Author’s Note: Though some of these sites do offer free fonts, not all free fonts are licensed for commercial use. Always make sure to review license agreements, especially if you plan on using a font commercially (believe me, type designers have copyrights, too; and also believe me when I say they can recognize their own work). Honestly, if you want to use a particular font really, really badly, just buy it.
If you’re a designer, chances are high that you will incorporate text in all or most of your work. Though PCs and Macs have a fairly decent selection of built-in fonts (Adobe Creative Suite also has some nice ones), there can be something appealing in using a font that is a little rare in the design world. A well-chosen font (the technical design term is typeface) can add a lot of impact to a design. In general, typography is critical in many designs (imagine a newspaper using the same font-size and style for headlines and stories!), and the selection of a font should be considered as important as the size, spacing, and placement.
So, without further ado, here is a list of 5 sensational sites I like to use when searching for a unique font.
Arguably one of the most popular sites I have ever seen for downloading fonts, FontSquirrel is a boon for one simple reason: all the fonts are licensed for commercial use! Boosting literally thousands of individual fonts in varying styles and weights — and even kits (or groups of fonts, known as font families or typeface families) for those of use who find importance in the differences between demibold and extra-bold weights — you’re guaranteed to find something you’ll like for any number of commercial projects.
Though the current selections include only about 65 different font families, the quality of these designs is astounding. One of my favorite aspects of this site is that several of the fonts are designed using the Cryllic alphabet (used by countries like Russia); this is great for the international designer, and can also add a bit of flair to Roman (or “Western”) words. Not all the fonts are free, but I’ve noticed many of the licensing fees are relatively low (given that some fonts can run well over $200). So, if you’re in the market for something unique yet pragmatic for your next project, why not take a look at Fontfabric?
As it’s name implies, Fontspring is a virtual mecca of fonts, from a variety of foundries (agencies that design fonts) and type designers (typographers aren’t necessarily type designers,though it is debated whether the reverse is true — but more on that in a later article). There are roughly 250 free fonts from various families, and a whopping 4700 font families on the site; add the numerous styles, 8+ for most, and that results in tens of thousands of fonts. Prices vary, but each font comes with two licenses: one for use on your desktop (when working on a project), and one for use on a website. Generally, these licenses require two different purchases, often at two different costs. If you do both print and web design, this is definitely an upside, especially in terms of branding and identity. The downside: website licenses only allow for 500,000 page views; if you’re expecting extremely high-volume traffic, also expect to keep purchasing licenses.
The selection is small, but considering the entire foundry is actually one man, the work is impressive. To be honest — I’m a bit of a typophile — Museo is one of my favorite fonts, and works great for light, airy, and less-than-formal designs. Though not all the “well crafted” fonts are free, many of Jos’ font families are available for under $150 dollars, which is worth the price when you consider that many families have 10+ styles. All in all, Jos’ style and designs are invigorating, and would work well on a wide variety of projects. If you’re looking for something classy, unique, and modern, this site should definitely be on your list.
Is there anything that Google doesn’t do? I admit, aside from Google Chrome and Gmail, I try to avoid Google whenever possible (which, to make a completely irrelevant comment, is getting harder to do). But, I was quite taken when I stumbled upon the Google Web Fonts project. The number of families is growing (as everything Google tends to do), and the best part: everything is free! I mean everything: the license is free for commercial use; there are no distribution limits; you can even modify the entire font (FYI, modification is generally a big no-no in type design)! And for anyone who’s ever struggled with finding a unique font suitable for website display (PCs, mobile, tablets, etc.), you’ll be happy to know that “Web Fonts” refers to web-safe fonts (more on web-safe fonts in a later article). So, as much as I shudder to give Google kudos, I have to give them double kudos for developing and progressing this project.
So, there you have it: five sensational sites to find, download, and (maybe) purchase fonts. Thanks for reading!