Nice Web Type

Nice Web Type is one place for web typography, following experiments, advancements, and best practices in typesetting web text. Handcrafted by Tim Brown, Type Manager for Adobe Typekit.

Where to get web fonts

“Where do I get web fonts?” It’s a valid question that deserves a reliable answer, to help us gain perspective on the changing crafts of web design and typography.

Let’s revisit WOFF, talk about EULAs, and list some places to find typefaces that are legal for use with the CSS @font-face property, including type delivery services, free font libraries, and curated lists of fonts available for web linking.

Moochers, go ahead and skip to the part about free fonts.

WOFF, the web standard for type

I wrote about the type selling business back in July, and not much has changed. What was called .webfont/WebOTF is now WOFF (Web Open Font Format). Foundries, browsers, and services have shown support for this emerging standard, and support will continue to grow (just today, Mozilla and others publicly expressed such support).

WOFF files include license-related XML data that can help type sellers enforce the legal use of their typefaces. So as WOFF is supported, we’ll be able to license type as we have done for years. Type sellers will happily hand us ordinary font files because if they fall into the wrong hands, or are used in a way that violates the license terms, it will be evident.

We’ll have a mixed bag of solutions, though, until WOFF gains more browser support and typefaces are produced and licensed in WOFF format.

But whether now or later, WOFF or not, the universal answer to our question, “Where do I get web fonts?” is: depends on the EULAs.

EULAs have the answers

What you want is a typeface that explicitly allows, in its End User License Agreement (EULA), linking with the CSS @font-face property. This is sometimes referred to as embedding, which can be confusing because type sellers have for years referred to PDF embedding in their EULAs, and distinctions aren’t always clear. Some smart folks offer clarification in articulate, easy-to-find ways. I like Mota Italic’s EULA and this FAQ from H&F-J.

If you can’t find licensing information, contact the seller and ask for details. Or, just go elsewhere. If details about where and how a typeface can be used are hard to find, that’s the type seller’s problem. Maybe in bygone years, when foundries sold to fewer design professionals, squirreling this information away within legalese, or within a clunky site, was acceptable. But now, licensing nuance should be easy like Sunday morning.

Have you seen clear, understandable type licensing information somewhere? Link it up in the comments so we can collect good examples.

Lists of fonts you can use

One step removed from EULAs are lists of “fonts available for use with @font-face.” These attempt to save you the trouble of referencing EULAs, but they’re only as reliable and organized as the people maintaining them. I know of only one good reference, and even so I see something missing.

As of this writing, the Fonts available for @font-face embedding wiki page at webfonts.info was last updated on August 18, 2009 and does not include web fonts from Mota Italic (which I know should be there, from having seen their aforementioned EULA).

I realize I could have added Mota Italic typefaces to the webfonts.info wiki myself in less time than it took to write this, but you see my point. Wonderful as Ralf’s resource is, and as similar community-managed resources are, there’s always a delay.

(Sorry Ralf! Just using you as an example here. Love the site, and I constantly reference the wiki. More on that in an upcoming post about how to use @font-face.)

Another thing to consider: the typefaces listed come from a variety of distributors and are not all free; browsing among sites with very different structures, especially without a direct link to licensing information that may be deeply nested, can be a hassle. Type delivery services and websites that offer free fonts have a distinct advantage in this regard, because you know exactly what you’re getting. Nothing you see is off-limits.

Free and freely licensed

Here are some typefaces you can use right now. They’re licensed for use with @font-face and they don’t cost anything. Someday I’ll explain why I prefer to pay for typefaces (it’s not just because I think type designers deserve to be paid), but go ahead. Go nuts. Free fonts! Woooo! Also: you may be disappointed.

The League of Movable Type

“Everyone is welcome to browse, download, and use our collection of hand-picked typefaces. In the spirit of sharing, all fonts made available by The League are subject to SIL’s Open Font License.”

