When choosing a typeface for a project, you should consider using a printed type specimen to help you out. Fonts look different when you see them in print, compared with viewing them on screen. 

Clever developers have come up with several useful utilities for printing font specimen pages – not only for active fonts, but also for folders full of fonts you haven’t yet installed. Some of these utilities are free, but the best ones will set you back a few quid. The major one for Mac users is the Font Book utility that comes with Mac OS X. 

Font Book type specimens
Font Book lets you print useful type specimen pages in three different layouts, but only for the fonts you’ve installed via Font Book. If you use a third-party font-management utility such as Extensis Suitcase Fusion 2 (£61, www.extensis.com), FontAgent Pro ($99.95 [£65], www.insidersoftware.com), or FontExplorer X Pro (£70.21, www.fontexplorerx.com), the fonts you’ve activated in those utilities won’t show up in Font Book. To work around this Font Book limitation, temporarily activate the fonts you need to print by choosing File > Add Fonts, and then deactivate them after you’ve created your specimen pages. Deactivating them after you print is especially important if you use a third-party font manager.

Print your specimens
In Font Book, follow these steps to print your type specimen pages:

1 Highlight the fonts you want to include from the list of fonts in Font Book. To select all the fonts, press C-A or Edit > Select All. To select all the fonts in a Collection, highlight the name of the Collection and then press C-A. To select individual fonts to print, hold down the C key while clicking on each choice. To select a group of fonts in a row, select the first one and then hold down the Shift key while clicking on the final font you want.

2 Choose File > Print and, if necessary, click the triangle next to the name of your printer to see Font Book’s printing options.

3 With Font Book selected in the Print Options pop-up menu, choose one of the three types of reports from the Report Type pop-up menu.

4 Set the options you want for the report type you’ve selected: Show Family and Sample Size for the Catalog report type; Glyph Size for the Repertoire report type; and Show Font Details such as Kind, Manufacturer, Version, and Designer, for the Waterfall report type.

5 Just under the page preview, note the number of pages you’re about to print. You may be printing more than you expect, because some OpenType fonts have a tremendous number of glyphs. Scroll through the page previews, choose the pages you need, then type specific page numbers into the Pages fields.

Now click the Print button. You can also create a PDF of the pages, for safekeeping and future reference, by clicking the PDF button in the lower-left corner of the Print dialog box and choosing Save As PDF from the menu.

Third-party font specimen utilities
Font Book is fine for printing the three types of layouts it supports. But if you need more variety or want to print uninstalled fonts without temporarily installing them, you’ll need to look into third-party applications. The simplest and most useful ones are Ksoft’s FontCat ($20 [£13]; www.ksoft.net), with several layouts, and piDog Software’s FontThing ($10 [£6.50]; www.pidog.com), which prints rudimentary font samples.

Third-party font-management utilities such as Suitcase Fusion 2 and FontAgent Pro can also print font samples, but they’re limited to printing one line of text per font. Linotype’s FontExplorer X Pro 2.5 raises the bar for printing font specimens by offering five professional layouts, with optional custom headers and footers; alternatively, you can create your own layout. Veenix Technologies’ Veenix Typebook Creator 2.4 ($49.95 [£32.50] www.veenix.com) is hands-down the best option we’ve seen for printing type books.

Type specimen books have a long, revered history among font fans, and you can easily continue that grand tradition.