Fonts: To Free, or Not to Free?

Topic

With so many fonts available for free, why should you ever pay for one?

This is the question many brands face. There are plenty of high-quality free fonts available from reputable libraries that will do the job for a variety of projects. In other cases, it’s worth paying for fonts from a foundry or subscription provider. Which is right for you? Here’s a guide to choosing the right option for your project. 
 

Free vs “free.”

Free can mean several things. Google Fonts are truly free for anyone to download and use. Adobe includes fonts in its Creative Cloud subscription. And then there’s all the sites offering stolen or counterfeit versions of real fonts for “free.”
 

Ask yourself…

Do I need a distinctive brand voice?

Bake sale vs. startup brand; overused free fonts start to look generic and don’t grab/hold your customers’ attentionAnd more than that, they make it hard to stand out: if hundreds of companies, websites, and brands are using the same fonts as you, your brand identity probably isn’t grabbing potential customers’ attention.

Do I need a robust character set?

The character sets found in free fonts are often quite basic. This is perfectly fine for a one-off project or something simple, but really quite limiting when you start to think about your brand ecosystem as a whole.  For anything beyond a basic project, it’s worth shopping for typefaces with comprehensive character sets so you’re sure to end up with exactly what you need for your project.

Do I need language support?

Many free fonts don’t support certain alphabets, which means you need to spend more time finding suitable alternatives and risks leaving your international brand identity slightly splintered. Again, it’s worth shopping for typefaces with advanced language options if your needs are international.
 

Do you need reliable fonts?

Open-source fonts, even from the most reputable libraries, can be changed, removed, or deleted at any time. This means that if you happen to be using a font from one of these libraries, then you’re at risk of your fonts “breaking” at any time. Also, depending on the source, free fonts can be sketchy. Google & Adobe are fine, of course, but buyer beware of other sources and the issues they can come with… malware, counterfeit fonts, and so forth.

Do I need to experiment with fonts before committing?

One of advantages of free fonts is that you don’t have to buy them to try them. But what if you’re happy to pay for a font but don’t know which one you want? Font providers like Monotype Fonts offer a great middle ground by giving creative teams all that flexibility built into a library of high-quality fonts. Designers can experiment and prototype endlessly with any font in the library, making it likelier that they’ll find the perfect font for the project at hand. Teams only need to pay for the fonts that are put into production.
 

Bottom line – free is fine, just not all the time or for every project. The decision depends on the specific needs and priorities of your team and the projects they’re working on. Just remember, that just because it says “free” doesn’t mean it necessarily is. And when you factor everything in, paying for fonts can sometimes end up costing you less – be it in terms of time, money, or even worry – while often leading to a higher ROI.

Fonts: To free or not to free?
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