Free fonts...?

Ryan Spilken's picture


I'm green to this site, and it seems like alot of you are very knowledgeable in the typographic arts.

My question is this:

What is the general consensus about the free fonts available online through sites such as I've used a few for effect here and there, and I'm wondering if anyone else has done the same. There are quite a few stinkers out there, but a couple of them are quite nice.


James Scriven's picture

All stinkers. . . you get for what you pay for. . . you will rarely come across some alright free fonts which is fine. If there is an EULA, read it. When I first started GD school I didnt even know the scope of fonts, but very quickly I came to learn that the free ones arnt really worth it. You may find something that works for display text, but I would be hesitant to set body of text with what Ive found for free out there.

Make sure its not a rip off of someone else's hard work. Type in "free fonts" in the typophile seach box, youll find plenty of threads/nodes regarding this subject.

What are you using the fonts for? What is your desire for the font?

BEst advice, take a look at some of the top typeface design sites and see what you think of those faces vs. the free ones you have come across.

Off the top of my head: (affordable for the most part)

There are lots of very respectable good type houses out there.

I hope im on the right track on this answer, any more seasoned typophilers please correct me if im wrong.



Quincunx's picture

I've used some free fonts here and there. But most of them are quite horrible. But I know a couple that are rather good.

paul d hunt's picture


lots of links there to threads discussing the pros and cons.

Ryan Spilken's picture

I only use them as display type, never body.

I understand the difference in quality between the free and the pro's. However, as a student who has more ideas than dollars, I've found them to be indespensible for projects and my own work (band flyers, etc).

The threads you've pointed out and some other sites are great.

James Scriven's picture

Ryan, Im not sure where you go to school, but ask around with the mac lab and teachers, assuming you have one. My school supplies a collection of good typefaces for students, under the basis that its used primarily for student work. Its tempting at first to use elsewhere, but it only takes a few GD classes to respect the art and effort put into the design.

Ive had success also purchasing only the singular weight of a font needed for much less than the entire family.

elizabeth_355's picture

Almost all fonts for TeX are free. The Lucida font family is not, but there is a discount for members of the TeX Users Group -

oldnick's picture

All stinkers… you get for what you pay for…

Disinclined as I am to making categorical statements--if, for no other reason than they are a primary source of many of the world's miseries--I am nonetheless fascinated by the conviction with which they are often uttered.

More to the point, if one gets what one pays for, what is the threshold of worth in a font? Is ten dollars too little to pay, and thus the font is crap? Is a forty-dollar font twice as good as a twenty-dollar font, and an eighty-dollar font twice as good as the forty dollar one and four times better than the twenty-dollar font? Curious minds want to know...

Miss Tiffany's picture

There needs to be a distinction made, somehow. It seems to me there are a few different kinds of "free" fonts. Total crap, Great but promotional, and Open Source. There are many open source as well as promotional free fonts which are really good and nothing to sneeze at.

dezcom's picture

Promotional free fonts are usually samples, one weight from a larger family, and work to whet ones appetite for the purchase of the rest. They are every bit as good as the type family they come from. Even though they are free, I don't think they should be included as true members of the free font jenre.


Jackie Frant's picture

This is where I seem to always step in.

Free fonts are not necessarily free.
Many ask that if you are going to use their fonts for commercial purposes that you pay a licensing fee. (One French designer I know will take payment in international beers.)

Are free fonts any good? Well guess what - some are. Where would we be without Scriptina, Harrington, Base 02 or the ever-popular Alba?

Are all commercial fonts good? NO.

Do we all pay in the end? You betcha!

dezcom's picture

The "you get what you pay for" saying may not apply litterally in this case. You have to compare apples to apples. A $50 opentype Pro font from a text family with very full Character and feature set may be actually worth more than 5 times that of a $10 type 1 display face with only a basic character set. A face by a top notch designer may be worth much more than a comparable one by a barely skilled one.
The statement may better be said "sometimes you get what you paid for, but sometimes you get screwed and sometimes you get a bargain." The educated consumer has a better chance at coming out ahead or at least even.


metalfoot's picture

And I haven't seen note of Manfred Klein's vast repository of free fonts in this thread yet; again, hit-and-miss, but there's lots to sort through.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Many of those fonts have questionable genealogy.

BruceS63's picture

There are some nice ones, but they usually have only one or two weights or one weight and an italic, so they are not complete enough to use for either a large-scale project or on an ongoing basis. So with very few exceptions, you're better off going with a face you pay for anyway (see myriad reasons above).

AndrewSipe's picture

There are many open source as well as promotional free fonts which are really good and nothing to sneeze at.

Miss T: What are some of these Open Source fonts?

Miss Tiffany's picture

Andrew, I was specifically think of Gentium.

AndrewSipe's picture

This was the only time I saw anything about Open Source Fonts: (it was linked thru from Ellen Lupton's site.)

