Section Logo
Facebook   Twitter   LinkedIn   Email  

Page2of 2
< 1 2 >
Is “Good Web Typography” No Longer an Oxymoron?

by Angelynn Grant

With the success of the subscription model, other services are popping up every day, like at Monotype’s It offers over 7,500 fonts for their standard and pro level subscriptions and these include Monotype, Linotype and ITC typefaces from Bodoni to Syntax. A free account allows unlimited fonts on an unlimited number of sites with over 2,500 fonts to choose from (with colophon badge) and the same 25K page views per month as Typekit. There is a sliding scale of bandwidth options for the higher levels starting at $10 for 250K page views up to $500 for 12.5 million page views a month, with the pro plan including 50 installable desktop fonts a month to use in mock-ups.

Another big contender is Ascender’s Fontslive. It offers hundreds of fonts selected from Ascender, Bigelow & Holmes, Microsoft and others. Its designers are experts in user interface fonts and font hinting—fine-tuning for onscreen legibility. Each font includes recommendations for minimum pixel size usage to help you choose those that will render well on mobile displays. Fontslive has a different approach to their pricing model. Every font is available for a 30-day free trial. From there, levels are based on price per font and bandwidth/page views. For example, choosing Monotype's Sabon family (four fonts) is $37.50 a year for sites with less than 30k page views a month or 1GB of bandwidth. In addition to Sabon, their list of typefaces includes Ascender’s Droid Sans and Droid Serif Pro, Microsoft's Calibri, and the Hallmark Design Collection of script fonts. Ascender has also partnered with the Font Bureau on Webtype, a service focusing on Font Bureau typefaces and with a similar pricing model.

Fontspring dispenses with hosting and subscriptions, offering fonts for one-time purchase at a range of prices including free. The purchase includes both the desktop and the auto-hinted Web font formats. The foundry list includes small foundries and individual type designers like Canada Type and Shinntype.

There are also two completely free services: The League of Movable Type and the Google Font Directory. Both feature fonts that are open source and can be self-hosted. The Google Font Directory also offers hosted fonts, providing the link code and examples of how you should write your CSS font-family stacks. And these open source fonts aren't the ugly free fonts that have littered the Web for years. They include Matt McInerney’s elegantly thin, geometric sans serif Raleway and Barry Schwartz's Goudy Bookletter 1911, based on Frederic Goudy’s Kennerley Oldstyle, both found at The League and Santiago Orozco's equally elegant thin, geometric sans serif Josefin and Pablo Impallari’s fat, fun script Lobster, found at the Google Font Directory.

Other Web font services include Fontdeck, Just Another Foundry and WebINK. A good resource for emerging companies and helpful information is the wiki.

The subscription model might introduce a billing quandary for some designers. In a blog entry in March 2010, Jeffrey Zeldman of A List Apart discussed his views on Typekit and the “rent” versus “own” dilemma. “Of course you never really own the fonts you buy—you simply license their use. So the analogy of owning versus renting doesn’t exactly hold true. But a one-time font purchase as a line item in a design budget is easier to explain and sell to a client than an ongoing rental charge.” Also, with self-hosting, there are no restrictions on page views or sites.

On the other hand, subscription services maintain the font formats and link code for you and can update them to keep pace with shifts in browser and OS compatibility. They tend to it so you don’t have to. Plus, you can redesign your site in the cloud: log in anytime to your account, purchase a different font and, to some degree, reset your CSS–all without having to edit or FTP any of your site’s files.

No matter which method a designer chooses, it's like having a whole glass case of penny candy for the picking where you previously only had a choice between wax lips and an orange lollipop. Reflecting on whether or not these new business models will be able to support the type industry, Simonson says, “I think it is too early to say for sure, but I’m betting that they will. The Web is a really big place that, until recently, got by with only a few fonts. Designers are just starting to get used to the idea of having as many typefaces to choose from on the Web as in the print world. It’s going to be a very big deal.” CA Grant
Angelynn Grant is a Boston-based graphic designer, writer and educator. She has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Institute of Boston, Simmons College and MIT. You can e-mail her at In addition, Grant is the host of a jazz program on MIT radio, WMBR.