Review: Extensis Suitcase Fusion 3
Pros: Support for both Mac and Windows. Versatile font management for graphic designers, service bureaus, and agencies. Powerful search features including the ability to find similar looking fonts. Auto-activation for major graphics applications. Seamless integration with WebINK along with one year of free service.
Cons: Sharing of font vaults in collaborative environments could use some streamlining. Creation of nested font sets is a bit awkward. Web-based release notes not updated.
Rating: 90 out 100
I'm primarily a Windows user, and while advanced font management has been available on the Mac for many years, Windows users were historically left out in the cold. I tried a number of Windows font managers over the years but eventually decided none of them were worth the trouble.
Then Extensis released Suitcase Fusion 3 ($99.95 new; $49.95 upgrade). The company said its program was very easy to use, plus it has auto-activation plug-ins for InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and QuarkXPress. And then there's the integration of WebINK, Extensis' web font subscription service. I was finally tempted to try a font manager again.
Despite my Windows slant, I tested Suitcase Fusion 3 on a Mac, too. Unless noted otherwise, my comments about the application refer to both Mac and Windows versions.
To avoid conflicts, it's wise to manually shutdown any existing font manager before installing. Suitcase Fusion 3's documentation states that it will attempt to disable any existing font managers so I left Font Book alone before installing on the Mac. As I mentioned, I didn't have font-management software installed on the Windows machine.
After installation (which took less than two minutes) a check of the Font Book preferences confirmed that Suitcase Fusion had disabled auto-activation. Extensis recommends manually disabling the "Alert me if system fonts change" preference to avoid alerts when fonts are activated with Suitcase Fusion.
Installation was straightforward on both machines: a MacBook running Snow Leopard 10.6.4, and a desktop PC running Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bit. Suitcase supports Windows XP SP3 (32-bit), Vista SP1 and SP2 (32-and 64-bit), and Windows 7 (32- and 64-bit). The Mac version requires 10.5.8 or later.
While many will never bother to check release notes or readme files, I do. And here, I was a bit disappointed. The Open Release Notes button led to a generic Suitcase Fusion 2 page. While I was able to find a page for Suitcase Fusion 3 issues, it contained no known issues, although there was one at the time: A bug in the initial release causes InDesign CS5 on Windows 7 to hang when quitting. I found a quick fix on the Extensis user forums, but this type of information should have been added to the release notes pages immediately.
The installer includes auto-activation plug-ins for InDesign CS3-CS5, Illustrator CS3-CS5 and QuarkXPress 7 and 8. If you are running the program from a boxed copy, be sure to download the updates, which include plug-ins for the 32- and 64-bit versions of Photoshop CS4 and CS5, bug fixes for the aforementioned problem with InDesign CS5 on Windows 7, and some Leopard-specific fixes on the Mac.
To allow the auto-activation plug-ins to function without running the full application, enable Suitcase Fusion Core at login (Figure 1). Mac users will find it in System Preferences. On Windows it's in the Control Panel (note to Windows 7 users: either type Suitcase into the search box or view the Control Panel as small or large icons). A check box enables it at log in, which I recommend.
Figure 1. Enable Suitcase Fusion Core. Click the image to see a larger version.
If you don't enable Suitcase Fusion Core and aren't running the full application, an alert pops up every time an application with the auto-activation plug-ins installed launches (Figure 2).
Figure 2. The Suitcase Fusion Core alert.
The application's interface is clean and simple, with three panes. The left side is for creating and managing Font Libraries and Font Sets, the right top is for font previews, and the bottom is the list of fonts. If that sounds vaguely familiar, you're probably an iTunes user.
Figure 3. The interface. Click the image to see a larger version.
When first launched, Suitcase Fusion 3 examines your system for any installed fonts and creates a system fonts library. In the process, it locks any system-required fonts to prevent accidental deactivation (Figure 4). The Mac version splits required system fonts into its own set, while the Windows version doesn't.
Figure 4. Locked system fonts.
The Font Vault is the default storage location for all font database information and fonts. While you don't have to use this feature, it's far more secure than adding fonts from anywhere they happen to be on your system. By allowing the fonts to be stored in the Font Vault, there's no easy way to accidentally delete a font.
Font Libraries and Font Sets
Fonts are organized by Library, and you can create sets within those libraries. There's no limit to the number of libraries or sets, but most users won't need more than one library. The real power here is within the sets, where you can store any number of fonts. The key to successfully managing your fonts is smart organization.
Before adding new fonts, familiarize yourself with the interface. Existing fonts are already in their own library. In the font pane, click on any heading to sort the fonts in that column. Among the sorting choices are name, type (TrueType, OpenType or Type 1), foundry, class (Oldstyle, Serif, Grotesque, etc.) and version number.
To add fonts, drag a folder of fonts or just the font files themselves onto a library. It's simple and quick: I added thousands of fonts to my master library in a few minutes.
Because the folder contained Windows Type 1 fonts, dragging the same folder into a new library on the Mac resulted in an alert that some of the fonts weren't compatible with OSX.
Within that library, Suitcase Fusion creates sets to hold specific collections. A set can contain one or more fonts. There's no limit to the number of fonts in a set or the number of sets in a library. Sets are terrific for storing fonts needed for a specific client, a specific job or even for use in a specific application not managed with plug-ins, such as Microsoft Word or Apple's Keynote.
You can also nest sets within other sets. For example, you may work with a large company with various divisions that use different fonts for different purposes, or you may create nested sets for the various sections of a publication.
If you prefer, you can use libraries in much the same way as sets.
Activating or deactivation fonts from within Suitcase Fusion's interface is as simple as a mouse click on the font, the font set, or even the entire library. You can activate fonts on a permanent or temporary basis. Suitcase Fusion deactivates temporarily activated fonts when you shut down the computer and does not reactivate them at restart.
Finding a font is as easy as typing its name. After the first few characters, Suitcase Fusion jumps to the appropriate font. From here you can activate, deactivate, and add keywords to make later searches easier. But that's just the beginning.
Using the Find Fonts features lets you locate duplicate fonts and, if desired, delete the duplicates (Figure 5). I found several older TrueType and Type 1 fonts that I had new OpenType versions for.
Figure 5. Search for duplicates.
If you're working on a project that calls for, say, a script typeface, search for "scripts" and almost instantly get the results (Figure 6).
Figure 6. It's easy to sort your fonts. Click the image to see a larger version.
Searches aren't limited to a single criteria. Search for Script fonts from Adobe with a style of Regular and you can narrow results in a hurry. In the same vein, if you'd like to find fonts with a similar look, the Quick Match feature searches all installed fonts and returns with a list that it thinks come close.
You can save the results of any search as a smart set. Newly installed fonts with matching criteria will be added to the smart set.
In addition to all of the predefined search criteria, you can add keywords for any font and modify default data, such as font classification or foundry. If you make a mistake, just set changes back to the default.
Adobe Creative Suite users will find that Suitcase Fusion 3 automatically adds auto-activation plug-ins to InDesign CS3-CS5, Photoshop CS4-CS5, and Illustrator CS3-CS5. For QuarkXPress users, versions 7 and 8 are supported.
The plug-ins work as advertised in the Adobe applications. Deactivated fonts in my documents were automatically activated when I opened files and instantly deactivated when I closed the files. I don't have QuarkXPress installed on either of my Suitcase Fusion test systems.
For applications without auto-activation plug-ins, you can create an application font set that will activate fonts for specific applications, but not for individual documents within those applications.
For service bureaus and designers who need to keep multiple versions of the same font for different clients, Suitcase Fusion 3 contains a feature called Font Sense. It adds metadata to documents when they're saved to ensure that the proper version of the font is used the next time the document is opened.
Suitcase Fusion 3 is not a server-based font management system. However, sharing Font Vaults, Libraries, and Sets is relatively easy, though not automatic. You must copy the entire vault to a server, and then from there copy the vault to individual workstations. You can export and import font sets with a couple of mouse clicks. Sets contain only information about which fonts are in the set, not the fonts themselves, so the files are very small.
Integration with WebINK
Traditionally, Web designers have been limited to only a few "web-safe" fonts, but that's changing rapidly as free and paid services offer a wide choice of fonts for use on the Web. Extensis entered the market with a service called WebINK, and all purchases of Suitcase Fusion 3 through December 31, 2010, qualify for one year of free WebINK service.
Extensis licenses thousands of high-quality fonts from many foundries for use on the web. With a WebINK account, you can experiment using the browser built directly into Suitcase. Choose the web preview, browse to any site, click text to select it, choose a WebINK font, and you can preview that site using the font of your choice without touching the code. Figure 7 is a (scary) example of what CreativePro.com could look like when you do this.
Figure 7. We promise to never use this face. Click the image to see a larger version.
Once you've settled on a typeface you like, create a "font drawer." Choose your fonts using the drag and drop interface, indicate up to four domains, the level of bandwidth you think the site will use, and use the File > Export Type Drawer CSS command to generate the code needed for your site.
WebINK then creates a CSS file with the @font-face declarations for each font. Copy and paste that into the site CSS or link directly to it, and add those fonts to any desired CSS rule. If your CSS is external, there's no need to touch the Web pages.
Adding and deleting fonts from the Type Drawers is as easy as drag and drop. All tasks can also be performed using the WebINK web interface.
Do You Need It?
While Suitcase Fusion 3 delivers easy-to-use features that work almost identically across platforms, there are some enhancements I'd like to see. It would be handy to right-click a font to add it to a set. I also wish it were easier to create a new font set within a set. As it stands now, you must create the new set and then drag it to the set you want to add it to. But those are very minor quibbles with a very capable application that can make life easier for anyone with more than just a handful of fonts.
Suitcase Fusion 3 is a valuable addition to any toolbox. And if you design for the Web, the one-year subscription to WebINK is particularly appealing.