Review: Extensis Suitcase Fusion 4

New features greatly improve workflow. (June 4th, 2012)

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Product Manufacturer: Extensis

Price: $100

The Good

  • Powerful, flexible new features build on previous strengths

    Great for quickly finding fonts and substitutes

    Web features add fonts beyond the user's library

    Includes Font Doctor for advanced repair

    Affordable

The Bad

  • Can be slow at generating previews of fonts

    Requires manual classification to take full advantage of sets

    Font panel doesn't work with Photoshop CS3

Graphic artists and designers who use a lot of fonts in their day-to-day work know that they need a font manager to help keep their systems running at their most efficient; simply loading 26,000 fonts in to RAM at startup isn't really going to work well, even those with lots of RAM. For most consumers with perhaps a thousand fonts on board (and who really only use a handful routinely), Apple's provided Font Book provides all the essentials, including the ability to turn unneeded fonts on or off and do a basic diagnostic to spot corrupt, duplicated or troublesome fonts that conflict with others.

But Font Book is, to put it mildly, basic. Users whose jobs revolve around fonts need a great deal more control, management, diagnostic, pre-flighting and auto-activation abilities. This is where Extensis' Suitcase Fusion and its rivals step in, aiming to make font management as invisible as possible so the designers can work on complex projects with minimal interference. The latest edition, Suitcase Fusion 4, is a notable improvement over previous versions and incorporates more features aimed at keeping the "management" part of font wrangling away from the user as much as possible.

Suitcase Fusion was originally born in 2006 of two separate products: Extensis' Suitcase X1 and Diamondsoft's Font Reserve 3. Both had a long history before being combined, but basically the idea was to merge Suitcase's user-friendly UI with Font Reserve's more powerful back-end. Six years later, the marriage is deemed to have worked out: the product has gracefully incorporated traditional print-based management with the rise of web fonts and online font buying.





New Features

For this version, the UI has gotten a cleaner overhaul that makes it much easier for users to classify and catalog fonts, including the much-needed ability to star favorite fonts to build a quick palette of most-liked type. It's now very easy to customize a sample sentence (or stick with "the quick brown fox" if one wants) and drag it out of the program to create a PNG snapshot that can be sent to clients without firing up another program to do so.

One of our favorite features, though, is QuickMatch -- where the use picks a font and the program finds similar (well, as similar as possible) matches in the user's library. This is a real time-saver when looking for a better alternative to the generic serif or sans serif fonts clients often provide. We're also big fans of the new Font Panels which appear in Adobe applications, offering basic control of font libraries right inside InDesign, Illustrator or Photoshop -- another serious time-saver.





In addition to the auto-activation plug-ins for the usual Adobe apps, the program can also offers plug-ins for InCopy versions 4 and 5, and of course Quark Xpress. In Macs, global auto-activation can be set up for other applications, including custom Application Sets. Designers can also create set of fonts for any purpose, including sets for specific clients (which should safely endear Fusion 4 to a whole generation of designers).

Once we had classified our fonts by hand, dividing them into various pre-set and custom classifications (we created one called "80s look" for example), we found it easy to create "smart sets" for serif, sans serif, script, handwriting and novelty fonts -- if Fusion has a theme among its new features, it is "productivity boosting."





Fusion also offers direct connections to WebInk and Google Web Fonts in the Photoshop panel. Users can preview web fonts using any sample text, incorporate them into site mockups for free, and also offers the ability to preview what regular web pages might look like with different fonts.





Font Repair

In our testing, we quickly found that Suitcase Fusion includes a fair amount of font-checking as fonts are imported, and were pleasantly surprised when it also flagged fonts already imported that were about to conflict with others already opened. By default, it simply won't activate damaged or conflicting fonts, and the package also includes a separate copy of Font Doctor software to perform more advanced font repair (such as changing Font ID numbers) to resolve conflicts.

The program also includes the ability to clear the font cache of Adobe apps, Quark Xpress and Microsoft Office, three programs that can sometimes be the source of font conflicts. Many users will never need to fire up Font Doctor at all -- Fusion handles the most common font problems and simply, elegantly prevents them from happening (though it does notify users when a problem arises).





Conclusion

We ran tests on Quark Xpress 8, InDesign CS5 (as well as CS3) and Photoshop CS5 on a recent-model MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM, and all performed as expected with seamless integration of the Suitcase plug-in. We were a little disappointed to find that we really needed to manually classify most of our fonts (not really Fusion's fault, but we wish the program could "guess" at a font's primary classifications and let us correct it if needed rather than default to no classification). Once that task is done, creating custom sets of fonts was a breeze and became immediately useful.

A number of features new to Fusion really stood out for us, from the QuickFind search to the QuickMatch similar-font finder. The pre-flight collecting of fonts, preventative troubleshooting and new Font Panels for certain apps built into the program made life easier, allowing us to focus even more on our work rather than "font wrangling." Auto-activation worked seamlessly across every app we tried, and though we have been veterans of other font managers in the past, many of them have let their user interface grow stale.





Compared to the previous version of Fusion we used (some time back), the redesigned UI was much more intuitive and helpful at quickly doing the few tasks that need to be done (finding bad fonts, moving fonts into Fusion's vault, preventing the user from doing something dumb like deleting a system font) to begin using the program properly. The addition of Google Web Fonts and WebINK should prove very useful to web designers, and the ability to "tear off" PNG previews of fonts and also preview other people's web pages with substituted fonts should prove a boon for client-designer relations.

We feel like Suitcase Fusion 4 has reached a point where we can come up with no serious reservations in recommending it -- it's a thoroughly modern and unobtrusive font manager that provides users with the extra power and flexibility they need without calling undue attention to itself, and its ability to be used without having to leave one's Adobe app of choice really seals the deal. Investing a bit of time in setting it up to one's liking pays off handsomely in better productivity and new abilities to find, identify, activate and quickly deal with typical client issues.

Since we haven't compared it to all other font managers, we don't know if its the best on the market -- but at a reasonable price ($100, or $50 for upgrades from previous versions) and with both the usual full set of common features well-implemented, along with several pleasing new features, we are enthusiastic about what it has done for our own workflow. It's a refreshed cross-platform solution that should help keep designers and clients happy and focused.


Web Previews lets you try out different fonts on an existing web page to see how it looks

by Charles Martin


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