Web Fonts 101

In a brand-new article exclusively published on HOWdesign.com this week, our technology guy Stephen Beale takes a comprehensive look at 5 of the top web font services that have popped up in the past several months. If you’ve ever designed a website, you’ve probably been frustrated by your limited font selections (hello, Arial … again?). But updates to web browsers have opened the doors to more typographic options for designers looking to differentiate their sites. The key: You need a third-party service to license and serve your fonts. Stephen offers up a page-by-page review of 5 services—Typekit, Web Fonts, WebInk, Fontdeck and Webtype—letting you compare options and pricing.

If you’re looking for the latest info on web fonts, then be sure to check out Stephen’s article. He writes:

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.

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.

No programming skills are required to use these services, but you’ll need at least a basic understanding of CSS. The services work with the vast majority of web browsers, though it’s still a good idea to specify alternate fallback fonts for those few users who might be left out.

Want to learn more? HOW has teamed up with two sponsors to offer free DesignCast sessions on web typography.

Tuesday, December 14: 5 Secrets of Great Web Typography, sponsored by Monotype

On Demand: Step Up Your Web Designs with Real Typography, sponsored by Extensis (PC users, click here for the session)