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Type Tips

An Introduction to Free Fonts

Shouting those two magic words in the right sequence – “Free fonts!” – is sure to grab everyone’s attention. Because, admit it, everybody loves free fonts. However, free is never free just like that. And free is not always really free. It can sometimes become very expensive, and even potentially ruin your business. Lost me? Read on, because all will become clear in the next series of posts.

As I announced just before TYPO Berlin, what comes next will be an adaptation of my presentation Fonts, a Passionate Love Story, or an Abusive Relationship?. It was a loose amalgamation of my ideas about free fonts, commercial fonts, and the perceived value of digital type. Hopefully by sharing my insights on The FontFeed I will be able to clarify a couple of things. To avoid this becoming an overlong article I will publish it as a succession of shorter posts.

Nora Ali drawing type using black and white gouache paint, at the Bruno Maag | Dalton Maag Type Design workshop at the German University in Cairo.
Nora Ali drawing type using black and white gouache paint, at the Bruno Maag | Dalton Maag Type Design workshop at the German University in Cairo.

I don’t mind free fonts

The first misunderstanding I’d like to get out of the way is this one. In the past, and specifically on Typophile, I have been quite vocal about free fonts. However – contrarily to what some people believe – I have no problems whatsoever with the concept of free fonts. When discussing digital type, I have the impression many people think they need to take a stance, be it unconditionally pro-free fonts or pro-commercial fonts. This is of course nonsense, as there is room for both, and they both have a reason for being. You can criticise specific aspects of a phenomenon without being completely against it. So don’t paint me as a defender of commercial fonts (or inversely a hater of free fonts). Like Chester once wrote, I simply am “a champion of type design”, regardless of how it is produced or distributed.

Too bad it’s a commercial font. I had no ideas fonts could be copyrighted commercially to be sold for a profit (well I did, but I figured most of them were scams). If they aren’t recognized by the government as intellectual property, then why are they not being distributed freely but rather sold? Actual comment on the Typophile Type Identification Board.

Andreu Balius | TypeRepublic sketching Dsignes during a trek across the Himalayas, Ladakh, northern India.
Andreu Balius | TypeRepublic sketching Dsignes during a trek across the Himalayas, Ladakh, northern India.

Fonts don’t just magically appear out of nowhere

Fonts don’t just magically appear out of nowhere. However you can’t blame people for getting this impression. The operating system of any computer comes pre-installed with a decent selection of fonts, readily available in the Fonts menu. Furthermore all text editing and graphic design software packages include an additional amount of digital typefaces. Without having to do anything, from the get-go computer users have a respectable collection of fonts at their disposal. So it is understandable the uninitiated never question where all those “free fonts” come from, and are genuinely oblivious to the fact that designing and licensing type can be a legitimate commercial activity.

I put “free fonts” in quotation marks, because this is of course a misunderstanding. Although they may appear so, these fonts are not free at all. Next post we’ll examine the different types of “free” fonts.

Frederik Berlaen | Type My Type drawing characters on tracing paper.
Frederik Berlaen | Type My Type drawing characters on tracing paper.

Typefaces are designed by real human beings

Typefaces are designed by real human beings. I know this may sound self-evident to most of you, but trust me, some people don’t realise this. Not because they have ill intentions – they just never gave it a second thought. They don’t realise someone has to imagine all those characters, shape them into being, and turn them into digital type. And even when they do know this, they often have no idea how much talent, skill, mastery of the craft, and countless hours, days, months, sometimes even years of hard work it takes to create a successful type family. This changes the perspective completely, and I will address the perceived value of type in the post after next.

Source: recovered from FontFeed

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