A Fountain of New Fonts

by Thom Hiatt

In 1980-something, I was on the newspaper staff at my elementary school. We used Apple IIe computers and a newsletter layout software to design our school paper. We printed them on dot matrix printers, and I recall the ink ribbon was a dark green color. To make the headlines “interesting” we could choose from Bold, Underlined, or Italic.

I also worked on the school paper in high school. I was the advertising salesman, which meant that I was often responsible for the ad design / layout as well. We used Mac computers and (if I recall) layout was done with PageMaker (which was popular but no longer exists). Of course we had access to a better selection of fonts like Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, etc, and we used a black and white apple laser printer for output. (Oh, and we still had bold.)

Not too many years ago, you could pick up a CD-ROM of “1000+” fonts at your local department store, Best Buy, Costco, etc. These were good, but too many of them fell deep into the “cheesy” category.

Today, for better or worse, we have access to an even wider selection of type-faces and fonts. Most of which you simply download.

Software has made it possible for artists throughout the world to create their own fonts. And these pro-home-made fonts often are distributed for the artist’s recognition alone. In other words, FREE. And for the low-budget and downright cheap folks out there, this is great news.

Better still, cufón font technology in CSS3 allows us to create web pages using specialized fonts as text, rather than as still images. In other words, back in the day, if you wanted a web site to show an artistic font, you had to save the words as an image, and embed the image into the site. And that’s bad because it takes longer to download, it’s not often searchable, and you cannot copy text from images (easily).

So this new web site tech lets us use a “web font” and display it to the user, as searchable, copyable, fast-downloading text. The navigational type on this site, for example, uses a web font.

Some non-profit groups and even Google have gotten into the font game, too. They are not so much looking to make a buck, but rather, they want to make our online experience better, faster and more interesting.

So whether you are looking to expand your horizons and find an exciting new font for your school paper, OR you are a web developer looking to use something a little more exciting than Bold Arial, here are a few Open Source web sites with free font downloads, as well as tips on how to use the fonts in your web sites: