Free Fonts and Commercial Fonts

A number of articles have been published recently on the controversial topic of free fonts. While AscenderFonts features high quality commercial fonts, we do believe there is a place for free fonts, but would like to openly discuss the potential issues when downloading and using them.

Hot Metal Typeface - Photo by Dana
For starters, it is important to understand that typefaces are developed by people, which is often overlooked. The time and labor that goes in to creating a typeface is substantial, which is why font vendors (like us) need to generate revenue to make type design a sustainable process. Free fonts, on the other hand, should be used with precaution. Here are a few reasons why:
  • Free font licenses vary substantially, and it's important to pay close attention to the End User License Agreement (EULA). How a font can be used, whether for personal or commercial use, is just one of the specifications listed within a font EULA. Unfortunately, these agreements are often long, confusing and tedious to read.
  • More often than not, the quality of free fonts is lacking. While commercial font vendors can afford to create a highly-polished font for sale, this is usually not the case with a free font.
  • Incomplete character set - the vast majority of free fonts are missing characters and do not have complete codepage or Unicode range sets. 
  • Oftentimes free fonts only include limited weights and styles, limiting typographic creativity.
  • Unclear origins - some free fonts appear to be suspiciously similar to commercial fonts. Because the original designer is not identified the true origin of how the font was created is uncertain (is it potentially a copyright infringement?).
  • Free fonts are rapidly dispersed and often fall subject to overuse. While it is more important how you use a font than who is using it, it can be difficult to create something unique while incorporating free fonts.
  • Because most free fonts are taken from a gallery and out of context, the designer usually ends up designing around the font and overlooking the original intent behind the font. Each font available on FontsLive is accompanied by a brief summary providing historical background as well as the font's intended uses.
Fonts can be a complex subject, but we're here to help. If you have questions or comments, let us know directly or in the comments below. If you're interested in reading more about free fonts, here are some additional resources: