Review: Suitcase Fusion 4

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Pros: Easily manage thousands of fonts, including Google Web Fonts and WebINK fonts. Auto-activation support for InDesign CS3–CS6, Illustrator CS3–CS6, InCopy CS4–CS6, Photoshop CS4–CS6, and QuarkXPress 7–9. Font Doctor included for free.

Cons: Inconsistent support throughout Creative Suite applications. No support for TypeKit.

Score: 9 out of 10

Suitcase Fusion 4 is the latest upgrade to Extensis’ flagship font manager that began its life as a merger of two programs, Suitcase and Font Reserve. It’s available for Windows and Mac for $99. Upgrading from earlier versions is $49.

I’ve been using Suitcase Fusion since version 3 was released in 2010 and have grown completely dependent upon it to activate fonts when opening up InDesign and Illustrator files. Prior to that, I just figured that managing fonts meant installing and uninstalling them as needed. This of course was somewhat like herding cats, only a bit more frustrating since cats do tend to be much cuter than fonts.

Once installed, Suitcase Fusion takes an inventory of all your installed fonts and puts them in a library. From there you can create individual sets that can be activated or deactivated with a click. Adding new fonts is a simple drag and drop procedure. Smart sets take that idea that one step further. These are sets that you can create based on search criteria. For example, you can create a set with all of the fonts with “Adobe” in their name:

For upgraders from Suitcase Fusion 3, the installation is seamless. All libraries and sets are retained.

Fonts can be activated on a permanent or temporary basis for a set, a font family, or an individual font. Deactivating is just as simple. One click and it’s done.

Using temporary activation is especially nice when you’re starting a project and experimenting with different typefaces. When you restart, the fonts are no longer active and won’t hog any system resources.

Color Picker

One of the new features added to the interface is the ability to choose a color for the font preview. This is especially handy in the initial phase of design and can really speed things up for those among us who take a more visual approach to choosing fonts.

The color picker is very intuitive and allows you set the font color and the background.

Quick Match

Another very useful feature, Quick Match allows the user to select a font and find similar fonts by right clicking and choosing Quick Match. A slider is available to narrow the relevance, and the matches can be made based on style or classification. This is a real time saver when looking to freshen up a design without going too far.

Auto-activation

There’s no bigger frustration than opening a file to work on and being greeted with a missing font alert. With Suitcase Fusion’s auto-activation, if the font is present on your system it will be found and activated when opening the file.

For Creative Suite and QuarkXPress users, activating fonts in earlier versions of Suitcase Fusion required leaving (and in some cases closing) your application along with any files you were working on. But with version 4, activation is a snap. Using the new Extensis panel (found under Window > Extensions in all supported Creative Suite applications) you can either scroll to the font you need or search for it. Select the font and it’s instantly activated.

But there’s more. The Extensis panel also supports Google web fonts. These free, open source fonts from Google are marketed toward web designers and developers but they’re equally suitable for print or epublishing. And Google is constantly adding to the list. Adding support for these fonts was a terrific idea and gives a nice productivity boost to anyone using them in InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator.

This is especially impressive given that Google’s service competes directly with Extensis’ own WebINK product. Because WebINK is strictly a service for websites, Extensis has chosen to provide a link to it only in the Photoshop panel. And while I’m on that topic, I’ll point out that web professionals would really benefit if the Extensis panel were added to Fireworks and Dreamweaver.

Auto-activation is configurable and among the more useful choices are:

Enable Font-Sense support

Like applications, fonts get updated from time to time. Occasionally an update can cause problems if glyphs were added or removed or kerning tables were adjusted. Using the wrong version of a font could cause glyph substitution or text reflow.

Font Sense is an Extensis technology that allows a user to have more than one version of the same font installed and available. This is important to anyone who may be receiving files from multiple clients working with different versions of the same font. With Font Sense, Suitcase Fusion will choose the proper version when activating a font.

Pick the best match when original is missing

Like the Quick Match feature, if the font is missing and therefore unavailable, the best possible match will be substituted.

Besides the Creative Suite apps and QuarkXPress, almost any application can utilize auto-activation by adding it to the list in the Suitcase Fusion 4 preferences:

Stability

In earlier versions of Suitcase, there were times when InDesign would freeze or crash with the auto-activation plug-ins installed and active. I found this usually happened when complicated layouts were being exporting to PDF or InCopy. This was so common that the first troubleshooting question I would ask when someone reported a crash was if they had any font management auto-activation plug-ins installed. While I’ll never say “never,” at this point I’ve seen no such issues with InDesign CS5.5 or CS6 in the several months that I’ve been using Suitcase Fusion 4.

Font Doctor Included

Corrupt fonts have been causing hard-to-find problems since the beginning of desktop publishing. While things have certainly improved, nothing is more frustrating than trying to track down a bad font. Font Doctor analyses and repairs corrupt fonts quickly. It’s a great addition to any toolbox and to get it for free with Suitcase Fusion is nice bonus.

Conclusion

Suitcase Fusion 4 is a major upgrade to what was already an excellent font manager. With the addition of the Extensis panel in Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop applications, designers won’t be switching back and forth to simply activate or install new fonts, and the addition of Google Web Fonts brings hundreds of free, high quality fonts to any web or print designer.

While I’d love to see the Extensis panel added to other applications, especially Dreamweaver and Fireworks, I can still heartily recommend it to any designer that needs to work with a large number of fonts.

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