When something is free, there’s often a hidden downside and free fonts are no exception. Free fonts are available at hundreds of sites on the web. In a web search, typing free before the name of a font will usually produce more hits that you can handle. With prices of up to several hundred dollars for a font family, it’s tempting to click one of the links in search of a free alternative.

Despite that urge to save some cash, it’s important to understand the harsh realities of the free font world before you start using “free” fonts.

Image of a danger sign against blue sky with the words Free Fonts floating over its

Commercial Use Limitations

Like other software, fonts (even free ones) have usage licenses. A large majority of free fonts come with a license for personal, but not commercial use. While most free font users don’t read those license agreements, they are just as enforceable as Microsoft, Adobe or Apple software licenses and they need to be respected. In short, be very careful. Using free fonts in commercial projects can lead you down a very risky road to software piracy.

Blue and orange iconic image of a roadblock representing the limits of free font licenses

License Compliance Risks

Violating a software license exposes a company or individual creatives to legal and goodwill losses that can exceed the costs of a font license by many thousands of times. So, before you elect to use a font in a project, be sure that you have a clear and clean commercial-use license to do so. That license should cover how you are using the font—in print, digital ads, videos, films, webpages, user interfaces, or on an application server. Font licenses specify numbers of users, devices, servers, products, printed materials, or online impressions, and they often include a date span.

Orange and blue iconic image of a font license and legal gavel

Font Duplicates and Collisions

Free fonts that you load onto your computers can contain font names that duplicate fonts that already reside on the machines. By loading them, you can cause collisions that confuse designers, cause designs and documents to load incorrectly, and render incorrectly. Therefore, before loading new fonts on your computers, make sure they have unique names and font file formats. To avoid collision problems, use a quality font manager like FontAgent.®

Iconic image of two blue arrows representing font duplicates and collisions

Introduction of Malware

Free font websites are often minefields of seemingly safe ads and download buttons. One simple click can bring you to a malicious website or download a “font installer” that is a dangerous program that introduces malware of all kinds onto your computer. Even the most careful and knowledgeable of users can tell stories of how they fell prey to what appeared to be a harmless free font site.

Blue and orange iconic image of a bug on a computer screen

Font Integrity Problems

Designing fonts is like designing timepieces. Imitators who create free and bootleg fonts do not use the same meticulous care as designers who create works of art intended to please the senses and pass the test of time. The cheap knockoffs just don’t look or work like the real deal.

So, what are the telltale signs of inferior fonts? Here are some things to look for:

  • Corrupt font files that fail validity checks in your font manager
  • Partial families with missing font styles
  • Missing family names, font metrics and other metadata that trip up font managers
  • Incomplete character sets lacking many special letters and symbols
  • Bad or missing kerning pairs that make some letter pairs look too widely or narrowly spaced
  • Missing ligatures that join two characters together for readability or language compatibility
  • Interline and character spacing problems
  • Jagged, rough glyph outlines
  • Variations in letter forms and slants that should be consistent
  • Inconsistent serifs from glyph to glyph
  • Broken type that breaks individual character shapes into multiple pieces
  • Variations in character weights

Advantages of Commercial-Grade Fonts

In contrast to low-quality free fonts, commercial-grade fonts have the following design advantages:

  • Up-to-date versions of your fonts in standard-compliant formats that work with modern software applications
  • Comprehensive styles and families, ligatures, kerning pairs, and character sets
  • Outlines with matching smooth curves, straight lines and attractive character and interline spacing
  • Consistent glyph shapes and serifs

By purchasing commercial licenses from reputable font vendors, you can:

  • Obtain commercial licensing that meets your needs and protects you legally
  • Reward font designers so they can continue to produce the fonts you need to create quality designs and documents
  • Receive technical support directly from font vendors if something ever goes wrong

Use FontAgent to Quarantine Corrupt Fonts

Want to protect yourself from the dangers of free fonts? Use FontAgent to test your fonts’ integrity to ensure your designs and documents render faithfully, and your computer runs dependably.