A colleague recently asked me about the availability of free fonts and heard a rumour that fonts are in fact covered by a licence. She heard correctly, fonts are licenced software. That is how font designers earn a living, by selling a licence. It’s just like stock photography.

The big font sellers are fonts.com (Monotype Imaging), myfonts.com (Bitstream), and Adobe. There are many more, including some great boutique foundries.

Most commercial fonts will specify how many computers you can install your font on (commonly anywhere from 1 to 5). The licence will also allow you to send a copy of the font in use to a printer or similar service bureau so they can output the work. But this is intended as a temporary, one-time use exemption.

Having said that, there are a lot of free fonts out there on the web. They have licences that specify no fee is involved. Some may say free for personal use, but there is a cost for commercial use. Some are “donationware”, others say free for all. Yet again, a font may be free, but it is a demo version with missing characters, such as punctuation marks.

There are a number of free font sites out there, but beware, some free fonts are poorly built and may cause your computer grief. Free font sites I have perused are dafont.com1001freefonts.com and fontsquirrel.com There are certainly many others. Just do a Google search for free fonts.

A lot of the free ones are designed by hobbyists and the quality is pretty uneven. I’ve recently discovered that most of the Google webfonts are also available as free fonts for your computer and the quality is pretty good. But always check the terms of the licence before downloading fonts, whatever the source.

I always thought buying fonts was a terrible expense (it can get pricey), but I’ve learned that buying a good, well-designed font is a good investment. It can be used for multiple applications. Note that, unless you buy a bundle, each weight and style of a font is sold separately.

When a client asks me to send them a copy of the font I used on a project, I always respectfully decline, citing the terms of the licence. Some may grumble, but most respect my response once I explain the situation.