Until recently, most open source fonts were, to put it kindly, not ready for prime time. Their integrity of their outlines, metadata and file structures were simply not of sufficient quality for production use. But as the open source movement has matured, the quality of open source fonts has improved as well.

What Does Open Source Mean?

Fonts are software and just like desktop or enterprise applications, they have usage licenses that you must follow to legally use them. Open source fonts are licensed so that anyone can use them anywhere for any purpose, free of charge. Many open source fonts use the Open Font License, which was created to make project collaboration easier for academic and linguistic communities.

A Natural Choice for Web Projects

If you utilize a traditional, commercial font on a website, you must either purchase or rent the web version of the font to legally host or use it on your web server.

There is no such financial requirement with open source fonts, making them perfect candidates for website use. In fact, Google offers a free web font service that features hundreds of open source fonts that you can download to your desktop. Google even provides the code required to embed your chosen fonts in webpages.

What Are the Downsides of Open Source Fonts?

Open source fonts now number in the thousands and they vary widely in integrity. It’s very difficult to wade through all of them to find quality, full-featured fonts.

Even fonts from reputable sources such as Google have problems that include incomplete glyph sets, poor kerning and improper file structures. These issues can cause incorrect page and document rendering, performance problems and even system crashes.

Unfortunately, many open source fonts have only one style, or if you are lucky, a regular and an italic version. So for projects that call for a single-face display font, you might find a few decent open source alternatives. But many projects require full typeface families that span the full spectrum from light to regular to semi-bold-semi-extended-italic font styles.

For all these reasons, the more versatility you require in your typefaces, the harder it will be to find a good one in the open source world.

Are Open Source Fonts a Good Option?

So are open source fonts good alternatives to commercial ones? It depends. For projects that require a well-designed typeface with many styles, commercially licensed fonts might be the only way to go. The quality and flexibility of those fonts comes at a premium, but if the typeface fills the need, it is usually worth the cost.

For projects that don’t require the flexibility of full-featured commercial fonts, or if you simply don’t want to deal with licensing complexities, open source fonts offer a hassle-free alternative.

With new open source typefaces appearing all the time, the open source option will continue to be a decent solution for many design and web projects.