Finding Free Fonts on the Web

There are tens of thousands of commercial fonts available today—quality typefaces with fresh appeal, priced to appease the client who firmly believes the best font for a project is whatever’s already on the computer. The savvy font-seeker knows there’s never been a better time to be armed with a computer, a fast connection and a major credit card.

But there are times when a project budget is slim-to-nonexistent. You can’t be expected to buy new fonts for every worthy cause that swoops down from pro-bono heaven. And, while a deserving nonprofit (or a friend in need of an indie band flyer) may not have money for typefaces, a top-notch creative treatment is still in order.

In times of fiscal conservation, freeware typefaces are a viable alternative to their commercial brethren. A word of caution, however: It pays to avoid the anonymous monster sites touting thousands of the best free fonts. While there are certainly some gems buried in the massive archives, many of these fonts are abysmal or illicit knock-offs of legit typefaces.

Go for quality, not quantity, and go directly to the source. Many digital foundries, like the six profiled here, offer their own selection of excellent freeware fonts. Some use freebies as a marketing tool, while others offer freeware fonts as a gift to the creative community. Whatever the motivation, the end result is a win for both sides.

Explore these Web sites, download a font or two, and enjoy. And when the next paying gig comes along, think of the generous type designers who give so freely—one of them probably has the perfect commercial font for the job.

Atigmatic One Eye Typographic Institute: www.astigmatic.com
“Professor” Brian J. Bonislawsky, principal of Astigmatic One Eye Typographic Institute (AOETI), first ventured into type design in 1996. Well-known for his outrageous collection of techno, grunge and freaky freeware fonts, he’s recently added more conservative text and display styles to his impressive body of work. Bonislawsky has released more than 300 commercial typefaces through AOETI, Bitstream and Font Diner, and also freelances for such indie foundries as Misprinted Type and P22. The 30-year-old Miami resident quit his day job in the fall of 2002, and now works from his home studio, achieving typographic enlightenment while making letters for a living.

l’Atelier télescopique/La Fonderie Nordik: www.ateliertelescopique.com
Stéphane Meurice, Sébastien Delobel, Xavier Meurice and Guillaume Berry make up l’Atelier télescopique and its companion type foundry, La Fonderie Nordik. This close-knit group of designers, based in Lille, France, opened its studio in 1998. Along with their groundbreaking work in multiple media—print, video, Web and art exhibitions—the télescopique crew also creates unique typefaces for client work and personal projects. Their eclectic library features freeware faces designed with a French twist—ideal for creatives hungry for a fresh approach to Latin letterforms.

Font Diner: www.fontdiner.com
In 1996, Font Diner proprietor Stuart Sandler opened one of the first independent foundries on the Web. While offering kitschy retro-style font collections for sale, Sandler also serves up a healthy portion of Free Silverware—his freeware fonts available to Diner patrons. An award-winning creative director, Sandler recently retired from agency life. He now focuses on type design and other creative endeavors, including long-distance collaborations with AOETI’s Bonislawsky. The thirty-something Sandler lives and works in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife and business partner, Ann.

Fountain: www.fountain.nu
Fountain, an independent Swedish type foundry, offers a refreshing selection of fun and functional typefaces. Helmed by 34-year-old type and graphic designer Peter Bruhn, Fountain’s been a source of interesting type since the mid-90s. Bruhn, who created his first typeface more than a decade ago, distributes his own fonts alongside typefaces from a handful of talented European designers. Self-titled “a friendly type foundry,” Fountain’s diverse mix of freeware complements an appealing commercial library. The foundry is housed in a high-ceilinged studio in the Malms apartment Bruhn shares with his wife, Lotta, and their children.

Minifonts: www.minifonts.com
Born in Belfast, Ireland, in the ’40s, Joe Gillespie graduated from the Royal College of Art in London. After practicing lettering with an architectural firm, he worked as an art director for print and broadcast advertising. He sold his first typeface to one of London’s leading headline phototypesetting houses in 1971, and was designing fonts for computer games a decade later. He transitioned to new media in the late ’80s; now his work is mostly Web-based. The man behind Mini 7 is still in London, where he runs Pixel Productions. His tiny type creations are designed especially for the screen.

Typebox: www.typebox.com
Mike Kohnke and Joachim Müller-Lancé, partners in Typebox LLC, couldn’t be more different. Kohnke, raised in the Midwest, is an early riser who thrives on sunlight. Müller-Lancé, schooled in Switzerland and heavily influenced by Japanese culture, prefers the quiet dark after midnight. But the German-born designers have formed a successful business relationship working together while working apart from opposite ends of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. Although graphic design still pays most of their respective rents, they steadily find more time for making faces.

 


 

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