PopChar X 7: draw the glyph you’re looking for

The other day I was looking for an app that would show me all the glyphs in a font. I automatically opened Popchar X 6.6 and saw there was a new version available. Just out of interest I decided to see if there weren’t any alternatives and I came back with a big “NO”. Yes, you can view glyphs in font editors and you might even pull it off showing them all inside Suitcase Fusion 6, by spending a few hours typing in all possible keyboard combinations in Suitcase’s paragraph preview. But how efficient would that be? It made one thing clear to me: Popchar X is a must-have if you are a layout, graphic or web designer.

PopChar X has been the best tool for finding and inserting special characters from any font. With PopChar X 7, previewing and subsequently inserting any character in a document requires one click in the PopChar table. You can even search fonts for characters by their Unicode names. But Popchar X 7 doesn’t even require you to know those names anymore. Knowing that most people don’t know the Unicode name of a desired character anyway, Ergonis Software had the idea of having you draw the glyph you want. Because almost always you do know what the desired character looks like.

Popchar X 7

PopChar X 7 therefore introduces a new “Shape Finder”, which allows you to draw the shape of a character in a Post-It yellow note-like slide-down search sheet to tell PopChar what you are looking for. It sounds like a great idea, but I was interested what it would work like and if it would find glyphs that I drew with a mouse.

The theory is that you just draw the approximate shape and click the Find button and PopChar comes up with all characters that resemble this shape. In practice it’s a bit harder. The first attempt I made was with the mouse and while Popchar X 7 did come up with glyphs that resembled my drawing, what I drew in the first place didn’t really look like what I wanted to find. So, I switched to a Wacom tablet and drew the character with the Intuos pen. That made quite a dramatic difference. The ampersand glyph I was looking for came up very quickly and other search drawings went all well too.

So, yes, it is a good idea and it can be much easier than anything else to find special characters, even in Unicode fonts with thousands of characters, but you’ll best use a Wacom tablet with pen to draw the shape. The Shape Finder can also be used with PopChar’s new “Find Similar Shape” context command, which allows you to start with a character in the table, optionally add a few extra strokes, and quickly find characters that look similar.

PopChar X 7 also adds a new font filter for limiting the font list to fonts that match a given substring, it can export and import the favorite characters to and from a text file, and offers a new window layout with a permanently visible font list.

Ergonis said in its press release that a lot of work for PopChar 7 went into a new technological foundation (new compiler, new libraries, faster code, etc.), so PopChar 7 is faster, more robust, and more responsive than ever — and although this is all under the hood, I can vouch for the responsiveness, which compared to older versions is indeed snappier.

So, while you can now view the design characteristics of any font in xScope, you get total access to a font with Popchar X 7 in a way that is much faster, as well as more efficient and effective than any other method I can think of. Popchar X 7 is a free upgrade to anyone who purchased the app after March 1, 2014. Special discounts are available for those who upgrade from a purchase at an earlier date.

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