Free Fonts and How to Use (Not Abuse) Them

(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?

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