I didn't know if there were others out there or not.

Thomas Phinney's picture

Gentium is great, but it doesn't have the base four styles (regular, italic, bold, bold italic).



Miss Tiffany's picture

That's true, Thomas, which doesn't make it particularly useful for most projects.

cuttlefish's picture

I don't understand why there is so much hate here for free fonts.
Sure, most of them are not particularly useful to professional designers, and many are poorly constructed, but that does not mean that all free fonts are wholly without merit. A quirky display font can be quite handy for a quick logotype or for slapping a slogan on a soda cup. Not every font has to work in columns of dense text, but even then there are some free fonts that can do the job.

Dan Gayle's picture

The Greek Font Society has the best free fonts I've ever run across. Opentype, with full character sets and typographic extras like small caps. All are Greek fonts, but most have full Latin support.

They're released under the Open Font License, the same as Gentium.

Name me any other source that provides this many free USEABLE TEXT faces. I doubt you can. I amazed that I've never seen mention of these typefaces before.

dezcom's picture

What is a "quick" logotype? and why must a "slapped slogan" be done in poor type? There are plenty of display faces out there for sale. Going the freefont route is not required for display work.


James Scriven's picture

of course its not, however from the poster of this topic he stated that he was using the faces as display as so many free out there cannot be set at text sizes legibly.

dezcom's picture

I was refering to the post by cuttlefish.


cuttlefish's picture

That work can be done quickly does not imply that it must be done poorly.

I worked for a while at a rather low-end sign shop. We'd bill $60 an hour for design work beyond very basic typesetting (which in the case of signs is typically anything beyond a business name and tagline plus address and phone number). With clients that often balked at paying over $200 for a pair of truck magnets (and few who would spring for more than a half hour of design fees), some shortcuts had to be taken. Even under those conditions I strove to do work I could take pride in.

I'm not denying there are a lot of bad fonts out there, and though there ought to be some measure of quality control, some of those do get out through commercial channels, just as there are a handful of masterful works that their designers choose to distribute for free.

Choz Cunningham's picture

free != poor

Choz Cunningham's picture

Is there an open peer-rated font review site? Something like Slashdot's thread moderation, or Gamefaq's stars would be nice. A font could be voted up for fullness, craftmanship and/or style (separated ratings), or down for a lack thereof.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
The Snark

muzzer's picture

But yours are free Choz mate, do you think that they are poor? That seems a bit weird.


cuttlefish's picture

Like a Hot or Not for fonts?

dezcom's picture

Maybe that Simon guy on the news for his "American Idol" critiques would be the judge? :-)


Linda Cunningham's picture

Nah, The Donald as design arbiter.... ;-)

Miss Tiffany's picture

I do not "hate" free fonts. The problems I have with free fonts are three-fold.

1. The quality of most free fonts--quality including glyph-set--is not useful to me.
2. Most of them aren't appropriate to the type of work I do either.
3. Those that are actually rip-offs of work done by other hard-working type designers. (So perhaps in this instance you could use the word hate.)

James Scriven's picture

dez my mistake

Dan Weaver's picture

I just did a logo for a client and used Formata for the text face for the business card. What Formata gave me was the options to use small caps or regular or medium or light formats. Another words choices, something free fonts don't give you.

oldnick's picture

While the arbiters of taste here, and the oh-so-clever folks in this thread are bashing free fonts, there might be a few salient points you might want to consider...

First off, for many of the people who make these fonts, it's a learning experience; as such, beginner's mistakes are to be expected and, unless you played the Minute Waltz flawlessly in 57 seconds the first few times you attempted it, the mistakes should be tolerated as well. Some fontmakers improve their skills with time, some don't. Some is not all--even most is not all; so, please, can the categorical statements.

Secondly, just because a particular font may not suit your purposes doesn't mean that it doesn't suit someone's purpose. I cannot begin to tell you how many emails I have received from underfunded nonprofits, churches, youth groups and the like, thanking me--sometimes blessing me--for providing them with free fonts to dress up their projects. And it's not only organizations with limited means who have used them: Turner Classic Movies (print ads), Warner Brothers Television (props in Blue Collar TV and Smallville), the Tank McNamara comic strip--even PBS (program titles for a Soul Stars of the 70s special)--have all found appropriate uses for some of my freeware fonts. I also cannot begin to tell you how many people have "appropriated" my free fonts and packaged and sold them for profit, without asking and without sharing those profits.

So, maybe it's time to lighten up on the freeware folks. Respect, I realize, is out of the question, but the common courtesy of consideration on a case-by-case basis, rather than wholesale dismissal, is not, I believe, too much to ask.

cuttlefish's picture

I couldn't have said it better myself, oldnick, as evidenced by my atempts.

