How to Choose and Maximize Use of Free Fonts

September 30, 2010 • By

Graphic designers understand their way around the Internet. With branding and graphic design becoming more and more important for companies, it is also becoming more highly competitive. To keep up with new software, new techniques and trends, graphic designers read design publications and network online at forums, blogs and design communities. One of the ways design websites encourage traffic is to offer designer freebies. Free fonts are an excellent way to offer valuable content and motivate graphic designers to subscribe to what the site has to offer.

Quality fonts are easy to come by, if you are willing to pay for them. However, signing up for the right blogs and forums could help you build your font database for free. There are plenty of websites that deliver all kinds of free fonts as long as you remain a subscriber.

Who doesn’t love free? Even if it is not a font you have a need for right now, having it in your font library could be beneficial for designs in the future. Even if the font is not attractive at first glance, there could be a design at some point that the font is the perfect accompaniment for.

Of course, for every positive there is a negative. The danger with storing and using free fonts is that a free font is much more likely to be overused than a font that designers need to invest in. An overused font is one you can recognize at a glance. If you see a font and can label it as Times Roman, Arial or Verdana, then that font is too common.

There are also fonts that are ridiculed in the design industry. It is important to understand what these are as well. If you are going to use a font like Comic Sans, you better have a really great reason. This font is evokes unfair, but fairly common disgust in the design community. Research a font before you use it to get some feedback about how the design is perceived in the community. Just because someone states that the free font is fun, new, creative and unique – does not make it so.

Also there is some confusion regarding just how free a font really is. There is a difference between a font and a typeface. The font is often offered as free, which means designers are allowed to use it in their designs. However, the typeface is still under copyright protection for the designer who created it. This means the font should not be edited or changed in any way. Some of the free fonts might have a licensing agreement that allows it to only be used privately, which means commercial design for the font is not okay. The majority of the freeware fonts are only free for personal use. Understanding the terms of usage for each font, free or not, is an essential part of using fonts in graphic design.

Another challenge that needs to be taken into consideration is the availability of free fonts. Even with millions of fonts available, it can be difficult for graphic designers to be free to use whatever font best works for them. The reason is that design is often restricted to fonts that the audience has available on their computer. If the targeted audience does not have the font loaded on their machine, the design might not be able to be read or will display incorrectly. Spending hours selecting the right colors, symbols, text and font might come to nothing if the end user is seeing something different than what you have designed.

So, now you are stuck with choosing between fonts that are readily available to your audience but that are not overused and tired. This makes selecting a font not only important, but also potentially frustrating. A great designer can find a way to include the chosen fonts as images so that they show up regardless of what fonts are installed on the receiving computer.

For graphic designers who do not understand the intricate nature of typesetting and font design, it is important to spend some time studying fonts. Designers need to understand the differences in serif and sans serif fonts, what makes a font and a typeface, what fonts are overused and how to balance different fonts. Without this knowledge, the fonts you think are wonderful may not send out the impression you were going for. There are plenty of free fonts available and adding them to your collection for future use is a good idea. However, understanding fonts and typography will stretch out the value of those free fonts even further.

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