Technology Review: Webtype

Webtype, which launched August 20, has an impressive pedigree. It’s backed by The Font Bureau and Ascender Corp. Its partners include noted designers Roger Black and Petr van Blokland, and font quality is one of its hallmarks. In addition to manually hinting existing fonts for optimal screen display, the companies behind the service have introduced a new series of typefaces, branded Reading Edge, designed for on-screen readability at small pixel sizes. The number of available fonts is currently limited, but the companies say they’ll be adding new ones in the coming months.

Unlike most of these services, Webtype uses a pricing model in which you pay an annual fee for each font you use. You do this via a familiar e-commerce interface in which you search for fonts and then add them to a shopping cart. Once you’ve paid for your order, Webtype provides a link code and sample CSS rules so you can use the fonts.

The interface is reasonably easy to navigate, but could use some improvement. One especially useful feature is the ability to search for fonts according to intended use: “Small” retrieves fonts optimized for readability at 9px to 14px; “Medium” gives you fonts best rendered at 14px to 48px; and “Large” locates fonts best used for big headlines. You can also search by style categories (Serif, Sans Serif, Script, Decorative, Sign & Symbol) and type foundry. However, you can’t do combined searches, such as sans serif fonts optimized for medium sizes. This isn’t a big problem given the relatively small number of fonts in the collection, but as it grows, I would hope that the developers provide a more sophisticated search function.

Another quibble is the inability to do multiple font selections when filling the shopping cart. If you want to use all the fonts in a certain family—such as regular, italic, bold and bold italic—you have to add each one at a time, and then navigate back to the main font screen to reselect the same family.

Webtype’s prices are based on which fonts you choose—some are more expensive than others—as well as monthly web traffic. This is another service that measures traffic in terms of font-download bandwidth rather than page views, making price calculations more complicated. As with Extensis, the service estimates likely bandwidth based on monthly site visitors. You can choose from various character sets to minimize each font’s download size, including a Custom Text option for situations where you’ll be using the font for a single character string.

The least-expensive fonts cost $10 per year for a “Personal” site (1GB of monthly bandwidth, or about 30,000 visitors), $20 per year for a “Standard” site (3GB of monthly bandwidth/100,000 visitors) or $70 per year for a high-traffic “Business” site (18GB of monthly bandwidth/600,000 visitors). The Reading Edge fonts double the cost at each level: $20 per year for a Personal site, $40 per year for a Standard site or $140 per year for a Business site. Sites that exceed 600,000 monthly visitors should inquire about enterprise pricing.

Keep in mind that each font face counts as a separate font—if you want a font family in regular, italic, bold and bold italic flavors, multiply the above prices by four. You can try any font on a free 30-day trial basis, which enables you to use it in preliminary designs and for client approval. As long as you stay within the time limit, you won’t have to pay for the font until the site goes live.

One of the companies behind Webtype, Ascender Corp., offers a similar service called FontsLive that’s limited to its own typefaces.

Webtype lets you search for fonts by category, foundry or intended use.

Webtype’s new Reading Edge fonts are designed for readability at small pixel sizes.




* The Web Designer’s Idea Book Volume 2
* Live and On-Demand DesignCasts
* Visit – Your comprehensive source of books, products and tools for designers
* Sign up to receive the HOW eNewsletter.