Open source fonts free for commercial use
Fonts, like any other digital asset on your computer, come with their own rules for licensing.
When selecting a font, the decision process involves more than choosing between serif and sans serif: understanding how the font is licensed matters too. Though typographers need to be concerned with their rights to modify and extend a given font, even you as an end user should be asking yourself some questions. Do you have permission to use a font in commercial work, or in a public work at all? Can you even share that font with another person?
If you’re creating a work you wish to share, then licensing matters to you, and you should understand how open source applies to the world of fonts.
The most common open source font license is the SIL Open Font License, often just referred to by its initials OFL. But it’s not the only open source font license out there. In fact, the range of licenses which have been applied to fonts is broad, and sometimes confusing.
The Fedora Project, for example, recognizes over twenty font licenses as compatible with inclusion in the project. These include everything from the well-know Creative Commons to licenses originally created for just a single font, like the Elvish Font License, created for Tengwar, which true Lord of the Rings fans may recognize as the script in which elven languages like Quenya and Sindarin are commonly written.
What makes licensing for fonts confusing is that many licenses originally written for software or other creative works often don’t mesh well with the ways in which fonts are used in derivative works, and many font licenses make distribution free but restrict other freedoms like modification or naming derived fonts with similar names to the original.
Further, copyleft licenses like the GPL can make it unclear whether creative works making use of a font must also make use of a copyleft license. While it might be entertaining to imagine a document becoming open source merely because of its font selection, that’s not a legal road most authors (or font creators) want to go down, and some licenses have explicit exceptions for fonts (for example, the GPL has an optional font exception clause).
Sources for open fonts
Most authors of open source projects, however, aren’t interested in the intricacies of how licensing applies to fonts. They just want to know that the font they are using is legal to use and redistribute with their project, and that others have those same rights.
Here are five great sources you can use to find and download open source fonts for use in your programs, documents, and artistic creations.
- The League of Moveable Type is a community of font creators who license a curated collection of fonts under the OFL and host their source files on GitHub.
- FontSpace is a general-purpose font download site where you can filter fonts to only those available under an open license.
- Google Fonts is a source for “hundreds of free, open source fonts optimized for the web.” Google Fonts are designed for use with their API service for display as webfonts across any site which wishes to use them.
- Font Squirrel is another general hosting site for fonts, all of which are free for commercial use, but the site enables you to specifically filter for open source licensed fonts if you choose.
- The Open Font Library contains over 6,000 individual fonts from over 250 contributors, spanning a variety of licenses, all available as easy-to-use webfonts.
These, of course, are not the only sources for finding open source fonts. Your preferred Linux distribution probably ships with some already selected, and others are available elsewhere online. Just be sure you trust the source from which you are acquiring your fonts to have accurate licensing information.
Design your own
Can’t find exactly what you’re looking for? Or just want to try your hand at typography? FontForge is an open source project designed to open the world of font creation to anyone who wants to try their hand at it. Initially created by George Williams, FontForge is a jointly GPL- and BSD-licensed tool which rivals and in many ways surpasses its non-free alternatives.
FontForge provides a free ebook which lays out many of the basic things you need to know in order to get started with font creation: both how to use the program, as well as some of the high level concepts and terminology you should be familiar with.
Whatever your interest in free and open source fonts, we hope you’ll contribute any of your favorite resources in the comments below. And for more on the origins and future of open source fonts, check out this write-up of open source font pioneer Dave Crossland’s keynote at Flock 2013.
The right typeface can make or break your website. As designers, we will always be naturally drawn towards the premium fonts such as Circular, DIN, or Maison Neue; Before you know it, your website is racking up a font bill larger than your hosting bill.
We’ve put together a list of open-source fonts that will rival your fancy fonts, and might even persuade you to switch them out. All the fonts listed here are completely open-source, which means they’re free to use on both personal and commercial projects.
Manrope has sprung onto the font circuit in style, with a website better than most early startups. It’s a variable font, which means you have a flexible range of font weights to choose from in a single font file. Manrope is a personal favorite of mine, it has every ligature you could want, and is fully multi-lingual. It’s a lovely bit of everything as it states on the website: it is semi-condensed, semi-rounded, semi-geometric, semi-din, semi-grotesque.
