Best choice of free fonts for academic writing, MAC OSX

ycherem's picture

I was just wondering: is it even possible to have a decent academic writing (i.e., not too fancy) typeset on MAC OSX’s bundled/native fonts and/or free fonts?

Somehow all the fonts available for running text on MAC OSX seem to have a weird deficiency — weird final forms of Hoefler Text (which has only black, no bold), ugly bold Baskerville, too-fancy Cochin, too-common (read: boring and unappealing) Helvetica and Times, Bodoni only 72 pt, and the list goes on.

I haven’t found free fonts out there much more reassuring (a possible exception is Gentium).

And by the way: no, I won’t pay $100 for a font, as I’m not a designer and make no money from it.

Is it advisable to just stop caring about fonts?

hrant's picture

How much do you pay monthly for using your cellphone?


Joshua Langman's picture

You could try Crimson Text, which is free. It seems to be essentially a Minion lookalike, but at least the designer acknowledges that.

ycherem's picture

@hrant That’s a good question. (I’d just rephrase it, because I just spend less than 10 dollars a month on my cellphone.)

Let me put it another way, than: what is a better choice for a nice (read: beyond acceptable or commonplace) academic work commercial typeface?

I’ve just been in doubt, when and if I spend, between Karmina, Calluna and Skolar. I just want to be sure that I’m buying something that lasts and that I can set a lot of text with.

hrant's picture

The problem is for somebody like you who is clearly
sensitive to typography, the more affordable a font
the more "boring" it will be, by virtue of its ubiquity.

I guess keep looking for the right font that's affordable
to you. And keep in mind that it's not just a matter of
taste, the adequacy of a choice will depend on a number
of technical factors.


ycherem's picture

I guess you’re straight to the point. As years have passed, it’s not just a matter of casual taste anymore. All I know is that in an extremely text-based working environment, 90% of working text I see on a daily basis is plain ugly, and of course I’m not talking just about font choice. When I see the history of design professor of my faculty show no knowledge of basic typographic rules in her own writings, and people who can’t even use Word properly, I have to struggle to keep my mouth shut. Even so, it would be desirable to present my students with proper (though amateurish and far from perfect), more acceptably typeset texts.
I guess I can just ask the author of those fonts which will serve my purposes better?
Thanks a lot for you reply.

hrant's picture

Ask us too. :-)

For example, comparing Karmina and Skolar,
the former is larger on the body, which means
it's better for smaller point sizes, which in turn
implies a few other things, like text length, ideal
column width, economy, etc...


charles ellertson's picture

Have you considered that both Karmina and Skolar are "trendy," and there is no guarantee they'll stay popular?

If we're talking years for a time frame, I'd say no.

ycherem's picture

I’ll use 11-12 for body text; 16-point (I guess) for headings; I’m not sure if it will mostly be one or two columns; mostly a4 (or letter-size) and presumably a5 size paper for reports, articles, a few books and an academic journal in the near future.

I’m not sure what you mean by “text length” and "economy", though.

I saw Karmina and Karmina Sans used in the latest Norwegian Bible and I just got thrilled.

hrant's picture

The length of the text creates pressure in terms of both
the readability of the font and the cost of production,
with fonts that are large on the body handling small
point sizes (read: economical setting) better, but at a
certain cost to readability, since extenders are valuable.


ycherem's picture

I don’t exactly want them to be popular (and of course not forever popular). I’ve never seen them in any publications in Portuguese, and certainly not in academic ones. What caught my attention is that they seem to be “sturdy” and fit to purpose, they’re not too weak for imperfect printing conditions. Otherwise I’d have chosen what still seems to be the favorites for book publications here: Electra, Fairfield, or a personal favorite, New Caledonia. In fact, given the subject matter, I’d consider any of those three (art books in Garamond, Sabon or Minion, I’ve seen a lot of them).

charles ellertson's picture

No one seems to be helping anymore.

Which academic disciplines? Most of us would use different fonts for the social sciences than for literature -- esp. classical literature -- with the physical sciences having other considerations.

