Valuable free fonts

29 Mar 2014

I started looking at fonts some months ago, and have been writing down a list of better quality typefaces that come free of charge. Some of these are open-source.

n — the typeface consists of n weights
TeX — the typeface has a native (T1) TeX package

The big boys

I will begin with some reference-class webfonts ; those are commissioned by large companies and released for free. You can consider them all as rock-solid.

Open Sans – Google 10 TeX

Open Sans is heavily based on Droid Sans – the former Android OS font from the same designer – but it’s slightly wider and has more open curves, contrarily to Droid which is more organic, as Typophile says.
Besides fixing some quirks of the original Droid Sans, it also has more font weights and italic variants. You’ll still want Droid Sans in case you want to match it with Droid Serif.

You can see it in action at Google Support Center or on Sublime Text’s website for instance.

The Droid set of fonts – Google 2 4 TeX

So those were the Android fonts until 4.0, a.k.a. Ice Cream Sandwich.

Contrarily to Open Sans, Droid packs a serif variant (and Droid Mono as a monospaced font). The Droid set of fonts is slightly condensed as it was originally designed for optimal legibility on small screens.

You can see it in action on the Golo programming language’s website.

Roboto – Google 12

Yet another font from Google, this is the one which replaced Droid in recent versions of Android. Originally being a mashup from well-known sans, the 2014 variant is more refined and leans towards Myriad.

The Android Developers Portal makes use of it. A slab variant is also available.

The Source® fonts – Adobe 12 TeX

Source Sans Pro is an open-source font designed by Paul D. Hunt for Adobe that draws inspiration from numerous typefaces produced in the USA during the 20th century, mostly Benton’s gothics. While being narrow, it manages to keep open and efficient letterforms – great for the web.
A monospaced variant, Source Code Pro, was built upon the pre-existing Sans — it manages to keep the friendly forms from this legacy.

More recently, a Serif variant was made by F. Grießhammer, with the work from Pierre-Simon Fournier as a basis.
Currently packing 3 weights, the Serif family has more are on the way – including italics.

Source Sans Pro can be seen on the Brackets Editor’s website and on OpenClassrooms, Source Serif Pro is used on the Rust documentation.

Fira Sans – Mozilla Foundation 8 TeX

You have probably heard about Firefox OS recently; well this is its default, open-sourced font. This design is not a stranger to Mozilla as it is based onFF Meta – a typeface designed in 1985 by Erik Spiekermann, in reaction to the widespread Helvetica which he found too cold and devoided of personality.

Fira is a redesign that was commissioned by Mozilla for Firefox OS, at which occasion a monospaced variant was added, both being released under an open-source license.
It stays loyal to Meta’s legacy of sharp yet unobtrusive strokes.

Besides Firefox OS, Fira’s GitHub page is also a good showcase. The Racket documentation uses it in its headlines.

Clear Sans – Intel 8 TeX

Clear Sans is a relatively new font since it appeared last November, when Intel needed a font for its mobile and embedded systems designs — this open source font is noticeably used in Firefox for Android as the UI font.
It has been designed with optimum legility in mind with its modern and straight-forward forms including open counters.

You can see it in action on 01.org, Intel’s open source portal.

Bitstream Charter – Bitstream Inc. 4 TeX

Designed in the 80s by Matthew Carter – originally for a memory-constrained environment, as a serif which would have as few anchor points as a sans –, Charter holds the work of Pierre-Simon Fournier as a deep ancestor (just like Source Serif Pro, above).
Bitstream Inc., as it did with the Vera set of fonts (included in Ubuntu), donated it to the X Consortium under a permissive license.

Various open-source projects built upon the legacy of a Latin-1 charset font that is up to the standards of the 80s (e.g., Khartiya), yet I am working on a proper & careful remaster.

Typography for Lawyers uses it as do the Racket docs – it seems that the version distributed by Matthew Butterick has no kerning whatsoever though.

Utopia – Adobe 4 TeX

Another font that was donated to the X Consortium is Utopia by R. Slimbach, a transitional serif typeface designed in 1989.
The Heuristica font project brought the PostScript outlines to the realm of modern OpenType fonts, along with some changes, mostly: adjusted metrics, cyrillic charset support, some additional symbols and small caps.

The 1989 Utopia still carries the limitations of the 80s, much like the original Charter: kerning pairs count was then limited and it resorts to spacing tricks (e.g. for V, W, Y) to work-around the problem. Besides that, a large part of the kerning pairs is overkerned, for instance F/comma (have a look, it’s used on this site: F, H, T,).
A proper remaster of this font has yet to be done – it seems the Heuristica project maintainer does not want to break backwardscompat with the original fonts, but I’d say it’s a necessary thing to do.

Make sure to download it on the official repository to get the latest version.

Heuristica is used on The Chronicle ; the original Utopia can be seen on my Semaphores book redesign.

The PT fonts – ParaType 8 6 TeX

The PT set of fonts is a recent release of the russian ParaType foundry which has rapidly become a reference in the domain of free fonts due to them being matching serif and sans (and more recently, a monospaced variant) faces starring advanced TrueType hinting instructions otherwise known as “Delta”. PT stands for Public Types of Russian Federation as it has been sponsorised by the russian governement in an effort to have high-quality fonts with support for all slavic-languages variants.

You can see them in action on Octopress.

Brill Fonts – Tiro Typeworks 4 TeX

Brill is a publishing company that set out to get an eponym typeface developed so that it would allow authors to seamlessly quote from a wide range of languages (i.e., without switching fonts). The fonts were developed by multilanguage design specialist John Hudson – the same designer as the Constantia font on Windows – and has over 5'100 chars built-in in order to support full Latin, Cyrillic and Greek alphabets amongst others with alternate figures and small-caps.

You can watch his release conference from here.

Gentium Basic – SIL 4 TeX

Gentium is a serif typeface that’s a remainder of Linux Libertine but is more of a Renaissance-inspired typeface. It has good legibility and supports a wide range of charsets. All in all, it’s more emotionful and less blocky than a classic transitional may be, but this slight medieval feeling it conveys might not make it suitable for any project.

‘Basic’ does not refer to a version that is cut-down in features but rather in characters coverage: it has limited support the extended Latin and it does not include Greek and Cyrillic glyphs – sparing some bytes.
Additionally, the Gentium Book alternative has a slightly heavier base weight.

L’internaute uses it for their body copy text, at 18px point size.

The TeX Gyre fonts – GUST 4 TeX

The TeX Gyre project offers improved versions of some of the most popular typefaces in the twentieth century, made up from font sources originally donated to the Ghostscript project by a German foundry – URW++.

TeX Gyre provides free replacements for ITC Avant Garde, Gothic ITC Bookman, ITC Zapf Chancery, Courier, Helvetica, Palatino and Century Schoolbook.

The Sans

Lato – tyPoland 18 TeX

I would probably describe Lato (“summer” in Polish) as a middlepoint between Open Sans and Source Sans Pro, with classic shapes yet modern and elegant.
The design was originally made for a client of the Polish foundry who decided on something else at the end. Being supported by donators, its development has continued and this high-quality typeface has become popular on the web.
— The Aleo typeface on the next section was made as a matching serif.

Merriweather Sans – Sorkin Type Co. 8 TeX

Merriweather is a family of fonts designed to be warm and pleasant to read at very small sizes. Merriweather Sans uses slightly condensed yet open letterforms with a mild diagonal stress into a screen-friendly font.

It has similarities with Lato in its perceived style, however they have some differences in their DNA if you take the time to look closer, mainly that Merriweather Sans has ample counters.

You can see it in action on Prototypo.

Aileron – Sora Sagano 18

Aileron is a sans-serif that blends all major late 20th-century sans serifs (Helvetica, Univers, FF Meta – from which Fira Sans derives) into a contemporary design.
Another singularity of this font is that it is CC0 licensed (Public Domain), which means that you can do whatever you want with it (through sources themselves are not provided).

Sora Sagano has produced some other typefaces, like Vegur, which has similarities with Aileron but is more of a humanist typeface.

Klima – Matthew Anderson 6

Originally designed for use inside an NGO, Klima is a “climate-centric font” which will automatically subscript ‘CO2’ using OpenType features.
Stylistically, it has the same friendliness as Roboto but it is a bit thinner in its standard weight and a bit more geometric, while having subtle contrasts in its letterforms.

Is technically clunky (e.g. spacing all on one side, outlines need cleanups/smoothing/stem consistency checks and fixes) but an interesting design imo. The author has newer webfonts on 350.org he hasn’t published separately yet, and he doesn’t seem interested in opening it up to external contributions. It might work for you — we’ll see what this project yields in the future.