I’ve used League Gothic, a revival of Alternate Gothic, and it sets nicely. For each of the typefaces offered, The League provides a “download” button; sometimes clicking this yields a single OTF file, and other times you receive a variety of files.

Font Squirrel

“This page showcases all the fonts that Font Squirrel offers for use with @font-face CSS embedding. Though we try very hard to verify compliance with license agreements, please read them yourself before using.”

Font Squirrel offers an impressive quantity of type, makes it dead simple to pick one out, and handily offers “kits” – the typeface of your choice, in several formats, packaged with demo HTML & CSS that uses very current @font-face syntax.

They also offer a way to make your own @font-face kits. If the typeface you want to use has been licensed appropriately (the ones that come with your computer are not necessarily okay), the generator produces EOT, SVG, and hey! WOFF files.

Type delivery services

Presently, type delivery services have one or two advantages over lists of fonts and freebie sites: real fonts and fewer headaches.

There are technical reasons why a new font format is being developed: WOFF offers file size advantages and a platform for license enforcement. There are also reasons why it’s hard to pinpoint a straight answer about how to use @font-face: browser support is in flux, and smart folks continue to fine-tune syntax as they learn and experiment.

Type delivery services work to address all of these issues at once, adapting as conditions change. Even today, before a web type standard has truly been established—they protect the typefaces they serve, alleviating some concerns about license enforcement, and they compress, optimize, and serve files in multiple font formats (OTF, EOT, SVG, WOFF) to achieve the broadest possible browser support.

As a result, some type sellers feel safe putting real fonts in the hands of web designers who use these delivery services.

Plus, because these services constantly monitor the state of web fonts and are paid to make sure type is delivered in the best possible way, folks who pay to have their type delivered needn’t worry about the technicalities. Fewer headaches. Not to mention that these services, particularly Typekit, make browsing for type a simple and enjoyable experience.

Typekit
Currently available by invitation only, Typekit has been in “technology preview” mode for several months. The folks behind the service communicate clearly and thoroughly about issues like serving and protecting fonts and have expressed public support for .webfont/WOFF. The service performs gracefully, is beautifully designed, and was well received by Andy Clarke.
Typotheque
Type foundry Typotheque offers its wares, licensed for print, web, or both, and serves type via its publicly available web fonts system. Typotheque has also expressed support for WOFF, and has, like Typekit, been well received by Andy Clarke.
Kernest
The first publicly available type delivery service, and the first type delivery service to serve WOFF files, Kernest seems always to be in the game. For what it’s worth, Kernest was not well received by Andy Clarke. What malarkey.

Where to get web fonts

So now you know.

We’ve talked about a web standard for typefaces, noted the importance of EULAs, and compared/contrasted the ideas of type delivery services, free font libraries, and lists of fonts available for web linking. While the details and players may change, these are concepts you can rely on for some context. Happy hunting.

  • Thanks for this roundup. You are being much kinder about how EULA’s are worded and presented and the licensing terms for web fonts currently being offered by commercial font design studios than I would be.
    Right now I’m sticking to free fonts. There’s little other choice as long as Safari only supports linking to “raw” TTF or OTF files that commercial font vendors won’t license for.

    Cheers,
    Rich

  • Jens Alfke

    I’m sympathetic to the foundries’ issues, but the WOFF format really has me saying WTF? At a technical level, it messes with the low-level TrueType format to accomplish the same compression that could be achieved vastly more easily by simply saying “take your .TTF file and zip it and rename that .WOFF”.

    And there isn’t actually anything in the actual WOFF spec to address piracy, just a couple of mentions of the words “digital signature”, sprinkled on like fairy dust. Without any detailed specs for that, it’s just security theater, because if a web browser accepts an un-signed WOFF file, it will be trivial to strip signatures from commercial fonts and use them illegally. Without mandatory signatures, WOFF is just obfuscated TrueType.

  • Rich: I try to remain objective (and optimistic) here about licensing, drawing attention to good examples as a means to set type licensor expectations. However, I do share your frustration; if faced with anything but a dead-simple EULA, I would strongly consider compromising on type choice or searching elsewhere.

