Apr 27 2009
I am a bit of a font nut and I love fine typography. When I see a carefully chosen, properly set line of type, it can suddenly turn me into a fan of that typeface whether I had previously overlooked it or maybe never heard of if before. After seeing it, I seek it out trying to find out what it is, who designed it and if they’ve designed anything else. It’s a sickness, but as far as sicknesses go, it’s not a bad one.
Check out this blog post I made based on the fonts of one of my favorite TV shows
Different kinds of them
Sometimes it can seem like the non-font-obsessed only see 3 typefaces: Times, Arial, and Brush Script. It’s probably not a coincidence that those three fonts constitute what is basically the 3 primary "colors" of fonts: Serif, Sans Serif and Script. There are many more styles than those 3, but those are the most basic. With the exception of maybe Dingbat fonts, typefaces in all the other styles (Old Style, Transitional, Modern, Slab Serif, Blackletter, Display, Monospaced, etc.) can be categorized as one of those 3 basics.
Serif faces are those whose strokes end in little decorative features called, predictably, "serifs." Times Roman, Bodoni, Palatino, Bookman, and Garamond are all examples of serif typefaces.
Script typefaces generally look as if someone, with better penmanship than I, grabbed a nice pen and scrawled them out freehandâ€¦and yet with precision. They can be cursive (i.e.: the letters are made so as to connect) or non-cursive. For example, Brush Script is cursive, while Comic Sans is not, but both are examples of script faces.
Sans Serif typefaces have none of those decorative serif dealies and are not made to appear handwritten. Arial and Helvetica are the most familiar examples of sans serif fonts.
Where to find them
Free fonts are not at all difficult to find online. But be warned; downloading and installing fonts indiscriminately can lead one’s computer to contract a TTD (Textually Transmitted Disease). While not an actual virus, a TTD can cause your computer to bog down and become unstable. If you think about it, because of the graphic user interface of your PC or Mac, every application (including the OS) uses fonts to display messages and many of them offer access to installed fonts to customize the application’s documents. That means if you install an improperly created font, it can negatively affect your entire system.
With that warning out of the way, here are a couple of sites where you can find a wide array of typefaces:
How to identify them
Okay, so, you’re looking for a particular font, you know it’s a sans serif face, but you don’t know what it’s called and the prospect of sifting through all 1001 fonts at 1001 fonts doesn’t sound too productive to you. You could narrow the search by imagining the font in its native habitat. What I mean is, does it look like it would be best suited for an airlock door on a spaceship or a wanted poster on a saloon wall? Would it be more at home on a love note or ransom note? Most font sites allow you to search and browse by keywords and themes.
Sometimes the font you’re looking for isn’t a font at all and it’s important to figure this out up front or you’ll spend a lot of time looking for something that doesn’t exist. If you have a sample of the font you’re looking for, see if there are one of more letters that repeat themselves in the sample. If, say, the lowercase "e" repeats itself, see if that letter is identical each time. If it is, it’s probably a digital typeface. If it’s not, it might not be a font at all (I say "might") but hand lettering or something that started out as a font, but was skillfully crafted to be less "predictable." See the example below and how each "L," "e," "a," "h" and "t" is different?
If you have a sample of the font you’re looking for, you might try Identifont (http://www.identifont.com/). If you have a few letters of the font, type them into the field under "Restricted set of letters" and click "Identify." The site will ask you a series of questions about the font and will give you a list of possibilities based on your answers. Unfortunately, it is limited to the fonts represented by Identifont (http://www.identifont.com/publishers.html)
If you have a digital sample of the font–maybe a photograph or a screen grab–you can isolate that font and upload a small sample to What the Font? (http://www.myfonts.com/WhatTheFont/) and help the software to identify what each character is.
Once you submit this, What the Font will do its best to return with fonts as similar to the one you uploaded as it can find in its database. It’s pretty smart, but you need to provide an "ideal" sample as it has a hard time separating joined letters or letters that are too close together.
Remember how I said that if the font you’re trying to identify shows different examples of the same character that it might not be a font at all? Well, the example I showed you–the scripty looking "The Lab with Leo Laporte" with its uniquely different "L’s," "e’s," "a’s," "h’s" and "t’s"–is, in fact, a font. It is an example of a fairly new breed of fonts called OpenType fonts that can offer all kinds of variations of letterforms under the hood. The one shown here is Candy Script from Veer (http://www.veer.com/products/typedetail.aspx?image=UMT0000254) and retails for USD$99. Veer has an awesome selection of such fonts and all of the ones I’ve tried have come with fun alternate characters to make your creations more organicâ€¦ (http://www.veer.com/products/gallery.aspx?gallery=1682)
Other font sites
Fonts truly are art and though art can be free, fine art rarely is. That doesn’t mean that all free fonts are garbage or that every font you pay for is, by that merit, better. But I do recommend supporting the art of artists by buying your fonts from reputable vendors. Here are a few of my favorites: