Free vs Paid Fonts: Finding The Right Typography for Your Website

Free vs. Paid Fonts: Finding The Right Typography for Your Website

While content on the web takes many forms including motion graphics, video, and much more; good ol' fashioned text will always be the primary method for getting your message across. Fonts and typography present an opportunity for your website to be expressive, visually engage your visitors, and represent your brand's image and styling. As a result, finding the right font for your site and brand is more important than you might think, especially since navigating the world of fonts can be surprisingly tricky.

Generally speaking, there are three primary categories when referring to fonts:

1. Default System Fonts
2. Free Fonts
3. Paid Fonts

System Fonts

First there are system fonts. System fonts include the classics like Arial and Times New Roman, which are default web fonts that come standard across every Mac/PC:

system font example

Web developers are typically fans of system fonts. They like them because they display consistently across different browsers and computers and minimize confusion when coding for various users across the web.

However, if your website requires a font that is more expressive than trusty Arial, you will need to do some research through various font-hubs to find the right one for you. The most fundamental distinction that you will need to make is whether a free font will meet your site's needs or if you are in need for a more premium, paid font that costs money.

Free Fonts

As you can see below, the quality of free fonts can greatly vary:

free fonts good vs bad

However, If you're searching for free typography for your site, Google fonts offers a free library of hundreds of open-source fonts that are typically quite decent. Google maintains a certain standard of quality for the fonts that are posted and, as a result, the majority of them are quite nice.

On the contrary, there are also plenty of other websites out there offering free fonts that could only be considered lackluster at best.

Bad Free Font

Typefaces like these are often poorly designed, developed, and can actually come across as generally cheesey - not something you want for your brand's logo or scattered throughout your marketing collateral.

However, if you do obtain a decent font from a free font library like Google Fonts, you are still likely encounter one very disruptive problem: the lack of family.

font family example

A font family includes all of a given font's variations including its style (roman and italic), serif-use, weight (thin, light, regular, book, semi bold, bold, extra bold, heavy and black), and horizontal scale (extended and condensed). Without the full font family at your disposal, your design options will be significantly limited, especially when creating marketing collateral that often calls for different font variations.

Free fonts unfortunately include a couple of other snags as well:

High usability - Wouldn't it be a drag to notice the font that you thought was unique to your brand was plastered all over the web? Free fonts have a high rate of usability, which can certainly dilute your branding efforts.

Bad key adjustments - If a font has poor key adjustments, this means that it has improper spacing between different groupings of letters. You might find that your lowercase y might be awkwardly far away from your o, while your m might be squished too close to your n.

That being said, when it comes to free fonts, the price is right and they can still offer plenty of potential for high-quality design. Here are a few logos we've designed at Blue Fountain Media using free fonts:

career glider logo
example new england logo
paid font logo example

Paid Fonts

Paid fonts are, without a doubt, a superior option to free fonts.

gotham paid font

Paid fonts are created by professional typographers and designers with the intent of selling of those fonts. As a result, paid fonts are of substantially higher standard of quality and also deliver the full capability that comes with a full font family.

However, the problem with paid fonts, as you might of guessed, is that they cost money! Crazy, right? Apparently typographers love sketching precise letters out over and over again, but not enough to do it for free!

A Font Revolution Is Coming...

It is actually my suspicion that a font revolution is coming out of the paid font world. Remember the system fonts mentioned at the beginning of this post? In the near future, this defined collection of standard web fonts will be augmented to include some of the more popular fonts used throughout the web.

As a result, many creators of paid fonts are extremely eager to promote their work in hopes that their fonts might graduate into the web's next standard-operating-procedure of fonts. This presents opportunity for font-seekers as many paid font creators will license their fonts in exchange for promotion like a tweet or other social media mention.

font tweet

Keep an eye out for these social-share opportunities to try and score a decent paid-font for free!

What kind of free or paid fonts do you use for your business? Let us know by posting a comment below or by tweet us @BFMweb.

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Comments

  1. Choosing the right font can truly make or break a site. I once made the error of using comic sans (I don’t know what I was thinking).

    It was for a Tintin site and I guess I thought it would be “quirky”.

    The response was immediate. People complained on mass about the use of comic sans.

    Since then I have learned about copy-writing and the like and the one tip is if you have site that you make sure you keep the look and feel off the site uniform and that includes the font.

    This article was great and made me think more about the fonts I use. Do you know any methods to maybe scoring a free paid for font…you mentioned it in your post. But how do find the opportunities?

    Thanks

    Neil

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