Ellen Lupton is curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York City and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore. An author of numerous books and articles on design, she is a public-minded critic, frequent lecturer, and AIGA Gold Medalist. Read More

Free Font Manifesto

A small but growing number of designers and institutions are creating typefaces for the public domain. Gathered here are notes from a controversial 2006 lecture about “free fonts.”

Free Font Manifesto

A small but growing number of designers and institutions are creating typefaces for the public domain. These designers are participating in the broader open source and copyleft movements, which seek to stimulate worldwide creativity via a collective information commons. These notes were prepared for the aTypi Conference “Typographic Journeys,” Lisbon, 2006. The annotated appearance of this web page reflects my conversations with type designers about the danger and necessity of free fonts. Special thanks to the designers who shared their concerns prior to the conference: Peter Bilak, Mario Feliciano, Tobias Frere-Jones, Victor Gaultney, Jonathan Hoefler, David Lemon, and Thomas Phinney.—Ellen Lupton, 2006

The FreeFontManifesto blog preserves the debate and discussion prompted by my lecture.

* What is a free font?

A free font is not just a typeface that you don’t have to pay for. A stolen (or illegally copied) typeface isn’t free. A free font must be freely given by its maker. And to be truly free, it should be available to everyone, not just to a circle of friends or to the buyers of a particular software package or operating system. Many of the so-called free fonts that are distributed on the Internet don’t meet this description. Like open source software, the freedom of the fonts shown on this page is made explicit through their licensing, which allows other people to not only use the fonts but to modify them (granted that they change the name of the typeface if they alter its design).

** Should all fonts be free?

Typeface design is a profession and a business. If all fonts were free—or even if every type designer created just one free font—the business of typeface design might be destroyed. Today, the free font movement is addressing typeface needs that are not being adequately met by the typeface industry. Most typefaces created in the free font movement are designed to serve relatively small or underserved linguistic communities. They have an explicit social purpose, and they are intended to offer the world not a luxurious outpouring of typographic variation but rather the basics for maintaining literacy and communication within a society.

*** What makes a typeface “good”?

Currently, most fonts created in the open source spirit are produced for small or underserved linguistic populations. Such fonts are “good” in the moral sense. In the future, designers may choose to make free fonts in the service of other social needs as well. For example, in developing countries graphic designers who seek to build a typographic culture in their home regions require more than a bare-minimum typographic vocabulary, and they often rely on pirated typefaces to do so. A richer selection of legitimate free fonts, clearly labelled and promoted as such in an educational way, might help to build respect for the larger commercial ecology of typeface design.

****Is a typeface a meaningful gift to humanity?

In the scheme of things, a typeface may seem like a small gift, so maybe designers and software companies should devote their charitable efforts to more urgent causes. However, I believe that typefaces are valuable, powerful, and beautiful cultural tools, worthy of legal protection and deserving of the price they bring in the Western marketplace. Moreover, a gift of typography makes good on a unique body of skill, knowledge, and passion. Perhaps the free font movement will continue to grow slowly, along the lines in which it is already taking shape: in the service of creating typefaces that sustain and encourage both the diversity and connectedness of humankind.

Gentium

Designed by Victor Gaultney, SIL International. Gaultney and SIL have also developed the Open Font License, which they encourage other interested designers to use.

go to SIL download page

Linux Libertine

Designed by Phillip H. Poll, Libertine Linux Open Fonts Project

go to Libertine download page

Freefont

Project organized by Primoz Peterlin, Savannah.nongnu.org

go to Savannah download page

Titus Cyberbit

Font created by Bitstream; no longer distributed or supported by Bitstream; available for download from Titus, a linguistic studies society in Frankfurt, for non-commercial purposes only.

go to Titus Cyberbit download page

Vera Sans

Designed by Jim Lyles for Bitstream

infromation from Bitstream

DejaVu Sansis a modification and extension of Vera Sans which includes more Unicode (international) characters. See more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DejaVu_fonts

More resources

Many typeface makers offer some designs for free to the public in order to spread good will about their work and about typography. Many such designers and firms also produce typefaces for sale. Some free fonts have a standard license agreement; some are released under Creative Commons licenses. Some designers are interested in how type design and graphic design might mesh with the broader copyleft and open source movements. When searching for free fonts, think about whether the fonts you find are really “free” or are simply stolen (copied and repurposed) from the original merchandise. You wouldn’t want a “free car” that had been stolen from a neighbor, would you? If you are downloading a typeface from the designer or company who made it, there’s a good chance it is a legitimate gift. The notion of originality in typeface design is a hugely contested area, however, as nearly every typeface is based to some degree on typefaces that came before. Always bring your “moral compass” when looking for free stuff!

Raph Levien

This designer is developing various typefaces using the the Free Software font design tool FontForge. His typefaces are works-in-progress full of lovely historic details. They may one day be released under an Open Font License. Raph has also written thoughtfully on Typophilie about the idea of free-as-in-freedom fonts (not just freeware, which he considers less interesting.)

Raph Levien’s fonts in progress

Raph Levien’sTypophile thread

Typeforge

Portuguese designer Pedro Amado has established this Web site as a place to develop typefaces in a collaborative, open source spirit. He is trying to develop not just typefaces per se, but a new way of working.

visit Typeforge

interview with Pedro on OpenSourcePublishing

Ubuntu

This typeface was created by Nicolas Spalinger in conjunction with the free Linux-based operating system Ubuntu. It was made using the Free Software font design tool FontForge.

download Ubuntu

Jan Gerner

Offers some fonts, including the charming Kaffeeatz, under a Creative Commons license

download from www.yanone.de

Vitaly Friedman

Has compiled a list of 25 best-quality free fonts, including some that are listed here plus many more

Vitaly’s list

Manfred Klein

This independent type designer distributes his unusual display typefaces for free

Klein’s font list

HouseIndustries

House Industries provides some free font downloads on their site as a marketing tool. Visit their catalog page and provide the information requested.

visit House Industries

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