Free fonts: Are they worth using?

Chair's picture

I want to know if any of you pros think free fonts are worth using.

I downloaded about 100 fonts from DaFont - the majority were poor; some were good; some were excellent. But according to some designers, free fonts never cut it.

What's your opinion on this? Is it nearly impossible to find good typefaces which are on par with commercial fonts, or not?

If anyone could put up links to good free font resources, I'd be grateful.

Anyway, I'm waiting for your responses.

Scott Thatcher's picture

Here's a link to one typophile resource: Good Libre Fonts. Maybe not quite what you're looking for, but a start. And this: FAQ Free Fonts. Perhaps the first list has too few and the second list has too many? You can also check out exljbris Font Foundry, which contains free and non-free typefaces often praised on typophile. I'll turn it over to someone more knowledgeable than me now.


Queneau's picture

I don't think you can generally say freefonts are good or bad. There are some excellent fonts out there that are free, some good display faces. And there is a lot of crap. What is often said is that you get what you paid for it. I don't neccesarily agree with this. I think sometimes freefonts can be useful, for instance for single use headlines in magazines, or for banners. And designers like Jos Buivenga give away some weights of their fonts for free, and they are brilliant.

As for freefont resources: this is hard as most offer illegal fonts as well, and no proper information on licencing. is quite good in this respect. And is OK as well. But always double check, and avoid websites like fontyukle and 1001fonts, as they offer lots of illegal and probably corrupted fonts.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

For basic display use: If we start by removing the free fonts that are rip-offs, the ones with messy outlines, no (or bad) kerning, uneven spacing, uneven weight, none of the necessary ligatures, no overshots, no optical corrections and the ones that doesn’t support basic Western European you still have a few left.

For more complex use: If you also remove the ones with no more then one weight, you’ve narrowed it down to a handful.

For screen use: Remove those who does not preform well on screen …

Next: Remove the plain ugly ones.

And there’s also how well they actually preform. No amateur could afford the testing that went into a professional problem solving typeface like Terminal Design’s Clearview.

aluminum's picture

The costs of digital products aren't always indicators of quality. Often they are, but not always.

blank's picture

Like Linux, free fonts are usually only free if your time is worth nothing. For example, if you like the fonts on The League of Movable Type’s sites, you first have to start downloading them and figure out which ones are actually finished. Because most of them aren’t. If you want to use the stuff you find on DaFont, you have to sift through the ninety-plus percent that are just student projects based on movie, comic book, or album logos. Then you have to narrow it down again, sifting for the ones that were actually drawn, spaced, and kerned correctly as opposed to just being spaced and kerned with no human intervention. Etc., etc., etc.. I would recommend just downloading the exLibris free fonts and not even bothering with the rest.

Nick Shinn's picture

As opposed to sifting through the silt for nuggets, your time would be better spent cultivating relationships with suppliers.
That is, if you have any professional aspirations.

This is a general principle of business.

aluminum's picture

"Like Linux, free fonts are usually only free if your time is worth nothing."

The problem with that analogy is that Ubuntu installs a lot quicker than Windows 7.

But, yea, one should consider the total cost. If you're spending time sifting through DaFont's offerings, that could easily cost more in time that a quality commercial face does in dollars.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

On the time is costly subject: Designing a magazine (or just about anything) with a font that requires tons of adjustments and modification to work isn’t cheap.

brianskywalker's picture

There are also quality open source fonts in the Google Font Directory.

rubenDmarkes's picture

There's also the articles being posted on the FontFeed (notice that's two articles, with apparently more to come, very interesting) and, as someone points out in one of the comments of one of those articles, there's Font Squirrel.

As for my own opinion as not a pro but a serious, interested onlooker, I believe everything has its place in the realm of graphic design; the hard part is making educated choices (because choices are always hard and education doesn't just fall on our lap) and making everything work. You could make a career and a name for yourself, if you so chose, just using free fonts. Hey, I believe someone already did, grunge style.

I think there's a lot more room for error than hardcore typophiles (myself included, note) might acknowledge. If you have a vision of what you're trying to create, then everything should come relatively easily and all the rules of classic typesetting need not (well not necessarily) apply.

kevintheophile's picture

Hey Chair,

Visit the too

It's a free totally legible font. It's "Arcus Regular" Arc Italic is free too.

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