Open Source Fonts


In the recent past I’ve written about Free Fonts – the pros and cons, the ins and outs, etc. Another piece of that “typographic” puzzle is an additional category of free font, commonly referred to as open source fonts. The term “open source” stems from a reference to software, but since fonts are considered software, the term aptly applies to them as well. Open source fonts refers to those fonts that are made available for free (or in one case, a “pay what you want” basis), usually for both private and commercial use. The open source fonts we are now discussing are, in most cases, more professional in quality than the novice, or “hobbyist” efforts discussed in the previous column.

Open source fonts are more than just free fonts – they are part of a movement, or a philosophy if you will, that strives towards making quality fonts freely available for both personal and professional use. Some are totally freeware, while others are shareware, which means they are free to download and use, but with a small fee or donation requested (some on the honor system) if you like and use the font. The best open source fonts are found on a handful of websites where the font collection is managed, as opposed to those sites that allow anyone to upload their fonts with little or no review, or filtering process. Most open source fonts are designed and intended for use on the web (Web fonts), but some are appropriate for print use as well.

Here is a list of some of the best, and most reliable sites for open source fonts:

Google Fonts

Google Fonts (previously called Google Web Fonts) is a broad collection of over 650 free fonts optimized for web use. They are hosted on Google’s servers, allowing easy access and usage for professional designers and web developers. According to Google, “All the fonts are Open Source. This means that you are free to share your favorites with friends and colleagues. You can even customize them for your own use, or collaborate with the original designer to improve that. And you can use them in every way you want, privately or commercially – in print, on your computer, or in your websites.”

One of the most visible design from the Google Font collection is Open Sans. Open Sans is a humanist sans serif typeface design contains five weights with corresponding italics, as well as three Condensed versions. It is neutral, yet friendly, and was designed to be highly legible across print, web, and mobile interfaces. Open Sans has become quite popular and can be seen in use on numerous websites.

A selection of Google Fonts offerings considered to be “trending.”

A sampling of Open Sans, a very popular open source font commissioned by Google.

The League of Moveable Type

The League of Moveable Type is dedicated to making available well-made, free and open source fonts for the web. Their website and all of their commentary and communications have a warm, personal tone. The League is dedicated to offering only beautifully crafted, hand-made typefaces, and therefore hand-pick their “contributors”, as they call them. They have an impressive Manifesto that describes their philosophy in great detail. They also have a newsletter, a blog, and weekly emailings in which they are completely forthright in their desire to support users who wish to open, examine, alter and modify characters or any aspect of the font. As they say, … if you ever want to add characters, or fix problems you find, that’s totally allowed. And gosh, we’d love it. There’s a lot we can’t always keep up with, and we totally want to encourage a real sense of collaboration and unity.”

Many of their fonts have become quite popular. A selection of their collection can be found on other websites, including Adobe Typekit (Adobe’s subscription font service) which reinforces their “typographic respectability,” if you will.

A collage of font offerings from The League of Moveable Type

League Gothic is a revival of Alternate Gothic #1, originally designed by Morris Fuller Benton for the American Type Founders Company in 1903. Since the original typeface was created before 1923, the typeface is in the public domain. This version is available from The League of Moveable Type.

Lost Type Co-op

Lost Type Co-op refers to themselves as a “collaborative digital type foundry”. Their collection contains over 50 fonts from contributors all over the world, and appear to be intended for any appropriate usage (as there doesn’t seem to be any reference to them being for web use only). Lost Type is dedicated to the idea that quality fonts should be made available to anyone wanting or needing type for their design. Truth be known, their fonts aren’t totally free: they encourage users to “pay what you want” for personal use, and post varying fees for commercial usage, with 100% of the funds going directly to their respective designer. The advantage of this is that you can use their fonts for a personal use or school projects for an optional small fee, as well as “try before you buy” for professional, client work, and pay for a commercial license once the font usage is finalized. The chosen payment is on the honor system, which hopefully its users will respect so that the designers will be rewarded for their work.

Dude Hank Pro is a two-version retro/western font family designed as companions to the 12 version Dude family, all available at Lost Type Co-op.D.LeagueKlinic Slab is a contemporary, versatile eight-weight family, also offered by Lost Type Co-op.

The Lost Type website is attractive and well-designed, with large graphics for each font offering, with designer bio easily accessible. A listing of the Lost Type Contributors is stylishly displayed, and includes their names, websites, and (in many cases) photos.

As I wrote earlier, these websites are what I consider to be the best of the open source sites, that is, their offerings are of general high-quality, and the sites are managed with integrity. If you come across other sites offering free fonts, choose prudently and with an appropriate caution – and reread Free Fonts first!

Ilene Strizver is a noted typographic educator, author, designer and founder of The Type Studio in Westport, Connecticut. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, is now in its 4th edition.
  • Jim Jordan says:

    Your first two paragraphs could be a lot more understandable if you did not equate “open source” with “free” and then go on to explain how open source is not always free. :) is not an open source font site.

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