Typography on the Web

We tapped longtime technology columnist Stephen Beale to give designers a rundown of the major web-font services available to them. What’s the deal? These providers make it possible for designers to use virtually any typeface in a website design, which means you’re no longer limited to Verdana and Georgia. Steve shares pros, cons, pricing and more details on the top 5 web-font companies. And to learn even more about using typography in your web design, be sure to catch type expert Ilene Strizver’s DesignCast session, Type on the Web, coming up on Thursday, March 31.

Here’s a bit from Steve’s article; see his full 5-part review of the top web-font services:

Typography and web design have long had an uneasy relationship. Until recently, if you wanted to go beyond the limited web-safe fonts on most computer systems, you had to render type as bit-mapped graphics, or maybe use plug-in technologies such as Flash. All major browsers now have the ability to link to fonts stored on remote servers, but the software licenses that accompany most fonts generally prohibit their use in this manner.

This has given rise to a new breed of online services that provide a legal way for web designers to access high-quality fonts. The fonts are licensed from established foundries or type designers specifically for web hosting, and in many cases the fonts are optimized or re-designed for screen display. A few of the companies behind these services are foundries themselves.

In most cases, you don’t download the actual font files. Instead, you select the fonts from an online library and specify the websites where you want to use them. Each service then generates brief snippets of code that you paste into your web pages. When someone visits your website, the browser downloads a copy of the font from the vendor’s server. The end user can then view your design with correctly formatted type as if the fonts were installed on their own computer.

I looked at five of these services: Typekit from Small Batch Inc.; Fontdeck from Fontdeck LLC; Fonts.com Web Fonts from Monotype Imaging; WebInk from Extensis; and Webtype, a joint venture of The Font Bureau and Ascender Corp.

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