This isn’t just a nagging question. It’s to help designers (such as myself) to understand the importance of paid for fonts.
This question is mainly based on my curiosity to why we should pay for fonts (not meaning we should get them for free) when there are a vast number of adequate fonts out there on the interwebs!
I understand that the fonts you have to pay for are (usually) very high quality but I’d rather use a free font from lets say, FontSquirrel that to me, looks just as good as most of the paid for fonts out there, instead of paying £30-50 for just one font family, and sometimes that’s not even all styles (bold, italic, etc), just the original font.
I’m probably being narrow-minded (I hope) and I have never really had the need to buy a font so I was wondering apart from owning the license to use a font or to support the font creator, is there any other reason to actually use purchased fonts?
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To scoop up all suggestions in the comments and add my own reasons, here goes:
Paid fonts are higher in quality, on average than free ones. Remember that saying: ‘Pay peanuts, and you get monkeys’? It applies to fonts as well. Paid fonts most probably have more features than free ones, just like most other software. Examples are
- glyphs like €, æ, å, ç, ß, Ł et al;
- proportional small caps;
- lowercase numbers;
- a decent kerning table;
- the availability of many different styles and weights.
Also, as user568458 mentions, there’s probably more experience worked into a paid font than a free one—experience in creating legible and readable type. It will be subtle or even invisble, but the differences are there.
We all make stuff, and some of us even do so for a living. Wouldn’t be great if we could actually make that living? If I see something I really like and want to use it, I’d like the creator to know and I’d like to support them. The easiest way is to buy their product.
Permanency & security
If I buy a license for a font, I can use that font practically forever. I also know that if I lost the font file (say, my computer bricked), I could re-download it from the foundry and play on.
I’m also somewhat surer that the font is legit, that it’s not some kind of rip-off font that is based just a bit too much on an existing, commercial one and is liable to create legal problems because of that. Of course, I’m never 100% sure, but getting an expensive font from one of the big foundries gives a lot more security than a cheap or free one from a backwater site.
Why should someone pay for your designs? Because you have talent, knowledge, invested time and you can create something unique that someone else can’t. The same is true for type designers and their product.
They don’t give away their quality product for free because the invested a lot.
Most free (gratis) fonts are very low quality. Imagine doing an identity for a startup with a gratis font, but soon they will expand into other countries. Then you discover that the free font you picked doesn’t have the language support your client needs. What will you do? Hire someone to design the missing glyphs for you? Edit the font yourself? Most free fonts are still licensed and often editing isn’t allowed. Maybe you can redesign the company’s identity for £30-50? Now you regret not buying a proper font in the first place.
There are very few good, free fonts. By “good” I mean: big glyph sets, multi language support, hinting, spacing, kerning, range of weights, true italics, small caps, table figures, fractions, ligatures, swashes, etc. If a font like this exists, it will be overused.
You seem to understand difference in quality. “Looks just as good” is the wrong comparison. Some fonts are display fonts, used to draw attention, and they are applied in big sizes. Then you have the workhorse typeface for setting text which should work well in all situations. Legibility is also important. The requirements of these two are very different. Most free fonts are very useful but only “look good” to draw attention; they aren’t workhorses.
You say never to have bought a font. Thats probably not true. Most systems and a lot of applications come with fonts. A lot of these fonts are not free have a licence. If you paid for software that bundles fonts, than you also paid for those fonts.
Like Scott said: “You really do get what you pay for.” If you can’t see the value in paid fonts, then you should stick with free fonts.
- you should use the typeface that is right for the job.
Maybe that’s a free font. Maybe it’s not.
Disadvantages of (many, not all) free fonts:
- limited character set
- limited weights and styles
- they tend to be over-used and can dilute your brand image because of that
- limited range of variety
Advantages of (many, not all) paid fonts:
- you get to hand pick rather than having to shop from a limited selection
- extended character sets and styles
- many more options
If, as a designer, you’re balking at a purchase of £30-50, then you’re not charging enough as a designer. That’s a very small price to pay for a tool that will help you produce a better product.
Remember, time is money. You could spend an hour hunting that freebie font, or you could spend 5 minutes on MyFonts and buy the exact one you need. For most designers, the latter is a better fiscal decision–and often a better design solution decision.
A typeface is a part of your toolbox. Just as your computer, your copy of PhotoShop, your pencil, etc. You could use a freebie hand-me-down computer and The Gimp instead, and likely do OK, but sometimes it makes good sense to invest in the quality of the tools you use. A cabinet maker can do better, faster work with a $200 Japanese finish saw vs. the $12 cross cut saw from Home Depot.
Because fonts are actually tools. And who doesn’t want to use good tools instead of bad ones?
The decision of tool will determine your level of design. If you train your eye constantly to “see” fonts and letters you will no longer consider free-fonts a viable option. I guarantee it.
But that sounds rather esoteric. Let’s give you a real world example:
I started to work as an in-house designer for a company which had a corporate font for over 20 years. They never had a in-house designer and therefore their corporate design looked rather poor. (Imagine seeing a screenshot of netscape explorer in a flyer from 2013).
When I started to work there I received a carte blanche. From day one it was clear to me, that this font had to die. Here is why:
I did some research on this font and found out that it was a free font created by a game company for one of their games which went bankrupt years ago. The font was a bad ripoff from futura. I guess the game company wanted to circumvent license fees.
The font didn’t have any special letters and wasn’t available as a webfont. The company needed huge roll-ups with the font being 2m in size. At this size you could see how poorly it was drawn.
So I started with creating a list of what the font could do. The list had nothing to do with design. But rather with technical and content concerns:
- Has to work on the web
- Has to work on print at any size (From business card to house sized ad’s to powerpoint to in-app fonts).
- Need special characters like mathematical signs since it’s a science company.
Again. This has nothing to do with design. It’s just requirements for me as a GraphicDesigner to create decent work. Most free-fonts are unable to meet these requirements.
At stage two the design of the font comes into play. How does the font has to look. Whats it’s character. What design attributes does represent the company best… but thats another topic.
If you are a hobbyist it’s okay to use free fonts. If you are a pro it’s not allowed to use free fonts. If you do use free fonts as a pro, you have to train your eye.
I think that just as everyone has pretty much stated, there’s a lot of benefits to buying a font vs. using a free font. You simply get more. You get what you pay for sort of deal. But, personally, I think purchasing a font-family is the best way to go simply because an individual had to put so much time and effort into creating the font. They deserve the money for their work.
Think about it this way – how much design are you going to do for free?
Apart from all the warm and fuzzies around supporting the artist, etc, here’s an important real-world reason: Liability.
Suppose it turns out that the font you’ve been using for three years turns out to be a copy of X’s work. Now X wants to pursue you for copyright infringement.
Now, did you buy the font for $5, or did you find it on the Internets for free? In either case, you still bear some liability, but if you paid money for it, the dodgy vendor you bought it from will (hopefully) bear the lion’s share of the hot water.
I am not a lawyer.