Monday, 11 July 2011

Free Fonts And How To Use Them

I've heard it said that the best things in life are free. Thankfully, this also applies to fonts that are available to designers.

The arrival of typography

Gutenberg <br/><br/>Bible
Gutenberg Bible

Ever since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1450, there has been an interest in the way the printed word appears. Gutenberg designed his font in the Gothic blackletter of the time so his printed books would look hand-lettered. As more printing shops opened up, printers began to look at other lettering styles to use as models for typefaces. More thought was put into creating typefaces, and this gave rise to the art of typographic design, according to an article on

Finding fonts

Of course, the advent of computers and the internet has given us a fantastic array of fonts, many of which are free. I turn to Smashing Magazine and Cruzine for information on the latest fonts being used by designers, and I often trawl the internet for the beautiful free fonts that kind-hearted designers have made available for commercial use. There are so many of them it's often hard to choose which ones to download. Today I downloaded ninety five, then went looking for reference material for this article and downloaded five more.

Fonts and the internet

Even though there are now web fonts specifically designed for use on websites, you 'd be hard put to find fonts other than the usual suspects, Times New Roman and Arial/sans-serifs being used widely. I myself tend to stick to the tried-and-tested fonts simply because I'm aware that most people I know are stuck with older browsers that wouldn't be able to render them properly. And it's an established fact that most people use Internet Explorer because it's the default browser on most PCs. Even though IE's market share is falling with the advent of other browsers such as Google Chrome, Firefox, Opera (and Cometbird, a Gecko-based fork of Firefox), IE still dominates, and designers need to bear that in mind.

The trouble with IE

Older versions of IE (even IE 8) will not render much more than basic HTML properly without a bit of help, and will baulk at sites with Javascripts and CSS or anything they consider to contain ActiveX, imposing restrictions on the way they are displayed and making the most beautiful work look ugly. IE 9 was supposed to resolve all this, but it comes at a price: it will only run on Windows 7 and won't work on Windows XP or Vista. To use it, I would have to buy a new computer.

Many businesses and individuals may find it more convenient to ignore IE9 because of the expense, making it a pointless exercise to use any but the most simple TTF fonts if you're aiming at a wide internet audience. Which means that, unless we're designing for high-end clients who will naturally be using the most up- to-date technology to browse the internet, we're stuck with the usual serif and sans-serif fonts, and to be honest, both serif and sans-serif fonts look fairly similar to others of their kind at 10 or 12px.

Designing with fonts

Of course, it's a designer's job to solve problems and there are ways around this: use the fonts in an image if you need them for a logo or something like that.  They're great fun to play with and look good at different sizes, an important thing for designers to factor in: a lot of them don't. Some won't render in sizes below 6px and others aren't designed to be displayed in large sizes. Thankfully, they're free, and there are lots of them.

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