You can check it out on its website, on the designer’s blog and on 350.org.

Karmilla – J. Pinhorn, M. Schmalstieg, R. Bastide 4

Karmilla is a fork of Karla (a grotesque sans-serif) that includes improvements, mostly for French characters.
The original designer has yet announced that he will release an improved version of the typeface including all improvements, but this fork is still relevant for now.

You can see it in action on Greyscale Press’ website.

Mission Gothic – Lost Type Co. 10

Mission Gothic is a nice and clean gothic sans-serif, said to be inspired by “antique signage in San Francisco’s Mission District”. It is slightly narrower than a grotesque and does a great job at small body text – it’s probably a bit ‘cold’ through.

Chivo – Omnibus Type 4

Chivo is another Grotesque font, with curved terminals. It performs well in body copy even at small sizes.

You might also want to check out others Omnibus Type designs, noticeably Archivo – a narrow variant – and Asap, a soft serif designed for “screen and desktop use”.

Chivo is being used in the body of the foundry’s webpage.

Hind – Indian Type Foundry

A Latin and Devanagari font – as you’d expect from the foundry name. Uprights only.

Hind is rather similar to something like Myriad, although some letters have slightly stronger calligraphic associations. High-quality TTF hinting.

You can see it in action on the forum posts at XDA-Developers (sometimes with a faux-italic!).

Istok Web – Andrey V. Panov 4

Istok has been in development since 2008 by the author of Heuristica. It derives from the CM Bright family of fonts and uses a carefully handmade hinting – it renders nicely on Windows even at very small point sizes.
The easiest way to tell the font apart from the original one is probably the oblique shape some character’s tails – the lowercase ‘l’, noticeably.

Sinkin Sans – K-Type 18

A simple and elegant font designed for the web, with wide counters. It is supplied in all weights CSS supports, plus italics – which is why there are so many variants.

Sinkin Sans has small notches and quirks that break the usual monotony of a web font, yet manages to carry an elegant feel to the reader. Originally designed in 2014 for K-Type’s website and released freely under the Apache License.

Signika – Anna Giedrys 4

Like the name suggests, Signika is a signage-focused type family, with a tall x-height and distinctive characters through fancy terminals.
The base weight itself is quite bold but Signika packs Light and Semi-Bold weights — no italics. The hinting is very solid so you can use it even at small point sizes.

The Straight Serifs

Merriweather – Sorkin Type Co. 8 TeX

Merriweather was designed specially for screen reading by Eben Sorkin, “with sturdy serifs and open forms”. It’s a very legible font that has its matching sans above.

Lora – Cyreal 4

Lora is a well-balanced typeface that applies calligraphical roots in a simple and modern design, making it a good fit for both body text and headlines. It stands a memorable appearance thanks to its brushed curves.

You can see it in action on Gumdrop or on the Mozilla Public License headlines.

Domine – Impallari Type 2

Domine was designed for body text on the web and has a high x-height with curved terminals on certain letters – it has no italics through.

You can see it in action on the Real World OCaml eBook.

Aleo – FontFabric 6

Although not being of the same designer, Aleo is based on Lato (see above) and designed as a serifed companion, from which it shares good versatility and fluidity.

Since the designer of Lato did not release its source files although marketing it as an open-source font on its website, the designer had to use TTF2PS converted outlines. This yield more points and keeps the simplification of 2nd-order curves even in the PostScript fonts.
Besides, spacing and kerning can be quite inconsistent in Aleo, so stay alert.

Bitter – Huerta Tipográfica 4

Bitter is a “contemporary” slab serif designed for comfortable reading on screen and text. Even through it looks like a headlines font, it does remarkably well for body copy text on small sizes.

You can see it in action on Soledad Penadés (titles only).

Eczar – Rosetta Type 5

Designed by multiscript and minority languages specialist Rosetta, Eczar is a rather crunchy font family that associates Latin and Devanagari – similarly to Mota Italic’s Vesper Libre. Much like most Devanagari-centric projects, it has no italics even for the Latin.

It’s otherwise an absolutely awesome typeface, both stylistically and technically.

Noticia Text – José Miguel Solé 4

Noticia is an interesting font. The diagonal stress makes ample and individual letterforms, while serifs have a clear cut. The typeface is also particular for having a low capital height, which you might or might not like.

