Shazam-like handheld tool for font finding

Since visual inspiration can strike anywhere, there are plenty of cool tools to help designers on the market today. I’ve previously posted about the portable Cube that lets you find the colour value of any object. But what if you find a beautiful font somewhere, but you don’t know what it is?

This graduation project by Fiona O’Leary from the Royal College of Art is a handy, handheld tool she calls Spector. What Spector does is capture typefaces and colours in the real world, and then transfers them directly to InDesign. Currently only a working prototype, O’Leary is interested in eventually commercializing this font finding tool.


Spector was born out of personal frustration. “When you design for print on screen, it never looks like how it’s going to print,” says O’Leary. “If you’re going to design for print on screen you should start with print.”


Spector works like a physical eyedropper; place it over a piece of media and depress the button on top. A camera inside photographs the sample, and an algorithm translates the image into information about the shape of the typeface, or the colour’s CMYK/RGB values. Spector beams that information to a font or colour database, which IDs the sample. If your computer is nearby, a custom plugin imports the information to InDesign. From there the highlighted text or projects will automatically change to the typeface or colour of your real-world sample. If you’re not near a computer, it can store up to 20 font samples to transfer later.

Spector currently recognizes seven typefaces that it accesses through a font database, including Apercu, Bureau Grot, Canela, and Founders Grotesk. O’Leary is currently working to integrate it with a larger font database. The tool can also translate type size up to 48 point, as well as kerning and leading.


The one major drawback to Spector, is its potential for typeface piracy. It has become a surprisingly big problem in recent years, and a device like Spector would probably complicate things further. O’Leary recognizes piracy as a potential setback for Spector, though she notes that there’s always been an element of creative poaching in graphic design.


What are your thoughts on this font finding tool? Would you like to be able to find out what a typeface is without having to search and compare?


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