I' d agree that the PostScript renditions of Electra, New Caledonia, and Fairfield are unfortunate.

You may find that the Libre fonts require you to license FontLab (there is an academic yearly rate now), to attend to a few details, esp. kerning. That fee may be higher than the licensing fee for a couple families, but the skill in being able to tailor fonts to your needs is, like the credit card advertisement, priceless.

For example, take a look at Alegreya

It's a Google font, so free. It is pretty complete, but needs kerning (and the small caps put into the main font) and best if it had some OT features.

Nice enough for literature.

For social sciences, I'd use (in fact I have, professionally, on a couple books selected for the AAUP book show) Charis, worked over.


Andreas Stötzner's picture

> is it even possible to have a decent academic writing [?]

“If you can dream of it, you can do it.”

The issue of font choice for academic editing can be sliced down to several questions worth of consideration, and of differentiation.
– What good practice is kinda established in a certain field of study?
– What character repertoire is required?
– What font functionality is wanted?
– What typographic style is preferred?

Maybe you gather from that listing that the matter is fairly complex. You scientists ought to have a predilection for that sort of thing. So let’s go ahead.
(Just for the records: those of you asking us for “where do I get everything for nothing” – just re-think about your choice of forum).

Just a few thoughts upon this …

– If you are clever enough, you can nowadays exploit your average system font collection to a much higher degree than this would have been possible ten years ago. Chapeau.

– You may well be better off if you can determine exactly what you actually need. Hence, this gives you a certain position for then searching the wild … and finding something appropriate.

– If you ever happen to find fonts of interest which leave *something* to be desired in terms of your specific needs, consider this: fonting is a very demanding business: conception, research, design, crafting, encoding, feature programming, mastering, editing, testing, distribution, support, …
I’m sure you’re not expecting to get all this at a $9,99 ticket, or just for free.

Everyone at the academies expect from their computers (and fonts) that just happens what they want to happen. But academies still hardly consider what is actually neccessary for the fonts to perform like it is wanted. Few exceptions of course, not to mention all the nerds who are labouring during dark hours on their own …
However, I maintain that – in a rather broad perspective – our academies still need to realize what potential actually lies in script science and fonting development. A potential the big share of it is still unearthed to the very day. But ‘typography’ has no reputation as a true academic discipline. There is no logic behind that, it is just an old habit.
The dark side of that moon is: requests like “which is the proper font choice for my dissertation?” are ever more increasing nowadays, as far as I can tell.

Just my 2 pence.

Renaissance Man's picture

Lido; 9 fonts; free

Crimson; 6 fonts; free; also available here:

As far as I can tell, Alegreya is not kerned.

charles ellertson's picture

As far as I can tell, Alegreya is not kerned.

I believe that's correct. At least, in the fonts I downloaded. It seems to be set up for what the web currently supports. Aside from kerning (not finished yet), I made some alternate characters that I prefer. Having said that, it reminds me somewhat of Quadraat, and I suspect it will print quite well.

To me, Crimson has some issues -- on a personal level, as much work as Alegreya for less gain -- but of course, we have a large number of commercial fonts available. Most all the libre fonts need some work, which of course, the license allows. As far as that goes, most of the commercial fonts need some work too, esp. in kerning.

flooce's picture

Adobe Utopia under the name of Heuristica/Evristica

Andreas Stötzner's picture

> Lido
An approach I quite like, actually.
But the char. coverage is very limited, the positioning of accents is very poor in many cases. I’d say this forbids it for scientific editing.

> Crimson
From what I see on the site referenced: humble drawing, bad spacing, very limited coverage; altogether good value for money.

I don’t see any possible reason for choosing fonts like this instead of the – free – workhorses which are already on your system.

If you’re looking for something free *and* decent, rather look for Cardo, Junicode, Linux Libertine.

Renaissance Man's picture

Andreas: good comments!

Cardo & Junicode are not kerned. Neither is Charis.

