by Ruth Suehle
If you’ve ever gone looking for legitimately free fonts, you’ve probably found that there are a lot of really bad ones. But there’s also a lot of discussion out there about “open source fonts.”
Some who post about open source fonts are really just talking about free-as-in-beer typefaces. Some, however, have embraced the open source philosophy as applied to typography. From the 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.
Also see the related Free Font Manifesto blog. Through that project, Ellen Lupton spent about a year disucssing the idea of free fonts with other designers. Comments are now closed, but you can still go read what was said.
A few examples
SIL International is an organization founded for the study of lesser-known languages and to promote literacy around the world. The SIL Open Font License (OFL) is “a free and open source license specifically designed for fonts and related software based on our experience in font design and linguistic software engineering.”
Gentium is one of the better-known fonts released under the OFL. It was originally designed by Victor Gaultney as a part of his master’s degree work at the University of Reading. He first released it as a free-to-use font, but you couldn’t modify it. The project has since been turned over to SIL, and it can now be modified and redistributed. The font has also been recognized by the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypi). Read more about the history and development of Gentium.
Then there’s Bitstream Vera, which was released under a similar license that Bitstream created with the GNOME Foundation. Unfortunately, despite being out for four years and available to everyone, Vera hasn’t gotten a lot of momentum past the Linux crowd.
Go forth and download
If you’re just interested in getting a variety of good, free-as-in-beer (but not necessarily open) fonts, Smashing Magazine is here for you with an article about 40 free fonts. If you want good+free+open, you’ll see that they include one of our favorites, Liberation, which can be redistributed under a GPL+exception license.