Guide to Finding the Best Fonts on the Web and How to Use Them
First off, let me interject that I am not writing “the” definitive guide on typefaces, just my collected thoughts and tips. There are books written just about typeface use but since I love fonts, I’m going to indulge myself a bit here. Actually, I could ramble on about fonts forever. Over the years, I have collected thousands of fonts. I actually can’t resist having over a thousand installed on my PC at any given time, even knowing that it can slow you computer down. I am constantly tooling around the internet looking for good fonts. In my opinion, one cannot have access to too many fonts. You can instantly change the “flavor” of a document just by changing the typeface. You can combine (tastefully) typefaces within a document to add emphasis or direct the reader. There are endless possibilities! Whew! Take a deep breath….ok, I’m good. Seriously, nothing says more about a project with text in it, then the text itself. You can change a project from serious to whimsical just by changing the font. All that said one does have to know a few things about good font use. There are so many different types of fonts that it boggles the mind. They range from the graphical “themed” type such as the graffiti, horror, techno, retro, swirly-girly styles to the more traditional serif or sans serif types. With so many choices available and so many various project types it doesn’t make sense not to have a lot of fonts in your arsenal but as I mentioned before about my own PC, having too many fonts can, in fact, slow your system down, particularly when loading a large program that in turn has to load your fonts, such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Every computer is different and so is every operating system. A thousand fonts or less is the general rule of thumb but some will argue that even half that is too much. I live by the “thousand font rule” but often find myself exceeding it. If your computer is healthy, it’s tempting to download fonts of all different types and shapes and that’s fine. Keeping your fonts organized is a must. I highly recommend the use of a third-party font manager that is capable of creating sets of fonts, swapping sets into and out of the installed fonts directory in your operating system, and can print out a font samples catalog to make it easy to pick and choose fonts without having to have them all installed and slowing your computer down. Another issue with heavy font use is that you are bound to run across corrupted fonts after awhile and these will need to be repaired or removed. Good font managers are also capable of font repair as well. Here is a small list of my recommendations for font managers:
FontFrenzy – Free – http://www.sdsoftware.org/default.asp?id=7665
Highly recommended, totally free font manager. Has the neat ability to clean your system by taking a snapshot of your installed fonts and then removing all fonts except the original system fonts.
Font Doctor – Pay – http://www.morrisonsoftdesign.com/with_fl/index-7.html
This great utility, which I use often, can repair damaged fonts and font sets. Set it to work analyzing your temporary font folders for problematic fonts before you install them into your OS. This is particularly handy if you download tons of free fonts.
Typograf – Pay – http://www.neuber.com/typograph
A good, solid, all-around font manager. Very good at spotting and removing duplicate fonts, even across CDs or DVDs.
Another thing about having so many font choices is that you have to know when to use a particular type of font and when not to in a project. It’s tempting to want to use all these cool fonts you’ve collected. What could have more impact on a business card then your bosses name spelled out in a font of dripping blood? Well, that would be a prime example of what not to do with a typeface, but if your company is having a Halloween party and you’re printing up the flyer, then by all means use that bloody font. If you know the intended purpose and audience for your design project and you should as the designer, keep that in mind when selecting fonts. If the tone is serious, stick to serious fonts, if the tone is hard and gritty, stick to fonts that reflect that. Sounds like a no-brainer but I see tons of projects from other designers, this goes for websites too by the way, that use the wrong fonts in the wrong places and as a result the message that needed to be conveyed to the audience, took a backseat to the typeface. If you’re working closely with clients as a designer, or if your boss or a coworker is on the creative side, then often they will pick typefaces or rely on you to guide them. Steer them right and you can’t go wrong. Listen to what they have to say. Get a feel for the project. Read the copy. Use the force. Whatever, but just make sure you don’t go overboard with the typefaces. It is always a good point of design to pick a typeface or two and stick with those throughout the entire project for the sake of consistency. If the font changes every other line, people are going to blow out their corneas and stop reading. I think you’re getting the idea.
