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Erich has more than 18 years experience as an award-winning digitizer, e-commerce manager, and industry educator. He empowers decorators to do their best work and achieve a greater success. A current educator and long-time columnist, Erich takes every opportunity to provide value to the industry. Find more information on Erich and his publications here.

They don’t have any higher-quality art? Not even a cleanly-printed business card? Do they at least know the name of that typeface?

Either you’ve said it yourself or heard it from your struggling art staff, but no matter what part of this business you’re in, you’ve likely been stuck with poor artwork or missing source material and realized you were on your own. Whether your customer has never had quality art, can’t procure it from their previous decorator, or simply doesn’t know how to get the art they need, many of us have taken to the Internet, searching desperately to find source material from which we can create decent artwork for reproduction.

Spending hours in vain searching for artwork keeps us from doing real, billable work. With a little bit of preparation, a few judiciously utilized specialty sites, and a little bit of design know-how, however, we can track down fonts faster, find high-quality versions of existing artwork more quickly, and find ourselves on the road to profitable production without delay.

What the font?!

When re-creating simple customer artworks, the most frequently frustrating and time-intensive resource hunt revolves around typeface discovery. Though we ask our customers to list typefaces on their submitted art, it is a rare day that they know their names or have access to the people who do.

Luckily, we usually don’t have to resort to paging through a seemingly endless sea of type samples, as tools exist to aid in identifying a mysterious font. We’ll start with the easiest method for font identification—MyFonts’ WhatTheFont. A simple trip to www.myfonts.com/WhatTheFont allows you to upload an image featuring the font in question, and should your sample be clear enough and their collection include your font, the site will give you the name of your typeface and show you where you can purchase it. Unfortunately, we don’t often have the best quality samples available in the first place. Sometimes, it’s necessary to tweak a sample image to get the best result.

First, make sure to get the clearest possible selection from the art, and that it contains letters that are the most ‘unique’ in the sample. If most of the text looks like a fairly vanilla sans-serif, but has one oddly-shaped character, make sure that character is in your sample. You’ll want a high contrast image as well—if everything is a study in grays, increase the contrast of your image in your favorite image editor until things are closer to black and white.

If there isn’t much room between your characters, expand the image and cut them apart to leave larger gaps for a better result. Once you have an image with a single line of characters with fairly good contrast, upload it and start the process. The first result will show the letters the site thinks are in your sample in boxes below the identified portions of your image. If they are incorrect, either replace or delete the identified character, and continue.

If all goes well, you should be looking at the typeface you need to recreate your art. If not, you have the option to ask the community at WhatTheFont’s forums to try and identify the font. It doesn't always happen quickly or at all. But, as one of the forum’s font enthusiasts who occasionally takes on these challenges, I find that the problem with identification often isn't that the font is too arcane, but that the provided sample isn’t clear enough the site to work with. In these cases, the font wizards of the forum are usually quick to provide possible typeface matches.

Font ID, cont.

If you can't wait for the community, another, less-automatic font identification site, www.Identifont.com, allows users to answer a directed set of questions about a type sample to narrow down possibilities. For our purposes, the best way to start is to use the ‘Limited set of letters?’ link at the bottom of the ‘Fonts by Appearance’ panel. By entering only the letters present in your sample into the filter, Identifont tailors its questions to just the letters available. Once you start, each question is accompanied by instructional images to help you make your selection. So, even if you don’t know a serif from a descender, you should still be able to muddle through. Answer carefully, and Identifont will give you a list of typefaces that match the provided criteria, ranked by similarity.

Note here that it’s important to take a little time to learn typeface terminology. Knowing Serif from Sans-Serif from Blackletter will serve you well when all applications fail and your identification comes down to a simple search.

Art options

The second biggest time-suck is spent searching for higher-quality logo art. Before beginning the any search, ensure that your customer has the right to reproduce the logo in question. Utilizing anything you find online can be risky, so we want to make sure to stay within our rights.

Next, decide whether or not the client in question is part of a larger entity. Businesses or clubs with multiple locations, government organizations, and military entities, for examples, often provide art resources, even if a local chapter is unaware. Local businesses, particularly those with a single location, usually aren’t as easy—it’s likely your contact is the one who should have access to art assets, if they exist at all.

If you are dealing with a group for which there is a high likelihood of official art resources, a simple web search for the name of the company and vector-art file extensions often leads you to the art you need. Though most of us are aware of industry standard file extensions like .eps, don't forget to search for the web-standard .svg (scalable vector graphics) extension. SVG files can be imported into any respectable vector graphics package and are the file format of choice for open-source clipart providers.

Another overlooked source of vector art is found in PDF files. When otherwise stymied, look for PDF files featuring the logo on your customer's website. Though PDF files can, and often do, contain only raster images, some PDF files—brochures, forms, or press releases—are created by art departments or offsite designers from vector source, and can be imported into drawing software. They usually require more editing than a purpose-made logo file, but vector is vector. If no vector resources can be found, there's still a chance to locate higher-resolution raster files.

Image search

Once a manual chore, a fairly recent addition to Google's image search function allows for easy reverse searches by image. From the Google homepage, simply click on the Images link in the top bar. Here, we can search by terms as usual, but if we click the small camera icon in the search bar, we can upload an image. Using your poor-quality image file as the source, Google returns multiple sizes of your image, or images that are similar. Click the ‘visually similar’ section in the results. With luck, several versions of your customer’s logo will be among them.

To further refine your search, there is a bar above the images that lists criteria by which you can filter the results. The most useful option shows only images of a certain size—medium and large images are our best bet for finding high-resolution versions. This versatile tool provides the ability to find the best available versions of logo art with ease, but can also be used to identify the origin of any image.

Another creative way to use this function is to identify garments that customers find from online resellers. Because those sources often use stock catalog images, a reverse image search quickly identifies the original distributor's site. I've also used reverse image search to check for ownership on questionable images. If you are afraid to reproduce something that seems hastily grabbed from the Internet, or if you want to find and license a legal version of a watermarked image, reverse image searches can help track down the sites where the images originally appeared so that you can attain proper permission to reproduce the art.

Be an art hero

Digging for resources online is a tricky business. Not only is it simply difficult at times to separate the file you need from the millions that you don't, it’s always difficult to address questions of copyright and attribution. Be careful and conscientious about rights. No job is worth losing your shop—no matter if your competitors are willing, or the customer promises the moon, you're the one who will be saddled with the consequences if you don't take care.

With that in mind, search smart, make good use of the wealth of tools available to you and dig in the places where lost resources hide, and you'll find the gem that saves the day (or at least the hour).