Thylacine's picture

There's nothing inherently wrong with free fonts, but neither is their anything wrong with free food or a free haircut. The problem is that free just doesn't get you much most of the time. Yes, there might be a few higher-quality fonts available, but this still doesn't alter the fact that most are near junk.

  • Most free fonts were slapped together by amateurs.
  • Many free fonts are simply scanned and and sloppily converted.
  • Most free fonts lack attention to detail and precision.
  • Most free fonts lack a decent set of kerning pairs.
  • Most free fonts do not come in various weights or italics.
  • Most free fonts do not contain a reasonably complete character set.
  • Many free fonts are rip-offs of other people's work.
  • Most free fonts lack good (if any) hinting.
  • Many free fonts have far too many control points (usually as a result of converted scans).
  • And most are just, umm, ugly.

A couple of my older commercial Type 1 fonts regularly show up on free font sites after others have opened them and simply resaved them in another format (with or without minor tweaks) and uploaded them to the Internet. I've opened some of these stolen fonts and most even have my copyright informations still embedded in them.

I've sometimes used a free font for display work, but I could count on one hand the times when I've really been impressed by what I've found. It takes weeks or months to design and built a decent, high-quality font — there might be a few talented hobbyists out there willing to give away that kind of work, but I'm stumped as to why. On the other hand, if you want a grungy or special look of some kind for a word here and there, sure, by all means use a free font if you can find one that works. Just try be careful about it really being freeware and not a simply mislabeled piece of stolen software.

Dan Gayle's picture

It's worth tossing into this discussion the thread I started in the General Forum:
Joke Font Something Awful page

(Is about free fonts. Funny as it gets...)

dan_reynolds's picture

>And it’s not only organizations with limited means who have used them:
>Turner Classic Movies (print ads), Warner Brothers Television
>(props in Blue Collar TV and
>Smallville), the Tank McNamara comic strip—even PBS (program
>titles for a Soul Stars of the
>70s special)—have all found appropriate uses for some of my freeware fonts.

These (with the possible exception of PBS) are exactly the people that should be using licensed fonts! Imagine if their graphics departments would decided that all of their print ads, comic strips, or film titles should just use free fonts.

>I also cannot begin to tell you how many people have “appropriated” my free fonts
> and packaged and sold them for profit, without asking and without sharing those
> profits.

Doesn't this discourage one from wanting to put more free fonts into the world?

Choz Cunningham's picture

"!=" is geek shorthand for "not equal". I was responding to Chris's assumption that a free font was automatically a poor font, if it was appropriate for quick/slapped on use. I couldn't find the html code for a slashed equals sign, so I used the ascii equivalent. It comes from some programming language, where "!=" defines one variable as NOT being another.

As someone who has released more free fonts than commissioned and commercial faces, I will admit that the quality is erratic. Even though I release free display types specifically to fight the stereotype of small character sets, rip-offs, and other lameness, They don't get all the love the $ fonts do. For revivals, I try to be very caring however, since I'm not otherwise honoring the original's design. That's why I have only one so far.

Yes, I think so. maybe I can mock something up like what I mean. I'm not too good with interactive db-driven sites, but I might be able to cobble some sort of example where people could moderate fonts on build quality.

I think the consensus was nailed in your own OP.

I don't think this is simply a board of free-font haters. I find the knee-jerk venomous reactions amusing. Appreciating free fonts is truly a conflict of interest for some people. Others just happen to hate corny decorative faces, which are often free. And some folks are more into the function than form, too.

I agree with you on every point. As for your question of why, here's a long answer (italicized for those who want to skip it):

When I was younger I was crazy for Nick's and Ray's fonts. Even though I then had no idea who they wer, or that they were even alive. ;) The idea that you could do what they made possible was exciting and in the end, inspiring. I feel the world looks better, literally, for their input. (In fact, finding out that many of the most important people in type design are alive now is astoundingly cool.)

Free is an easy way to get them out there. And seeing one's faces used is titillating. I would never have used one of my decorative faces for setting long poems on a web page, but someone has. I don't know if anyone but the author and I see it as she envisioned it, but it was ...interesting. And probably still better than using the same old, "workhorses".

There is also something amazing that in this industry, I didn't need to be a "font merchant" to receive sincere recognition. I haven't won mass awards, but then I haven't paid to enter the comps, either. The indirect encouragement of Ray Larabie, Fontplayer, Luc Devroye and others has affected me profoundly. I feel I am a far more cogent artist these days.

Last, I do things that are pointedly experimental, and that I consider more art than design; to me, giving them away sometimes simply feels right. There are quality free text fonts out there as well (documented above), I imagine the reasoning is as varied as as the designers, and as complicated as my own.

Although I release free fonts under very liberal licenses for use, and sometimes modification, it has still actually led to some paid licensing. Had they been commercial only, they might never have had the exposure to create that demand. The free fonts have also led to very fun commissions.

