Free or Paid Fonts? What to Choose and Why ?

Freeware is all over the Internet. There are alternative versions of nearly any kind of software to can imagine, from basic word programs, to spyware and virus scans, to even whole operating systems. We are falling into a pattern of going for what is cheap or cost-free over the big boys that charge ridiculous prices. In these cases, the open source programs that we find instead are a great choice.

In the world of fonts, there are endless supplies of both paid and free content. Websites feature huge databases, and word and design programs both offer a fair number by default, with more you can download as extensions from their main or user generated sites. I have even been coming across a fair amount of torrents lately where people package their own selection of self-made fonts that they pass around file sharing sites.

But when it comes to fonts, is free better, or should you spent the cash to pay for the licensing? Does it make a difference? Actually, yes, and there are several reasons why.

Reason One – Stolen Content

Take a moment to imagine that as a typographer, you have spent hours designing and producing a new style of typeface. You have perfected it to a font with dozens of additional characters, alternative letters and a base alphabet. Anyone who has done this themselves know the time and effort that goes in to such an undertaking.

Now imagine that you are surfing the web one day, looking at what others have placed on free sites. You search through the rows of samples in a large database….and stop. That font looks an awful lot like yours, though the name is different. You take a closer look; it is yours! Your entire font is there for downloading free, or for a reduced price.

This happens all the time. Free content doesn’t come with a license, and so you run the risk of possibly downloading something that was stolen from a designer. If you are using it personally you might never find out. But if you make the mistake of using it professionally you can bet you will probably find yourself at the end of a lawsuit. Plus, you will have your credibility damaged.

Reason Two – Artistic Quality

I am not going to sit here and say that all free fonts are bad in design. The truth is, many are not. There are some incredibly talented artists out there who, for whatever reason, choose to offer the fruits of their typography skills for free. If you can find something of maximum quality offered straight from the artist under Creative Commons licenses then you are in luck.

At first place you might not see design flaws in a lot of the designs you come across. But breaking it down, you start to notice some issues. The most common tend to be:

  • Bumps in the curves of the letters
  • Poor section transitions
  • Areas that should be curved flattening unexpectedly
  • Badly measured space.

A professional font is less likely to have these issues. When you use an amateur lettering you run the risk of compromising the overall look of your finished product, as anyone with any design training will notice imperfections, even subtle ones.

Reason Three – Style Choices


You will never have as many options of expert-quality fonts in free databases. There might be thousands available, even tens of thousands, but you can bet a huge chunk of those will be the same kind of style recycled by different artists and lumped together in one place. Trudging through them all to find something both well done and unique will be a difficult task.

Paid sites tend to be more discerning when it comes to their offerings. They monitor the content before putting it out, because they have a vested interest in the sales. They make a cut (or take all of the cost) of the profit.

Conclusions – Which Is Better?


There are other things you can bring up to make an argument: the spacing and kerning, the technical quality of the drawing, the ingenuity of the font’s inspiration…the list goes on. But in the end we can gain one major conclusion: for professional grade projects and products, using a paid font will pay off in the end.

With so many risks involved in a free font, not to mention how hard it is to find one that is acceptable for use, you are better off paying for what you need. Besides, it supports those many designers that make a living off of this profession, which is important.

Annie is a design and creativity blogger for Sell My Timeshare, the best free resource for inspired and adventurous travelers.