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Open source fonts


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.

6 responses to “Open source fonts”

  1. Laika says:

    There seems to exist some kind of license controversy concerning the Liberation fonts. Developers of a popular GNU/Linux distro, Debian, seem to think that the additional restrictions in the license of Liberation fonts contradict with GPL version 2, thus making the fonts illegal to redistribute. Is Red Hat currently working to solve this controversy?


  2. Mr. Yolls says:

    People in Far-East countries always complain about lack of support for ideograms in free fonts. A few seem complete like Bitstream Vera.

    This is kind of a big problem for them, because they usually need to use roman characters (e.g., in pinyin or romaji). Though we ocidental people can’t use their ideograms, some standardization wouldn’t hurt at all…

    It’s a whole different story when we talk about accents (diacritics). In many languages (and specially in Europe) they’s very important. Yet many fonts don’t have them.

    Even quite common words, like “fa├žade”, get written as “facade” for such reason. Having to deal with many languages, one learns to appreciate how unusable are fonts lacking accented chars.

    Many free fonts are therefore impossible to use due to this very reason. It’s somewhat unpleasant finding a beautiful font — which the author certainly wants to be used since it was put under a free licence — and discovering it couldn’t be used for lack of accents. Most (I’d say 80-90%) fonts fall in this not-usable category.

  3. Adam says:

    In the debians Bitstream has been superseded by the Deja Vu font family which has been receiving attention.

    There is also the non-free but gratis Microsoft core font set that I’m sure they very much wish they hadn’t given away.

    There is a large collection of fun Larabie fonts too.

    A quick eye-ball on my Lenny systems, puts about 89 font families at my disposal, before I add on any others – nice link to Smashing Magazine btw.

  4. Gavin Baker says:

    Many of the fonts linked from the Smashing Magazine article are quite nice, but most aren’t free as in libre. A few don’t allow commercial use; a couple aren’t even available gratis without requesting from the author. So it seemed quite incongruous to have a post about “open source fonts”, then link to a bunch of fonts which are free-as-in-beer but that’s it.

  5. Ruth Suehle says:

    Gavin–completely agreed. Call it a victim of editing. There had been an explanation to that effect, and as the post expanded, it got lost. I’ve amended that bit to note as such.

  6. Nicu Buculei says:

    And here is Mo’s research about the available free fonts (which may get included in Fedora): http://mihmo.livejournal.com/45152.html