizzles: It actually works. Quite well. It may not give you the exact font you’ve photographed (there are thousands of fonts), but the choices it provides are pretty darned close. Useless information to anyone but a designer? Of course. But it pleases me no end to know that a book jacket is in Akzidenz Grotesk Standard Extra-Bold. And it has worked fast for me, with both Wi-Fi and 3G connections.

What fizzles: Not much. It does have trouble finding matches if the typeface has been too "artified" by crazed designers, just like I have trouble looking at typefaces that have been too "artified" by crazed designers. Simpatico.

Bottom line: It’s free and fun, and it will get you to spend more time looking at type. So you may read more. Which you should. Seriously.

-- Robert Burns

Robert is deputy graphics editor for L.A. Times.

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