    Jens: Just to be sure we’re on the same page, this is the WOFF spec you’re referring to, correct? (I’ve seen several specs as the format has evolved, but this is the most recent one.)

    The “Extended Metadata” portion of the spec outlines a place for information about the vendor, license, licensee, trademark, and copyright. My understanding is that someone could download (or view source) a WOFF file, change its XML data, re-upload to his or her own web server, and—voila. The font is now “stolen”.

    UPDATE: Tal Leming, a co-author of the WOFF proposal, elaborated on the complexity of “stealing” a WOFF file, writing in an email:

    It is more complicated than this. The XML data is compressed, so it would have to be recompressed and then rewritten into the WOFF file. The offsets to the data following the metadata would have to be adjusted. The header would have to be updated to reflect the new metadata length and the offsets to data following the metadata.

    However, type sellers have equal access to this XML data, as well as the means to compare it with data in the WOFF file that cannot be changed by would-be type pirates. My assumption is that no type seller would license WOFF typefaces without a system (and/or employees) in place to go out and check for mismatches.

    I also assume that browsers will facilitate these checks by making it easier to view WOFF data (formatting it in an easy-to-read way, for example) or by actually doing the check and telling source viewers straight up, “There’s something wrong here.”

    Point being: the onus to protect intellectual property is on the type seller rather than on browser security features.

  • Terrance

    Ascender has some information on this site concentrating on the EOT format for IE.
    http://www.fontembedding.com

    Their blog also describes that they are selling EOT licenses right now.
    http://www.ascendercorp.com/pr/2009-07-15/

    I do believe that cloud-based apps have a strong future in the software industry. Serving fonts from a cloud is similar to other uses going on today, like Flash games being played on Facebook or Google Docs.

  • Thanks for the round up and filling in the technical details of WOFF for me.

    I have to agree with Richard, you have been too kind regarding EULAs.

    I ended up cleaning out the fonts I collected over the years for web projects at the end of last year. I ended up removing over 80% because the EULA was not clear about use with font embedding.

  • This is the first webfont specific licensing agreement I have seen: Typotheque’s webfont licensing agreement

  • Thanks Divya!

    On a related note, I think I need to begin making a distinction between EULAs and EULA overviews. EULAs must necessarily be carefully and extensively detailed. What I think folks are looking for is a second document – a Creative-Commons-style plain language overview. See: CC overview and CC full license.

    The two “EULAs” I mentioned in this post, from Mota Italic and H&FJ, are really not EULAs. They’re plain language overviews.

  • Great explanation of legal font usage with #font-face.

    While I’d love to see it, I’m not holding my breath for a standard font format for fonts… Or anything else…

  • jbug

    How about an option if you 1) don’t want to host your own and 2) don’t want to use java to implement?

  • Can’t believe i’ve missed this post for this long… Thanks a lot Tim. Not myself but a good designer friend of mine suffered a lot from fonts that he has used with his clients. The shocker was when he found out that he used not-safe fonts with clients for years.. It was a mess :/

    Thanks again :)

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  • Service delivery type of work to address all these issues together, adapting as conditions change. Even today, before a standard Web-style, has really been established, protecting the fonts that serve to alleviate some concerns about the application of licenses, and to compress, optimize and serve files in formats from multiple sources ( OTF, EOT, SVG, WOFF) to achieve the widest possible support browser.

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  • Web typography refers to the use of sources on the Web. When HTML was first created, the font faces and styles were controlled exclusively by the configuration of each web browser. There was no mechanism for individual web pages to control font display until Netscape introduced the label in 1995, which was then normalized in the HTML 2 specification.

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  • Can’t believe i’ve missed this post for this long… Thanks a lot Tim. Not myself but a good designer friend of mine suffered a lot from fonts that he has used with his clients.

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  • Thanks for this roundup. You are being much kinder about how EULA’s are worded and presented and the licensing terms for web fonts currently being offered by commercial font design studios than I would be.

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