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The Shazam for Typefaces Will Tell You If That’s Helvetica or Futura

The mobile app WhatTheFont, recently revamped with machine learning, claims to correctly identify typefaces encountered IRL 90% of the time.

Here’s an app that graphic designers and type enthusiasts will appreciate: WhatTheFont, a mobile typeface recognition tool that will identify any font you spot in the wild and photograph with your smartphone. Call it a Shazam for typefaces — and you could argue that its name should really be “WhattheTypeface,” although that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as easily. Available for free on iOS and Android, the app has existed for about eight years now, but recently received a complete revamp by its creators at Monotype. It now relies on machine learning, meaning that its accuracy will improve as more people use it.

WhattheFont in action (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

The process is simple and fast. Once you spot a sexy typeface and take a photo of it with the app’s built-in camera, WhatTheFont will isolate all the included text. You then select the one of interest, and the app will present you with a list of typefaces (and fonts) that it thinks could be a match.

As Katharine Schwab explained at Fast Co. Design, the app can spot over 100,000 fonts, using a deep learning algorithm trained on 33 million images. WhatTheFont is accurate over 90% of the time, developer Sampo Kaasila said, and most errors stem from a poor quality photograph, or when the captured text has only a handful of characters. Its knowledge, however, is limited to Monotype’s digital fonts database, MyFonts.

The app did a pretty good job when I took it for a test run. It correctly identified Barbara Kruger’s signature font as Futura Bold Oblique, for instance, although it gave Graphicus Bold Oblique and Recta ExtraBold Italic as alternatives. Most of the time, the right typeface appeared as a top choice. However, the app seems to only work with Latin typography, as it failed to even recognize the characters on the spine of a Japanese photography book.

Overall, it is a handy tool if you’re curious about a font you chance upon, and if you want to use the identified font, the app gives you the option of purchasing it immediately.

WhattheFont in action (screenshots by the author for Hyperallergic)
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