DIN – the font we all love, the font that looks great at every size, and the font that costs quite a bit, especially with a large amount of traffic. Gidole is here to save the day, it’s an open-source version of our favorite – DIN. It’s extremely close to DIN, but designers with a keen eye will spot very few minor differences. Overall, if you’re looking to use DIN, try Gidole out before going live. (There is also a very passionate community around the font on Github)
Inter is now extremely popular, but we wanted to include it as it’s become a staple in the open-source font world — excellent releases, constant updates, and great communication. If you’re looking for something a bit fancier than Helvetica and something more stable than San Francisco, then Inter is a great choice. The font has now even landed on Google Fonts, making it even easier to install. As of today: 2500+ Glyphs, Multilingual, 18 Styles, and 33 Features… do we need to say more?
Overpass was created by Delvefonts and sponsored by Redhat, it was designed to be an alternative to the popular fonts Interstate and Highway Gothic. It’s recently cropped up on large ecommerce sites and is growing in popularity due to its large style set and ligature library. Did we mention it also has a monospace version? Overpass is available via Google Fonts, KeyCDN, and Font Library.
Public Sans is a project of the United States Government, it’s used widely on their own department websites and is part of their design system. The font is based on the popular open-source font Libre Franklin. Public Sans has great qualities such as multilingual support, a wide range of weights, and tabular figures. The font is also available in variable format but this is currently in the experimental phase of development.
Space Grotesk isn’t widely known yet, but this quirky font should be at the forefront of your mind if you’re looking for something “less boring” than good old Helvetica. Space Grotesk has all the goodies you can expect from a commercial font such as multiple stylistic sets, tabular figures, accented characters, and multilingual support.
Alice is a quirky serif font usually described as eclectic and quaint, old-fashioned — perfect if you’re looking to build a website that needs a bit of sophistication. Unfortunately, it only has one weight, but it is available on Google Fonts.
Urbanist is an open-source variable, geometric sans serif inspired by Modernist typography. Designed from elementary shapes, Urbanist carries intentional neutrality that grants its versatility across a variety of print and digital mediums. If you’re looking to replace the premium Sofia font, then Urbanist is your best bet.
Evolventa is a Cyrillic extension of the open-source URW Gothic L font family. It has a familiar geometric sans-serif design and includes four faces. Evolventa is a small font family, generally used across the web for headlines and bold titles.
Fira Sans is a huge open source project, brought to you, and opened sourced by the same team that makes Firefox. It’s Firefox’s default browser font and the font they use on their website. The font is optimized for legibility on screens. (And it’s on Google Fonts!)
Building a development website, or need a great code font to style those pesky code-blocks? Then Hack is the font for you. Super lightweight and numerous symbols and ligatures. The whole font was designed for source code and even has a handy Windows installer.
IBM needs no introduction. Plex is IBM’s default website font and is widely used around the web in its numerous formats Mono, Sans, Serif, Sans-Serif, and Condensed – it has everything you’d need from a full font-family. The whole font family is multi-lingual, perfect for multi-national website designs. (It’s fully open-source!)
Another great coding font, Monoid is a favorite of mine for anything code. The clever thing about Monoid is that it has font-awesome built into it, which they call Monoisome. This means when writing code, you can pop a few icons in there easily. Monoid looks just as great when you’re after highly readable website body text.
Object Sans (formally known as Objectivity) is a beautiful geometric font family that can be used in place of quite a few premium fonts out there. The font brings together the top qualities of both Swiss neo-grotesks and geometric fonts. The font works beautifully as large headings but can be used for body content as well.
Lunchtype has a very interesting back-story, originally designed during the creator’s daily lunchtime during a 100-day project. If you’re looking for something a bit “jazzier” than the typical Helvetica for your project, then Lunchtype is a perfect choice. The family comes with numerous weights as well as a condensed version — enough to fill any lunchbox.
Inspired by the early 1920’s German sans-serif’s, Jost is a firm favorite in the open-source font world. Jost brings a twist to its closest web designer favorite Futura. When you want a change from the typical Futura, then Jost is a great option with its variable weighting as well as multilingual support.
Work Sans is a beautiful grotesk sans with numerous little eccentricities that may delight or annoy some designers. The font has variable weighting, multilingual support and is optimized for on-screen text use but works perfectly well for print also.