I’m a designer. I get a little fanatical over certain things. One of those things is fonts.
Recently, I purchased a license for the most beautiful font for a project I was working on. I was understandably pretty excited about this purchase and found myself gushing over dinner as I explained to my friends all of the things I loved about this font.
My excitement was met with blank faces.
And questions, like:
‘Why do you love fonts so much?’
‘There are so many fonts in Microsoft Word, why not just use what’s already on there?’
And then the one comment that I get the most:
‘You actually pay for fonts? Why don’t you download the free ones?’
I think it’s time we back up a little.
Free fonts are great for personal or charity projects where they will only be used in small amounts. Often they are very basic; giving only one variant, and more often than not, licensed for personal use only. I hate to break it to you, but even the ‘free’ ones that come preinstalled on our computers are licensed and you’ve actually already paid for them as part of a package deal when you purchased your computer [sorry!].
So I’m not here to demonise free fonts. Free fonts are fantastic for a specific purpose.
When it comes to commercially licensed fonts, I always like to tell people that a designer purchasing a font is much like a tradesman buying a new hammer or drill.
To produce high quality work, we need high quality tools.
Here are a few qualities that make ‘quality tools’ ie. great fonts:
Great fonts come in uppercase and lowercase – and numbers and symbols are included
Many free fonts only come in either upper or lower case, and usually without numbers and symbols/glyphs. Often this is because the free version is a preview of the full font which is available for purchase.
Great fonts have no imperfections when blown up to a large size
Designers of licensed typefaces put hours upon hours into each individual letter to make sure that each line and curve is absolutely perfect; making it versatile at any size. When enlarged, the font should not have any obvious imperfections.
Great fonts have alternate characters, ligatures, swashes and lowercase numbers
Licensed fonts often come with a variety of alternate characters for each letter, ligatures (where two or more letters are joined as a single glyph), swashes for decorative purposes and lowercase numbers. All of these elements are how two designers can put their own twist on a word using the same font.
Great fonts are available in a variety of styles and weights
Many typefaces come in different styles and weights, which makes the font versatile for all kinds of applications. These include bold, light, regular, italic.
As the old saying goes, ‘You get what you pay for’. And in the case of fonts, truer words have never been spoken.
Have you got a favourite font?