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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.