Ten years ago, Mac users could choose from a number of pro-class font-management utilities. A few years ago the choice had been whittled down to two: Extensis Suitcase and DiamondSoft Font Reserve. After Extensis acquired DiamondSoft in June 2003, it seemed inevitable that there would only be one survivor. But rather than just killing off its competitor, Extensis has combined the two products into a single new release – hence the name ‘Fusion’.
Suitcase Fusion is intended for graphic designers, layout artists, production desks and print bureaus. These are the kind of people who deal with hundreds of fonts and have the most need to activate and deactivate individual fonts and font sets on the fly. Additionally, the program lets you browse and preview fonts, print font sample books, repair corrupt font files, and locate specific fonts by a variety of attributes, not just name.
The main interface is much like that of Suitcase X1, featuring a customisable three-paned window. The top pane lets you group fonts into Sets for quick identification and easy activation. The pane underneath it can be used to list your fonts according to a variety of filters, such as System Fonts, Duplicates and Missing Fonts. The tall pane on the right displays scrollable and customisable previews of whatever font or fonts are selected in the other two panes.
Behind this familiar Suitcase interface, Extensis has integrated a core technology from Font Reserve known as the Vault. This lets you copy or move fonts into a large, self-contained file that holds both the font database and font data. The advantage of working with the Vault is that it becomes impossible to lose fonts by inadvertently moving them from their original folder: once they’re in the Vault, they stay there until you choose to remove them. Another useful aspect of having a single Vault file is that it’s much easier to back up than hundreds of little font files scattered all over the place.
Despite the single-file nature of the Vault, extracting selected fonts is a simple matter of dragging and dropping from the program window onto the desktop or elsewhere in the Finder. There’s also a Collect Fonts For Output command for gathering and exporting multiple fonts in one go.
The killer feature in Suitcase Fusion, as it was in Font Reserve, is ‘auto activation’. If you run a program or open a document that uses fonts that are currently deactivated on your system, Suitcase Fusion activates them automatically. An XTension for QuarkXPress 6.x and plug-ins for Adobe InDesign and Illustrator (both CS and CS2 versions) are installed as part of the package, ensuring the auto-activation feature works particularly well in these layout programs.
Augmenting this feature are some very good font identification routines, so when more than one font has the same PostScript name or filename, Suitcase Fusion is able to check through other metadata such as version, foundry, Font ID and classification to make an intelligent choice. You can also set the program to prompt you with the most likely alternatives when a conflict occurs. Duplicate fonts can be listed within the main interface, letting you customise which one should take precedence.
Even everyday activation of font sets is surprisingly powerful thanks to the concept of ‘nested sets’. This allows you to create any number of subsets based on existing font groupings, so when you update the original set, all the dependent subsets update accordingly. At the other extreme, Suitcase Fusion allows you to load fonts into memory temporarily without installing them to your Mac or even adding them to the Vault – very handy for print bureaus receiving jobs from one-off clients. The program supports application-specific font sets too: drag a program icon into the Sets pane and add the fonts to it that you want activated whenever the program launches.
Some aspects of Suitcase Fusion are less dynamic, however. Its reluctance to move Mac Classic fonts was a surprise; but its insistence that [user]/Library/Fonts was a similarly untouchable System Font folder, and its absolute refusal to even touch the fonts installed with Adobe Creative Suite, proved extremely frustrating. In the end, we found a help document on the Extensis website that told us how to move all these System and Adobe fonts around by hand so that Suitcase Fusion could use them. But isn’t this the kind of task a font manager is supposed to do for you? And why isn’t that essential help document installed with the program?
We experienced a few other glitches, such as certain OpenType fonts appearing in the Preview pane as rows of square boxes. And the unnecessarily big Font Info window does not sit comfortably with the rest of the interface. But these issues are not a distraction once you get the program up and running. Suitcase Fusion is especially good value given that it includes a copy of Morrison SoftDesign’s Font Doctor X 7.1 as well as its own built-in Scan & Repair function.
It seems redundant to describe Suitcase Fusion as the best standalone font manager on the Mac: it’s now the only one. But even so, independent creatives who need to work with large numbers of fonts, or deal temporarily with fonts supplied by others, will find Suitcase Fusion indispensable. That said, large studios and office managers might want to wait for Extensis to produce a server edition, and anyone who uses less than 200 fonts may as well stick with Apple’s Font Book.