Now on to the free versus pay fonts discussion. Fonts is a rare category of design asset where many of the best font designers have been more than generous and have allowed some of their best fonts to be distributed for free. There are literally thousands of high quality free fonts available on the internet from many reputable sources. Most of these allow for use in commercial projects. There’s hope for mankind yet. In fact, there are so many high quality free fonts available, that one would wonder why anyone would have to pay for fonts? Well, you don’t have to per se but some of the very best fonts, especially as far as business related commercial projects are concerned, are available only as pay fonts. In the business world, you’re dealing with less gimmicky, graphical fonts and working mostly with traditional types or perhaps a few cursive or handwritten script types but traditional types for the most part. These could be serif or sans serif (with or with out those little tiny extensions at the ends of each stroke within each letter). The choice of which depends on the use but my quick rule of thumb there is if you are writing a lot of traditional themed body text, such as this book, use a serif font, they tend to be easier to read. If you’re writing less formal copy, with fewer or smaller paragraphs and especially if the theme is a bit more modern or technical, use a sans serif font. I would make sure you had a good selection of several of each. A lot of the best business type fonts and graphical “themed” fonts for that matter are in fact pay fonts. Check around, use my sources below, and check prices. Make sure you double check their licensing and don’t overlook keeping a copy of the license for each font you use. This goes for free fonts to by the way. Resist the temptation of buying a huge collection of typefaces unless you plan on doing many projects requiring a massive assortment of fonts. These tend to be expensive, the fonts all quite similar, and you’re only likely to use a handful of them. I would recommend going back over your initial project materials, getting a feel for the project, and then checking your existing font collection to make sure you can’t get by with what you have in stock. If not, then start looking at the free sources. While most of the free fonts do tend to be lighter in theme and more graphical in nature, many were designed with traditional use in mind but the choice will depend on your project. If you’re designing a flyer for a band of musician skater boys, then a grungy graphical font will work well. If it’s the handouts for the next board meeting, stick to the traditional stuff. If a free font is available, make sure the license will allow for commercial use. If nothing in the free font world strikes your fancy, hit the pay sites. A lot of free font sites don’t have their own license but default to the individual font designer’s license. When downloading free fonts, watch to see if a license file is included with the download and make sure to review it and keep a copy. If the free font file itself does not have an included license and the website where you got the font does not, I would recommend trying to do some research online about the font to make sure it’s ok to use in commercial fonts. In most of these types of cases, it is ok but I do not recommend making that assumption without at least attempting to find out. In the end, if no trace of a license can be found in the universe, the decision to use it is now up to you. If you want to use it for Granny’s 80th birthday invitations, go ahead but I wouldn’t use it for a client’s company logo. In fact, that brings up a good last point; Watch out for font licensing terms that preclude the fonts use in logos. This is common even in pay font licenses since adding it to a logo which could then be trademarked might give you a legal footing in snatching the font’s ownership away from the designer. They don’t want to take the chance so they don’t allow it. That’s not the case every time but make sure to check. Be extremely wary of the “copycat” fonts out there. These are fonts that have been designed by someone to mimic an already existing, well known commercial typeface. A good example of this would be movie logos, TV show logos, famous restaurant chain logos, famous movie studio logos, etc… I wouldn’t use these logos for anything even remotely resembling a commercial project to avoid having your pants sued off. I am totally unsure about the legality of creating such copycat fonts but even if you are allowed to do so, I am quite sure, trying to use one in your own logo or your company advertising is just begging for a lawsuit.
Let me sum that all up real quick: Have a balance of graphical “themed” fonts versus the traditional typefaces with a handful of the latter divided between serif and sans serif fonts. Make sure to keep copies of the licenses and read them to make sure you understand the terms (like not being able to use them in logos), stay away from copycat fonts designed to look like other famous and likely copy protected typefaces, and finally make sure to use a good third-party font manager to stay on top of your fonts and to help repair any broken ones.
Whew! My fingers hurt from typing. Here is my list of font resources:
My Fonts – pay (prices vary) and several free fonts
This is one of the slickest resources for fonts around. They may not have the largest collection of fonts available but the experience of using their website more than makes up for it. Their search tools are fantastic. If you cannot figure out what typeface was used in a document, say an old flyer, you can scan it into your computer and upload it to their “What the Font” finder and it will automatically take a stab at identifying the font or the closest font in My Font’s library for you. How cool is that?!?! Like most font websites, you can adjust what the sample text is so that every font displayed reflects what you wrote. Pretty standard but they also have, for most fonts, sample images of how each font would look in a typical design project. Pretty snazzy! You can create an account, setup font albums that you can organize your favorites into and then purchase and download entire or partial albums. You do have to go through the checkout process even for free fonts but even the checkout process is really slick. You can choose to change the font format from OpenType to TrueType, to Mac formats for each font, review the license for each font (most important!), and pick and choose how to get the fonts. You can either download each font individually, download all the fonts you just purchased (free fonts included here as well) in one zip file, or run their “Easy Installer” which will automatically download and install the fonts into your Windows operating system (do this if your not using a font manager or already have a zillion fonts). Awesome! Even from the download page and all of its download options, you can still change the font format for each font and get a great PDF printable receipt. Nice! Add to all this their reasonably priced CD’s, their discounted specials and the very neat specials browser that gives you large real-world type samples, and the large array of top font designers and you have a terrific resource for acquiring fonts that’s a real pleasure to browse. Kudos!
