TypeTalk: Are Free Fonts Worth the Price?

TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above. If Ilene answers your question in the blog, you’ll receive one Official Creativepro.com T-Shirt!

Q. What do you think of using free fonts for professional design jobs?

A. You get what you pay for. That said, there are some very good free fonts if you sort the wheat for the chaff.

Free fonts fall into three categories:
1. Fonts from type-design hobbyists
2. Pirated fonts
3. Fonts released by foundries or individual pro type designers

Hobbyist type designers, who create the first category, often don’t have the same training or experience as professional type designers. Therefore, free fonts from hobbyists may lack consistent letterforms and proper spacing and kerning. Even if you like the designs, use these faces at your own risk.

The second category consists of fonts have been stolen from other type designers and/or foundries. In some cases, the digital data is rearranged a bit, the design of a few characters changed ever so slightly, and the typeface name either altered slightly to sound like the original (such as Garabonde instead of Garamond) or totally changed. Because this kind of pirating denies the original designer the royalties they deserve, it is an extremely unethical practice. Other pirated fonts are stolen and reoffered for sale with no change to the font. No only is this practice unethical, it’s outright illegal.

Three’s a charm, and so it is with the third category of free fonts. It most often consists of legitimate, high-quality fonts from major foundries, usually offered when you open an account or sign up (no purchase required) with that foundry. Free fonts are also occasionally given as a bonus when you make a purchase.

You can browse for high-quality free fonts on fonts.com. The foundry also offers a free font of the month with every purchase.

Note that a foundry sometimes offers the Type 1 or TrueType format of a font for free but charges for the OpenType version. Also, be aware that some foundries will offer one or two weights of a larger family for free as a teaser, hoping you’ll want to purchase other weights. (Nothing wrong with that, though.)

myfonts.com has a boatload of well-designed free fonts. Scroll down past the first few with ‘free’ in their name to get to the truly free fonts.

FontShop also offers the occasional free font.

Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com. You can also follow Ilene on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted on: May 27, 2009

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

5 Comments on TypeTalk: Are Free Fonts Worth the Price?

  1. This is something we struggle with at my advertising agencies. The designers often download and try to use free fonts with their projects. More often than not, if they slip through the production process, we get a call from the print vendor saying the fonts can’t be used. Now we have strict rules in place that only a few people in the company have authority to OK new fonts and free fonts are forbidden (at least to the people who don’t know anything about fonts). We own more than 1000 fonts so we feel our decision to ban free fonts shouldn’t stifle creativity. So far so good.

  2. Ilene, thanks so much for all the great and informative information!! It’s the type everyone needs LOL!!! (Ooh couldn’t help it 🙂

  3. You can also use the price filter on MyFonts to find things with a price of $0 (or any other value, for that matter). For example: http://new.myfonts.com/search/lowest_price%3A%5B%2A+TO+0%5D/fonts/

  4. I went to the MyFonts link in this article where the free fonts were to be found. Many of the fonts that were listed as costing $0 actually showed a license option with a cost when clicked. Also several that were listed as $0 when clicked and added to the cart showed a cost when in the cart. Imagine my surprise when I went to check out that, even though all fonts added were supposedly free, the total came to over $1,000! The actual number of free fonts was small.

  5. When presented with this issue, MyFonts responded with the following:

    Some foundries offer certain formats of their fonts for $00.00, but charge for alternate formats. What may be happening is the system is defaulting to the format selected in your ‘Formats & Compatibility’ options.

    Generally, the OpenType format will be for $$$. You should be able to change the format options in the ‘Formats & Compatibility’ field. Once changed, the ‘free’ font should be set in your Shopping Cart.

    As we’re currently working on switching over to the new MyFonts website, you may find it easier to specify formats on the original site. You should be able to select the ‘Return to the old site’ link in the upper right corner of your browser window, then process your purchase on the old site. Searching for ‘free’ is similar, but you will be given the format selection option ‘before’ placing the item in to your Shopping Cart.

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