Libertine is a great find! But with 33 fonts in the package, why is there no BI Biolinum?

brianskywalker's picture

You might consider Georgia. A workhorse face present on almost every system. It was designed by Matthew Carter for on-screen use, and the same features that make it robust for screen use make it work well in print at smaller sizes. It has more subtlety than you might expect, too.

ycherem's picture

Thanks for all the comments. They helped me figure some things out. Unfortunately I fear I might not have the skills for kerning those fonts (if Latex could do that for me, fine, but I fear not). I didn't know they were not kerned, I guess that's why they feel awkward sometimes when read texts set in Junicode, for instance. Charis is fine but its leading is just too wide.

I've tried using some fonts already on my system, just for tests, and haven't found much of a combination of serif and sans serif; the fact that Hoefler Text does not come with a bold, but only black, would force me to use another font for headings, am I wrong? (That is, presuming headings to be bold.)

I've tried Stone Sans Semi-Bold and Baskerville, it seems unusual. Heuristica/Utopia is really nice though, for both screen and print.

I've downloaded a trial InDesign and I'm trying out some of their bundle fonts (hopefully the InDesign my University department ordered will arrive someday next year...)

When in doubt, maybe just the usual Myriad + Minion is a fall-back option.

charles ellertson's picture

Charis is fine but its leading is just too wide.

??? Do you really mean leading? Pretty sure you can change the leading in LaTeX... You can in plain TeX, which I used for years, with our own set of macros. That's all LaTeX is, TeX with a bunch of macros...

At some level, if you really care about typography, you will have to address font editing programs. Most of us start with kerning (which you can do in plain TeX) and move on.

You do not need bold for headings. I frequently don't use bold for either subheads or chapter heads. Type size, extra white space, etc. are all alternatives to bold, and often give a much more harmonious page.

Again, if you care, you're going to have to get a notion about the elements of interior design. I'd recommend Rich Hendel's book On Book Design. Rich is interested in how designers think, not a set of rules. Books about design that are *prescriptive* -- a set of rules -- may give you a start, but if such rules would always work, design could end with a program, and the profession wouldn't be needed.

* * *

You may not care enough about such things to study them, but curiosity is never ending. I spent an hour with Donald Knuth at ATypI in Boston, and all we talked about was organs (the musical instrument). That man's range of interests is incredible...

ycherem's picture

Yes, I mean leading. The space between lines, right? I suspect it's built into Charis because people who use it may use a lot of stacked diacritics.

Té Rowan's picture

I may be wrong, but I think SIL has for download a version of Charis with less leading for when diacrit highrises are not a concern.

hrant's picture

That's not leading, that's talus. :-)


marcox's picture

Gandhi Serif and Sans seem to be handsome, well-built, sober designs (originally created for a Mexican publisher of the same) that might suit your needs:

Té Rowan's picture

@hrant – May well be. I haven't looked at the metrics.

ycherem's picture


Ghandi Serif and Sans seem to be “sober” and “well-built”, but, seeing the previous posts, how do I know if I have to deal with Ghandi’s kerning or just use it as it is? (Is the same true for Heuristica?)

Renaissance Man's picture

Gandhi Serif R has 8475 kerning pairs.
Gandhi Sans R has 4799 kerning pairs.
You decide how to deal with it.

ycherem's picture

“You decide how to deal with it” is not very constructive advice. If I knew how to deal with it, I wouldn’t have asked.

Renaissance Man's picture

If you were concerned that the font may have had NO kerning, that is something you may have had to deal with and could use advice on.

Since the font does have extensive kerning tables, other people can express their opinions, but the best one to decide if it fits your needs is you.

Heuristica is kerned.

ycherem's picture

OK, now I got it. Thanks a lot!

mars0i's picture

What about
URW Garamond No. 8 (I've come to appreciate it quite a bit.)
EB Garamond (Has some issues that even I notice, but I like it.)

Té Rowan's picture

Doesn't harm with Garamond No8 that the Arkandis Digital Foundry has bashed together a support package for it with four fonts (R/I/B/BI) of smallcaps and OS digits. The package covers Classico (Optima) and Palladio (Palatino) as well.

Note: It's based on the Aladdin-licensed fonts.

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