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Free Fonts and How to Use (Not Abuse) Them

Free Fonts and How to Use (Not Abuse) Them

Posted October 16, 2013 by Jerod Clark

(Editor's Note: Parts of this post were originally published in 2010.  It was refreshed in October 2013.)

Here are some great links to find free fonts:

  • Font Squirrel - A selection of high quality, free commercial use fonts.
  • DaFont - Lots of free and shareware fonts.  Make sure to look at the usage information.  Some are okay for commercial use and others are restricted to personal use.
  • Lost Type Co-Op - These are some really great fonts that are available in a pay what you want format.
  • The League of Moveable Type - This is a small collection of fonts, but they are high quality.
  • Urban Fonts - 8,000 plus free and shareware fonts.

 

If you’re like me, I start twitching with excitement with all of the great choices to download. But with that comes some need for restraint so all of these nifty fonts aren’t abused. So here are a few guidelines for font usage.

 

  • Does it fit your design? Make sure the font you choose fits the material you’re putting together. Keep the audience in mind. No adult facing communication should ever use Comic Sans.  A men’s group piece probably shouldn’t have a curly, fancy font. And a children’s ministry postcard should have a font that has a youthful feel.

 

  • Minimize the number of fonts.  When you have a large library of fonts or access to websites with lots of free ones, it’s easy to want to use a bunch of them when you’re designing something. It can be tough, but pick the right font or two for your design piece. Typically, anything more than that will just become distracting.

 

  • Is it readable?  As you’re working on designing something, print it out or view it at its regular size every once in a while. Can you easily read the text? Did you pick a script font that’s too hard to make out? This can go well beyond printed materials. One of my biggest pet peeves is when lyrics for worship songs are projected on the screen in a font that isn’t bold and easy to read.

 

  • Avoid wrongly overused fonts.  Designers have a hatred for Papyrus and Comic Sans. A lot of that has to do with the fact they’ve been inappropriately overused so much. Some common fonts are classics and don’t really grow old.  Yes, they get used a lot, but it's because they're simple and non-intrusive. Think Helvetica, Arial, Gill Sans, Garamond or Optima. Others get worn out quickly. For example, several years ago the fonts Pointy and C Rail Black, which resemble the hand doodled font used in the movie Juno, lost their effectiveness because of over usage.

 

Web fonts have recently become popular as well.  The library of fonts available for use on websites is vast.  It gives you the chance to differentiate the look of your site or bring it more in line with your offline design style.  Here are a couple free web font resources:

  • Google Fonts – Google has put together a large collection of open, free web fonts.  Many website templates let you easily integrate Google Fonts. 
  • Awesome Fontstacks – This site generates previews of what various web fonts look like paired together in heading and body text.  There are also user suggestions for potential pairings. 

 

Many of the guidelines for font selection mentioned above, especially readability, fit with picking web fonts, too.  Additionally, here are a couple of questions to consider:

 

  • Why are you doing it?  Intentional decision-making is an important part of any communications project.  Are you using web fonts because they look cool?  Or do they enhance to design of your site?  Just because a technology exists doesn’t mean you have to use it.

 

  • Does your font selection fit the feel of your church? Your website should be a reflection of what your church actually feels like in person. Pick fonts that make that a reality.  A whimsical font wouldn’t fit a traditional church.

 

These are just a few tips and by no means comprehensive lists. Anything you’d add?

Filed under: Church Juice, Resources, Communications, Graphic Design, Website, Design/Layout

About the Author

Jerod Clark

Jerod joined ReFrame Media in 2007 and built Church Juice from scratch. He poured all his passion for branding, marketing, and messaging into the ministry, publishing e-books, blog posts, and speaking at conferences to help churches energize their communications. He also served as ReFrame’s in-house graphic designer. Before beginning his work at Church Juice, Jerod was a local TV news reporter. In 2016, Jerod stepped away from the ministry to pursue interests in marketing and communications on new horizons.

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Comments (8)

  • Stanley J. Groothof
    1:30 AM
    Tue, Feb 23, 2010

    For free fonts, I usually go to http://www.1001fonts.com—like the sites you posted, Jerod, the fonts at 1001fonts are sorted into useful categories. However, I think my new default will now be Font Squirrel. Thanks for listing it! I’m twitching with excitement now, too! =) Perhaps it would be helpful to make a list of “standard” fonts (e.g. Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, etc.) that you can count on anybody with a computer (PC or Mac?) having. One can make a wonderful document with a variety of fonts, but if you email it to a person who doesn’t have those fonts loaded on their system, Windows substitutes other fonts, often resulting in a very different look and messed up formatting. (Of course, if you send it as a .pdf, you solve that problem.) I’m not sure offhand, though, which universal fonts would all be included in such a list, but maybe you do, Jerod? Peace, Stanley

  • Jerod Clark
    3:32 AM
    Tue, Feb 23, 2010

    Good point Stanley. Here’s a link to a list of common fonts. http://www.ampsoft.net/webdesign-l/WindowsMacFonts.html For folks who are using other design programs like the Adobe Creative Suite, you can outline your text before sending a document, like a PDF. It converts the fonts into vector images which pretty much eliminates the need for all parties to have the same fonts installed.

  • Brett Barner
    12:24 AM
    Thu, Feb 25, 2010

    Nice post Jared! I’ve never been able to find a free Helvetica font. Any suggestions?

  • Jerod Clark
    4:04 AM
    Thu, Feb 25, 2010

    Thanks. Helvetica is one of those pricey copyrighted fonts. I did download a free version from a site that popped up on Google. (I honestly can’t remember the actual site). I usually try not use it on anything offical since it’s really not legal. Sorry that’s not all that helpful.

  • Abi
    2:59 AM
    Fri, Mar 26, 2010

    As a graphic artist for a church, let me just say thank you for writing this. smile The main reason fonts like Papyrus and Comic Sans have a bad rap with designer is because they are used incorrectly by people who don’t know how to use them. Papyrus was never meant for body copy because it is a purely decorative font that doesn’t scale well (a flaw on it’s maker’s part). And Comic Sans rarely fits the tone of communications that it is used for. This page on Myfonts.com (under the “Overview” tab) is a great example of how using just one simple font, but with different weights, styles and capitalization, is very effective AND attractive. I would not do something like this with a decorative font (any thing super curly or “distressed” - basically, if it doesn’t come with it’s own versions of bold and italic, don’t force it.) http://new.myfonts.com/fonts/capearcona/ca-texteron/

  • Dan
    10:53 AM
    Thu, Feb 10, 2011

    Another great font resource is The League of Movable Type (http://www.theleagueofmoveabletype.com/). They are at the forefront of the open-source type movement and have some beautiful fonts to download and use. Personally, Goudy Bookletter 1911 is one of my favorites for print.

  • Michael Kern
    2:28 PM
    Thu, Feb 10, 2011

    I noticed Papyrus was used in the movie Avatar, so it can be a great font when used the right way. FontSquirrel seems to screen their fonts, so I think the quality is higher, and they are available for commercial use. Most free fonts work well on headlines. When used for body text, even when the style is readable, the kerning pairs (how they are spaced next to each other) are off. So use with caution.

  • Kreativ Font
    11:41 PM
    Sun, Dec 1, 2013

    There are a few resources here that I never new they exist ... Lost Type is great ... I also agree that free fonts should not be overused ... specially thos that are most popular you can see them anywhere ... It’s better to find a more obscure free font that gives you the best results for your project and also looks original ...

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