It is explicitly marketed as being manually hinted and it gives pretty good results on Windows.

My rust-tuts project makes use of it.

Work Sans – Wei Huang 9

A grotesque type family based on early installments of the style – yet designed for the screen. Despite having a lot of variants, these are only uprights. Supports Telugu script.

Arsenal – Andriy Shevschenko 4

A thin, low-contrast sans-serif set for text purposes. Supports cyrillic. Has italics and OpenType features like swashes, fractions or small capitals.

Neuton – Brian Zick 6

Neuton is a bold serif font with ample forms in contrast with sharp slants. Although somewhat clean, it conveys a friendly mood in a narrow package.

Gandhi Serif – Librerías Gandhi 4 4

Gandhi is a chain of libraries in Mexico, which set out to develop its own typeface as a marketing medium, for which they hired 5 different designers. The overall light weight of the family corresponds to the preferences people have in Mexico City.

Gandhi is a fairly complete family including four sets of numerals, superscript figures and small caps.

Poly – Nicolás Silva 2

Poly is a sharp serif that I would describe as a middlepoint between a slab serif and a more traditional Roman font, and for that reason it is a warm and elegant design. It has been specially designed to be highly legible while sparing some horizontal space compared to serif legacy.
Poly is elegant and carefully designed – a good workhorse font. It was originally developed to accomodate South American language families.

It is being used for body copy on Write The Docs.

Klinic Slab – Lost Type Co. 8

Klinic is a slab-serif font that works well at all typical body text sizes and has a sheer number of weights from which you can choose from. It’s contemporary, and versatile.

Book-esque Serifs

Playfair Display – Claus Eggers Sørensen 6+6 TeX

Playfair Display is a transitional design inspired from 18th century typefaces. The font itself is well-balanced, making it a very suitable font for the web where you would want such a classic design — it also packs small caps.

The author uses it on his website.

Vollkorn – Friedrich Althausen 8

Vollkorn is a heavy font with a serious appearance yet ample forms, which makes it versatile across all kinds of documents and web usage.
Be sure to grab the newest version from the official website – others on the web tend to be outdated.

Vollkorn’s website is a good showcase for the typeface.

Lido STF – Storm Type Foundry 10 TeX

Concisely described as “Times with a human face”, Lido was originally commissioned by a Czech newspaper and shaped up to be a contemporary and warmer replacement to Times.
Lido was extensively tested on printing presses, said to be “even more legible and economical than that of Times”.

Alegreya – Huerta Tipográfica 6 14 TeX

Although being meant for text books in its roots, Alegreya is remarkable for having a “dynamic and varied rhythm” that makes it easier for the eye to keep up with long paper texts.
Alegreya won the ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) Letter.2 competition in 2011.

Similarly to what it did with Rosario, the Adobe Edge Web Fonts team has contributed precise hinting to Alegreya a few months ago — you can consider it a rock-solid choice.
More recently, the typeface author has published a sans variant that builds upon the distinctive slants of the original serif in its letterforms — both typefaces make extensive use of OpenType features, including small caps.

Also do check out Andada by the same foundry.

You can see it in action on Patoline’s website.

Crimson Text – Sebastian Kosch 4

Crimson is an open-source typeface inspired from many great references in the segment: Garamond, Minion, Sabon.

Crimson is used for the Mozilla Public License – it’s also the official body font of the Stanford University. Make sure to get it from the GitHub HEAD.

Libre Baskerville – Impallari Type 3 TeX

Much like the EB Garamond project which aims to produce an ultimate rendition of Garamont’s work, Libre Baskerville gets an all-time classic of the late-18th century into open-source.

Old Standard – Alexey Kryukov 3

A redesign of a corporate font from the USSR, it evokes 19th century books. Supports Greek and Cyrillic.

Inknut Antiqua – Claus Eggers Sørensen 2

Inknut is an Antiqua text face, designed after Venitian manuscripts of the 16th century. Besides having a lot of typographical characters and refinements, it also supports the devanagari script.

Sedán – TipoType 3

A calligraphic font inspired from Baroque 17th century typefaces. Comes with italic and small caps.

TipoType offers various free fonts, including Jauría – a graduation project. It might need some font development and some outline touchups in a few spots, but it’s pretty good overall.
This one is also licensed under CC BY-SA, which allows derivatives…

Foundries proposing free fonts

Useful links

© 2013‒2014, Adrien Tétar.