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This introductory article describes the current market in digital type, offers some insights on the use of different typefaces, and offers some tips for everyone interested in typefaces, both novice and experienced users. Several on-line typeface resources are given, including type foundries, font development tools, and typograpic organizations, conferences, and discussion groups.
Tamye Riggs is a writer, typographer, and designer who's edited several magazines and books on typography and motion graphics. She also serves as the Executive Director of SOTA (The Society of Typographic Aficionados), a non-profit organization which publishes a magazine, "Interrobang," and produces the annual TypeCon conference, to be held this summer in Boston.
(Be sure to try the font quizzes devised by Tamye Riggs and Yves Peters.)
I was chatting recently with an executive from one of the world's largest font distributors. He casually informed me that, this year, his company would have more than 80,000 fonts available for download from their website. That's a staggering figure, but it's not entirely surprising.
Twenty years ago, the introduction of personal computers opened the world of publishing to the masses. The past decade has seen the rapid evolution of digital font production tools for individual use and the explosive growth of internet marketing and communications. Type designers worldwide now have the ability to produce fonts and make them instantly available over the internet. Some font producers market and sell from their own websites, while others prefer to distribute through large font houses. Either way, new type is available 24/7 for customers with internet access and a valid credit card.
With 80,000 fonts a few mouse clicks away, why do Times Roman and Arial still dominate the typographic landscape? Granted, these two fonts (or close variants) come standard with most computer operating systems, and are also displayed in most web browsers. But just because they're easily accessible doesn't make them the right tools for every job.
System fonts, while appropriate for many tasks, are overused and often misused. Comic Sans is perfect for comic strip speech bubbles, kid's birthday party invitations, or a letter to a younger sibling. It's just not the best choice for professionally printed direct marketing pieces or business correspondence. The same goes for Times, Arial, Courier, and the rest — they're seen so much that readers may get bored or even completely ignore text when those fonts are used. I liken it to hearing a song on the radio too many times — what once sounded fresh and creative soon becomes annoying. Eventually, we tune it out.
I'm not picking on system fonts, per se — they were developed to fit specific needs, and to give computer users fonts to work with right out of the box. For some purposes, it's easier and more practical to stick with commonly available fonts. When distributing an editable Word doc to a dozen people in different locations with different types of computers, it only makes sense to use cross-platform standards like Arial or Times.
Compatibility and commonality are not the only issues at hand. Some users prefer to stick with system fonts because they're already paid for. While saving money is always a consideration, anyone working with professional documents should consider unique typefaces to be an investment, a cost of doing business. Quality fonts from many commercial foundries and independent designers are affordably priced. Single fonts are often less than $20 each for standard licensing, with deeply discounted pricing available for multi-font families or large collections.
Many font retailers offer type viewers and advanced search engines on their websites. These tools make it possible to take a close look at typefaces before any money changes hands, enabling users to more easily find fonts that will meet their needs. There are also a number of type distributors that offer one or more fonts free of charge, as a marketing technique and a way of thanking their customers.
Take advantage of the opportunity to expand your typographic horizons. When you don't have to use a system font, don't. Seek out newer designs, or inspired classics that haven't been overexposed through the years. Typography is exciting — it's a kick to find a typeface that fits your style and delivers your message with finesse. And with so many fonts available, the possibilities are endless. You might even find a typeface that only a few other people in the world know about — it will seem almost as though the designer created it especially for you.
Alternative Types to Explore
Sans Serif Typefaces
There are thousands of type foundries, distributors, and independent designers making and selling fonts. Below is a representative sampling of companies, as well as other resources about typography.
Major foundries and distributors
Monotype Imaging (formerly Agfa Monotype; includes ITC and Letraset labels)
Large independent foundries and distributors
P22 (includes IHOF, Lanston, and other labels)
Large lists of foundries
Font development tools
FontLab (many font dev tools, including Fontographer, FontLab, and TypeTool)
Online typography discussion and news
Page generated June 9, 2010 ; TUG home page; search; contact webmaster.