Matt Jenkins
by Matt Jenkins

What the Font!?

What the Font!?
Here’s something different for our blog this month. Our Senior Designer, Matt Jenkins, is enlightening us on fonts and typefaces and how to make the most of the free resources available online. So if you’re a marketer with an interest in design or a budding designer, this one is for you.

First things first. Don’t use Comic Sans. I know it’s a designer cliché to moan about people using it but seriously, don’t use it. Ever. Delete it from your font library now, email Microsoft/Apple to let them know how disgusted you are that they have this as a default pre-installed typeface, putting you at risk of accidentally/naively using it and making you look like a right plonker, then never look back. You will never need it, I promise.

My dislike of Comic Sans is shared throughout the design world with a simple search on Google coming up with page upon page of rants and arguments against it. A particularly interesting and insightful (and in-depth) article on the subject can be found here if you want some further reading.

If you really feel the urge to add some comic book style ‘fun‘ to your work, there are plenty of alternative, slightly less offensive options to choose from. I’d personally go for ‘Cartoonish Hand’ but there’s loads of options. Here’s a helpful selection of options. Just anything but Comic Sans.

Right, rant over. Now we can move on.

Before we go any further, I just wanted to clarify the difference between a font and a typeface to avoid any confusion. In short: A font is what you use, a typeface is what you see.

To elaborate slightly “A typeface is a family of fonts (very often by the same designer). Within a typeface there will be fonts of varying weights or other variations. E.g., light, bold, semi-bold, condensed, italic, etc. Each such variation is a different font. The only evolution in terminology that results from the transition from metal-cast to digital fonts is that (point) size is no longer fixed.” If that still doesn’t make sense, further reading can be found here where the above quote is from. Well worth a read if you’re into that kind of thing.

When deciding on a typeface or fonts for your latest endeavour; be it your new business’ brand, a personal project such as wedding stationery or something in-between, long gone are the days of having to choose between the 30 generic typefaces supplied with your new installation of Windows 95, with the only hope of expanding your collection being an old school friend who has a mate who you think might be working at a print house.

What with the internet and it’s near infinite, confusing mish-mash of great - and not so great - free (and paid for) fonts available on a huge selection of websites all claiming to have the best selection, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the task of sieving through them all and making the right choice.

In this short post, I wanted to try and help you save a bit of time and brain power by suggesting some useful tips and websites that should help you when digesting the huge modernised world online world of fonts.

Firstly, as a general rule, you get what you pay for when it comes to fonts. You may see a really great looking typeface on DaFont but then you discover it’s a ‘free’, ‘demo’ or ‘personal’ version which aren’t much good to anyone apart from for previewing and mock-ups, as you will need to buy a licence if you don’t want to risk getting a virtual slap on the wrist or even worse a non-virtual fine or lawsuit. Another risk you run with using these free font sites is that you’ll most likely be missing important elements such as glyphs or well considered tracking and kerning. Because a majority of the fonts or typefaces on these sites are display fonts, you will find that a lot only have lower OR upper case characters. Be sure to check the previews on the fonts webpage for included glyphs and cases before falling too in love with it too much. To sum up; the fonts you’ll find on websites such as DaFont, 1001 Free Fonts (A very misleading name for the website considering there is a lot more than 1001 free fonts on there), Abstract Fonts or Font Squirrel are likely to be incomplete and are likely to come across as amateur if not used in the right way in in the right situation. These websites are open for anyone, from amateur and professional typographers to studios, to upload their work. And so it should be in the beautiful age of the global community that is world wide web. The only downside to this, as in any instance, is that there is near to zero quality control so it’s always a good idea to be clued up and cautious. I would like to point out, I do find Font Squirrel to be far more thought out and contain a better selection of quality fonts.

Another downside to using these sites is that if there does happen to be a quality, free font uploaded then there’s a tendency for a mini-trend to start happening. For instance, only 5 or so years ago handwriting fonts were all the rage, (I have no problem with that and appreciate how using them can emit a friendly and approachable identity) and I remember stumbling upon ‘Hand of Sean’ and at the time was quite impressed, but give it a few months and I started to see it used everywhere in the strangest and un-logical ways (not in a positive creativity sense of ‘strange and un-logical’). From dentists to cafe’s, it was everywhere and too much of a good thing can be a bad, bland, obvious thing that can melt into the background so be sure to do your research and be vigilant.

A great way to use these websites responsibly is to research what other people and even professionals have found by searching for blog posts of even signing up for blog posts or newsletters from sites such as Awwwards, Creative Bloq and Graphic Design Junction. They’ve done most of the hard work for you! Here’s a couple or posts to get you started: The 100 best free fonts, 100 Greatest Free Fonts Collection for 2015, 65 best free fonts.

On a positive note: there are some hidden gems when it comes to freebees, particularly using Google Fonts, but these can sometimes be overused and a bit generic though the catalogue is growing at a fairly rapid pace.

One of my favourite places to discover new and exciting typefaces and fonts is Behance. This is because this is the place designers go to show off their work. You’re likely to find great, less well known but exciting designers showcasing their work. There’s a mixture of free and paid fonts though you’ll be sure to find a bargain that’s perfect for what you’re after. You’ll also find lots of lovely inspiration for your own design work.

Other honourable mentions are:

Creative Market: “An online marketplace for community-generated design assets, Creative Market offers free goods each week, which includes a free font. The design changes each week and is only available for a limited time period – a brilliant way to build up a library of different font styles.” Freebies here.

Free Font Manifesto: A growing number of typefaces by some great designers being made available in the public domain.

Artimasa: A ‘small lettering and type design studio with big dream’. Some great free typefaces can be found here.

So, to sum up:

  • Don’t use Comic Sans
  • Get clued up about the difference between a typeface and a font
  • Although free font sites are great, use them with a bit of caution and know what to look out for
  • Do your research, search deeper and take your time searching the web for your perfect free typeface or fonts. Don’t just go for the first thing you like the look of.
  • Use blogs and newsletter to keep up to date with trends and the latest uploads
  • Keep note of your favourite places to find your freebies (and not-so freebies) so you can build up your own set or resources.
  • Don’t use Comic Sans

I hope my brain splurge has been of some interest to you and has left you feeling more prepared and inspired to take your designs to the next level.

If you have any thoughts on anything I’ve written or generally anything design related you care to share, please be sure to drop me a line to matt.j@calico-uk.com, tweet us @CalicoUK or get involved on our Facebook Page.

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