Font Bros. – pay (prices vary) and some free fonts
Font Bros. is a great and great looking website for a diverse collection of very high quality pay fonts from some of the bigger name font designers around. They do have a few free fonts available as teasers for the pay fonts. They pay fonts available are all highly unique and most come with alternative styles for you to mix and match. The website itself looks like a “vend-o-matic” type of retro-futuristic machine straight out of a cartoon and is very original and really slick. The fonts themselves are well organized into aptly named categories that are quite accessible as a cool looking sidebar menu. An animated retro type of rotating dial facilitates alphabetical searching. Once you find a favorite font designer, you can filter the font collection to just that designer’s stuff. Samples for each font are nice looking and quite large. A few fonts include slick PDF guides to give you some tips on using that particular typeface. Font Bros. also has several pre-packaged font sets available as well. Overall, Font Bros. is a very slick looking site with many highly original fonts available with a few freebies thrown into the mix as well. Worth a look.
1001 Free Fonts – free fonts
1001 Free Fonts is one of the oldest and most popular free font websites on the internet with a large collection of fonts of varying theme. The name is a bit understated since they have 3,338 free fonts listed (not including Mac fonts) at the time of this writing. I have used fonts from their site numerous times over the years and they are a tremendous resource. Their website is fairly no-nonsense with the fonts being divided alphabetically. Once you have clicked on a letter, like the letter “A” for instance, you will be taken to an alphabetical list of all the sites “A” named fonts like “Abode” for example. You are given large samples of each font and may choose to download Windows or Mac versions. You can navigate to different alphabetical listings or you may use a search by name feature. Licenses are packaged individually with each font, provided there is a license at all. If a license file is not available, that does not mean it’s free to use. Make sure to check the terms if there is a license file since some may not allow commercial use. Finally, you can even purchase a zip file of all their fonts, over 6000 of them, in one shot for about $15.00 (make sure you check out the license files). If you pay attention to the license files or lack thereof and do some research, 1001 Free Fonts is a very worthwhile website with tons of good quality free fonts to choose from. Stop on by, you may never have to pay for another font again!
Da Font – free fonts
Another large, well laid out collection of free fonts. At the time of this writing, Da Font had over 7000 fonts available. The site is very clean and easy to navigate. Samples are large and may include sample artwork from the font designer using that particular font. Fonts can be divided into a large collection of very aptly named categories and sub-categories and you may also search by keyword. You can also filter fonts by designer. Links to commercial fonts and commercial font websites are around. Like most free font websites, Da Font does not maintain any rights to the fonts and therefore are not responsible for their use or misuse. Some of the fonts are free, some are shareware, and some are demos for larger pay font families. License files are included with the individual font downloads if available. As I mentioned before, if a license file is not available for a font on Da Font’s website, that does not mean it’s free to use, merely the information was unavailable to Da Font. As always, make sure to do your homework. A great site, loaded with great fonts!
Blambot Comic Fonts & Lettering – pay (prices vary) and several free fonts
Blambot is another of my favored font websites, this time with the fonts having a comic book flare to them. In fact, the designer is a comic artist and the fonts were therefore designed specifically for use in comic books and as such are perfect for use in any project requiring a cool, handwritten look to it. Blambot has 103 free fonts available and 73 pay fonts. The fonts are all very original, high quality fonts and are available in Mac and Windows formats. Licensing for free fonts, unfortunately, only allows for use within your own “non-profit” projects unless you’re publishing your own comic book. If you intend to use the free fonts in your commercial project that isn’t an independent comic book, you’re going to have to pay a fee, which is a reasonable request for high quality original fonts, so don’t be put off. Pay fonts may be used in commercial projects. The site is quite nice to look at, it has a comic theme of course, and navigation of the fonts is very easy. They are all contained in a scrolling sidebar menu that is further divided up into font categories named for a font’s primary use with a comic book such as dialog, titles, sound effects, and symbols. In addition to the great fonts, there are many comic book related extras within the site so if you’re into comic books and especially if you’re looking for a resource to help you with your own comic book, Blambot is a great place to look.