Ten years ago, there were two realistic (legal) choices for typography. Either buy font sets from Linotype, Monotype etc, or use the fonts that came with your software. Back in those days there were design applications worth buying purely for the included fonts. Of course, you could also surf the web for ‘free’ fonts, but these would either be illegal knock-offs, or amateurish affairs with disproportionate letterforms and bad kerning: maybe ok for a poster headline, but not something for serious typography.
How the world has changed. Skyfonts, Typekit, and others offer font subscriptions. FontFont and others often offer free weights of new fonts as a promotional tool. An increasing number of designers are releasing their fonts or some weights of their fonts for free to get themselves noticed. Some of these sets aren’t that useful: Ultralight with Bold Italic is hardly going to allow you to typeset much of a document. Others, most famously Museo by ExLjbris, which you now see more or less everywhere, are designed as super-families and genuinely useful weight sets are offered for free. After using Museo free weights for a branding project, I lashed out on the complete set of weights. Money well spent. Of course, you can still buy fonts the old way, but, even there, the prices have dropped in real terms and the variety is extraordinary.
To many designers, the lure of free fonts is almost irresistible. I’ve known people who have surfed the web for days to find what they want (quite possibly spending more in time than they saved in price).
One question, though. How do you know the fonts you’re buying, hiring or getting for free are any good? You can’t tell from the web-site preview. Almost anything looks good set at 72 point in one line of text.
In this article, we explore seven aspects of typeface evaluation. For QuarkXPress 2015 users, we also include a file that you can use to evaluate any font on your system. This all applies equally to paid-for fonts, subscription fonts and free fonts, though it’s harder to properly evaluate a font if you can’t print it until you’ve paid for it.
The criteria are:
- Colour, consistency and kerning
- Hidden costs
Martin Turner is the author of Desk Top Publishing with QuarkXPress 2016, Desk Top Publishing with QuarkXPress 2017, and presenter on the video series Desk Top Publishing with QuarkXPress.