Choz Cunningham
!Exclamachine Type Foundry
The Snark

Choz Cunningham's picture

"These (with the possible exception of PBS) are exactly the people that should be using licensed fonts! Imagine if their graphics departments would decided that all of their print ads, comic strips, or film titles should just use free fonts."

They are using licensed fonts, no?

dan_reynolds's picture

>They are using licensed fonts, no?

Well, only they can know really know that. But licensed fonts or not, I'd be willing to bet that whoever designs their materials 1) gets paid for doing so, 2) is designing on a computer that was purchased and not donated, and 3) uses software from Adobe and Microsoft, etc., rather than OpenSource alternatives.

But when it comes to fonts, there is no point in investing much money or paying the designer, right?

Choz Cunningham's picture

I'm simply pointing out that if they are using freeware fonts, they are still using them within the terms of a license. So, no foul there.

If you find exactly what you need for free, legally and honestly, there is very little point in paying the designer. But the number of free type designers is shrinking, I hear. And a very small # of people pay anyway, presumably for the same reason the designers give the type away.

That big businesses should have to pay, but that PBS or "the little guy" shouldn't is a political view that I happen to mostly agree with, but it is just a viewpoint, and what some other designer does with his own work isn't subject to my paradigm. There is no Font Recording Artist Association to buy us laws, fix prices, create racketeering schemes, sue grandmothers and force manditory payment systems. If there were, we wouldn't even have this conversation, as the free fonts would be buried in a avalanche of hype for the pay ones.

I personally prefer what we have now, I think. It looks like it is the leftover copyrightless mess from when the obsolete metal-based foundries of the past assumed that media-industry like protection would have only hindered them.

Jackie Frant's picture

BTW - you are right that many of the free fonts were experiments by people who are new to this field. (Let's not talk about the blatant rip-offs and copyright infringements.)

However, if you find a type designer you can recommend they contact What the Font. Several up and coming designers have, and their works are now being offered for sale (granted minimum -- like as low as $6 per font) but, it is affordable and I believe helps the designer have a sense of credibility.

And everytime I think the shareware guys are shrinking - a new High School Freshman chimes in...

oldnick's picture

These (with the possible exception of PBS) are exactly the people that should be using licensed fonts!

I beg to differ; I submit that a designer is doing his or her job properly if the choice of font, regardless of its cost, is appropriate to the assignment. In the case of Smallville, the assignment was to produce a banner that one would expect to see at a high school dance. Would a high school student head to Veer and drop 80 bucks for a font, or would he or she scope out the free stuff? I think the designer understood--and executed--the assignment perfectly.

In the case of Blue Collar TV and Tank McNamara, the font of choice was Team Spirit, a "jock" font, the particular style of which--until I released an improved commercial version named Boola Boola last year--wasn't available anywhere else, at any price. Again, the use was entirely appropriate to the purpose at hand.

Naturally, I would prefer that, all things being equal, designers would purchase my commercial fonts rather than use my free fonts. But all things are not always equal, and sometimes the free font is the better choice. If the shoe fits, wear it; if the font works, use it.

Dan Gayle's picture

I think the awesome thing about free fonts is that they enable someone, say a student designer, to learn without cost. I'm a student. I'm poor. So what did I do? I went free font hunting. But after downloading everything in existence, looking and examining them to see their letterforms and character sets, and printing out a sample I came to a scary conclusion:

There are two reasons that people can charge for fonts. Those reasons are called knowledge and skill. (Aside from time and overhead, etc.) The skill in gently crafting the bowl of a lowercase b. The knowledge of exactly where the lines of perfect geometry need to be broken to make a letterform appear perfectly geometric. Etc., etc.

But that doesn't change one pertinent fact: What a type designer chooses to charge for his/her work is none of my damn business.

And if someone like Nick here wants to give/sell cheaply his work and it fits the criteria of the design I'm doing, why would I complain?

Ryan Spilken's picture

This is really great discourse, everyone. I greatly appreciate it.

As I am not yet a paid professional, the access to a greater pallette of options has meant the difference between a lackluster project and one that shows attention to detail. When it is time to enter the working world, I would be much more satisfied paying my peers for their hard work than taking what I can get for free.

Also, there is a font called Accidental Presidency that I found on a free site that I really like. Is that a hack?

muzzer's picture

Choz: Muzz != clever.


Choz Cunningham's picture

from the profile:

"tepidmonkey at gmail dot com

....Just send an email to the above address and I`ll get back to you.


December 30, 2006"

That's pretty recent, so the addy is likely good. If you ask the developer, you might get more details than you even want as to the source, inspiration, etc. A hack might deny it, but I imagine a "sampler" "mash-up artist" or "remixer" would be pretty open, as would an original artist.

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