This is meant as an informative entry-level post about font pricing. It’s “my case” of why to invest in good typography on the web – and in general.
Loosely defined, typography comes down to the choice of fonts, how type is laid out on a (web)page, the (size) relationship between the words and the letters, and how these letters are perceived.
You used to be limited in your font choice as a web designer: basically you could use Arial, Times, Courier, Trebuchet, Verdana and Georgia.
Then, browsers and font embedding techniques got better and now there is broad support for embedding custom fonts into websites.
When you buy a font, you’re buying a personal desktop license.
Basically you pay for you to be able to use it in print. A quality font usually costs around €40 for one weight. So if you need five weights for your branding you’re going to be paying around €200.
This buys you the right to use the font on one computer. You could use it to make your invoices or to brand your presentations. This is a one time cost.
If you have an organisation of 30 people and everyone needs to have the official fonts the absolute cost quickly becomes high. There are often volume discounts though.
Good typography is an investment – people should be able to comfortably read your communication.
Then there are web services that allow you to embed fonts. Some good web services are Typekit, Webtype and fonts.com.
This is nice because we finally get to use all the cool fonts, but it’s also really a bad thing: you don’t want to fetch files from a remote server. It makes standard web performance techniques like caching harder, if not impossible.
Luckily there is a solution: self-hosted fonts. This should actually be the default way of doing things, but it’s not.
Why things are the way there are is because font providers found a way to make money off their fonts again. They use the subscription mechanism and the remote request as a way to keep control and to basically keep you paying for your fonts. There is a lot of font piracy so this makes sense – however, I find that they are also effectively breaking the web by adding external dependencies to websites.
These font services can be relatively cheap if you have a small website; but you pay more if you get more pageviews. This is a monthly or yearly cost.
Serving fonts from your own server is much better if you don’t want to slow down things.
Some providers allow self-embedding of fonts but only when you pay for the more expensive plans.
At the time of writing:
- Typekit does not offer any self-hosting
- Webtype for instance offers self-hosting from $400/year
- Fonts.com offers self-hosting from $480/year and you have to commit to a full year
You can see might be a bit of a budget problem here for some businesses.
(It gets worse when you’re dealing with font licenses for native apps – €1000/weight for a perpetual license is not unheard of)
Now, some people will suggest using free fonts. There is Google Web Fonts; there are various free fonts. However, these fonts are often not properly hinted.
There are some exceptions but they are rare and over-used.
What does that mean, “hinted”? Font hinting is the act of adding metadata to a font to “hint” it how it should display at various sizes. A hinted font lines up with the pixels on a computer screen; an unhinted font looks like a blurry mess.
This is why people often recommend only using custom fonts for headings: since headings are typically bigger than paragraph text, hinting gets less important.
What I want for most of my designs:
- Good typography that does not look 100% standard i.e. investing in a custom font
- This custom font has to look good across the board: good in old Windows, good on Mac, good on high density displays (like the Galaxy S2+ or iPhone 4+)
- A self-hosted font to be in control of the performance
This usually means a monetary investment but you get something in return:
- Consistent branding across print and web
- Legible text across platforms, even in small sizes
- A custom font that does not hurt the performance of your website or app
Obviously, I think you should invest in great typography. As a design studio, we can help you to make the right choices.