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

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

Visual content on the web appears in a variety of different styles. From motion graphics and video, to pictures and interactive maps, there are lots of unique opportunities to display images. However we can’t disregard the power of good ol' fashioned text as the primary method for getting the message of your content across. Fonts and typography provide an opportunity for your website to be expressive, visually engaging to your visitors, and representative of 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 if the idea of navigating the world of fonts is a foreign concept. It can be surprisingly tricky, but hopefully this quick guide can serve as a good place to start.

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 throughout the web. Their cohesiveness and clarity makes them a reliable option for both developers and users alike.

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 and your company. You will have to initially evaluate whether or not you want to use a free font, or opt for a paid one instead. This requires a fundamental distinction to be made in which you and your business evaluate what is needed to meet your site's needs. If you are going for a basic layout, then free fonts could be a cost-effective and logical option. Should your company be looking to stand out and distinguish itself a little more, a premium choice would probably be a better option.

Free Fonts

As displayed below, you can use free fonts and still have quality and diversity that vary greatly:

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 pretty nice.

On the contrary, there are 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 to encounter one very disruptive problem: the lack of family.

font family example

A font family refers to all of a the variations for a given font, This includes 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 variety. You might want to have the most options possible when working with a specific font for your brand. It’s important to take this into consideration before making a design-related decision based solely on price and convenience. If it is going to serve as a representation of your business, you are going to want to make sure it is done in the best way possible.

Free fonts can 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. If these fonts are readily available to anyone who would like to use them, there is a good chance you are not the only ones who are. It may not be detrimental, but it can certainly hinder your business from truly standing out.

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. Again, it may not be the end of the world, but it could possibly have an impact on the aesthetics of your brand and overall website to some viewers.

That being said, when it comes to free fonts, the price is ideal and they can 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 intention of selling their fonts to anyone who wants permission to use them. As a result, paid fonts are of a much higher standard and quality, and they deliver the entire range of options that should come with a full font family. Many also provide fonts that work on multiple browsers and platforms, and are compatible with different languages as well.

However, the problem with paid fonts, as you might have 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! Yet through purchasing, you also get the chance to support the specific designer who produced the font themselves. Just like buying an artist’s creation, these designers get the opportunity to receive credit for their work.

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 the 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 any other kind of social media mention. This will hopefully provide access to a greater number of free fonts for users in the future!

font tweet

Take advantage of this and keep an eye out for some 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 on this post

  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?



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