Finding Free Fonts for Your Self-Published Book

by Joel Friedlander on November 28, 2012 · 37 comments

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You’ve been working on your book, getting it ready for publication.

Maybe you’ve hired a designer to create an eye-catching and sophisticated cover, and that’s usually a good idea. But let’s say you’ve decided to do the interior layout by yourself. After all, there are lots of places you can get information about how to create a good-looking book interior. It doesn’t seem quite as difficult to most people, although that might depend on exactly what kind of book you’re publishing.

First Things First

Inevitably, the first decision you’ll make about laying out your book is what size it will be. Vendors like CreateSpace and Lightning Source offer a great selection of sizes for almost any kind of book you might imagine.

For instance, if I was designing a novel for print on-demand, I’d probably pick either 5.5″ x 8.5″ or 5.25″ x 8″, both standard sizes that are easy to hold and feel good in the hand.

The next decision you’ll have to make is what font to use for the main body text of your book. Now, most people have long lists of fonts on their computers, since many programs come with fonts and they often get installed along with the programs. You might be able to find something in these free fonts that will work for you, but many of these fonts won’t be appropriate for lots of kinds of books.

But you – as a wily internet user – know that there are lots of free fonts available online. Why not just surf over to one of those sites and download a font for your book?

Font Warnings

But not all fonts are created equal, and not every font you find online will work for your book. What should you be aware of when you’re searching for free fonts? Here are some things to watch out for:

  • Fonts that won’t embed—When it comes time to upload your book files, you’ll need to create a PDF with the fonts embedded in the file. The problem is that some of the fonts you download from free font sites simply won’t embed due to technical or legal restrictions. You don’t want to get to the end of your layout process with hundreds of pages that are now perfect just to find out you’re going to have to replace the main font and potentially re-paginate the whole book.

    How can you tell whether the font you just downloaded will work? The only real way to tell is to set a chapter or a few pages with the font and then try to create the a PDF file for just those pages. You can easily find out if the fonts are embedded by opening the file in Adobe Acrobat and checking under the File/Properties on the Fonts tab. Every font in the list needs to show “Embedded” or “Embedded Subset” for your file to work when it gets to your printer.

    If the font didn’t embed, stop now and save yourself the work of redoing your whole book.

  • Fonts that are illegal—I know, it’s amazing that people post links to property that they don’t actually own, isn’t it? But hey, it’s the internet, and these things happen all the time. If you’re downloading a font from a third-party site, you need to know this. For instance, if you can download a font created by Adobe that you found at “Freddy’s Free Fonts,” you should question whether Freddy bothered to get the rights to distribute it.

    Font foundries often offer free fonts, so you can always go to the foundry’s own website to see what they have available. That way you’ll know the font you have is totally legal, since it came from the manufacturer. You’ll find my recommendation about free font sites at the end of this article.

  • Low-quality fonts—Some fonts are enticing when you see them as a sample on a font site, but they might cause you trouble when you try to use them. What kinds of trouble? You might run into fonts that are:
    • Incomplete. Fonts that were created for a specific function, like a headline in an advertising campaign, are frequently incomplete. They might not have all the glyphs and symbols standard fonts have, or they might lack an italic version to go along with the roman. You don’t want that.
    • Badly drawn. A sample might look good, but what’s going to happen when you pour your 100,000-word manuscript file into your layout and have thousands of lines of type? Book pages will show off any eccentricity in the typeface, often with nasty consequences. A cute-looking flourish on a lower case “g” for instance, can make your page look “blotchy” or like it has little “flags” popping up everywhere.
    • Misaligned. In a sample, you might not notice that the font doesn’t sit properly on the baseline, but in your book this will show up right away. Same for “set width” errors, where the amount of space each letter takes up has not been calculated properly, causing some letter combinations to have too much or too little space to typeset properly.

A Solution for Free Fonts

Because I’ve been typesetting books for many years, I’m pretty careful about the fonts I use. I have no hesitation about downloading free fonts from foundries like the ones in the resource section at the end of this post, and you should be confident about fonts you acquire this way.

The best site I’ve found for third-party free fonts is fontsquirrel.com. This site aggregates fonts from lots of sources and guarantees the fonts are free for commercial use. Fontsquirrel.com also links to foundries and to myfonts.com, the huge site that sells fonts from most font foundries, in case you decide to buy a font instead.

So go out and explore, now that you know what to look for. There’s a whole world of free, high-quality fonts to discover for your next book project.

Resources

Free Font Collections:
fontsquirrel.com
Font Shop’s Free Fonts
Smashing Magazine’s free fonts
Creative Bloq’s 50 Best Free Fonts for Designers

Foundries with free fonts:
Exljbris Foundry
The League of Movable Type
Chank Fonts
Cape Arcona Type Foundry

Roundup of 30 of the best font foundries

Paid Fonts:
Myfonts.com

If you’ve got a favorite free font resource I’ve missed, let me know in the comments and I’ll update this post.

Originally published by CreateSpace.

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    { 31 comments… read them below or add one }

    Marina Sofia November 28, 2012 at 3:51 am

    As a bit of a font fanatic myself, I thought this article was very useful and comprehensive. I would just add that some of the fonts on Myfonts.com are free and that they are a good source for keeping up to date on the world of fonts via their monthly newsletter. OK, that might be aimed more at advertisers or bloggers than writers, but they are usually a pleasure to look at! (And might come in useful for book titles).

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Good point, Marina. I love the monthly newsletter with all the great examples of typographic ingenuity. If you’re a font fanatic, it never gets old.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus November 28, 2012 at 4:00 am

    Newbie designers should keep in mind that there are many variations of free and paid-for typefaces with the same or similar names. You can get “Garamond” from Microsoft, Adobe, Three, Stempel, Berthold, Simoncini and others. There may be dozens of variations of Helvetica.

    Some typeface names seem to be deliberately deceptive. “Helvetic” is likely named to make people think they are getting “Helvetica.” You can download Helvetic for free while seeing advertising and possibly infecting your computer with a virus. Genuine Helvetica (from Linotype) costs $29 for one variation or $693 for the complete set.

    There are even websites offering free (illegal) downloads of genuine Helvetica and other faces.

    You can’t select typefaces based only on their names. Many faces use the names “Grotesk” and “Asylum” but some faces with similar names look nothing alike. “Waters Gothic” looks nothing like “Century Gothic.” “Roman” has multiple meanings. Read carefully: don’t confuse “Blackletter” and “block letter.”

    You can’t rely on the descriptions of typeface weights. There are no standards for the use of the weight names. In one face, “book” may be bolder than “medium” but in another face it may be less bold. You have to look at sample charts — don’t merely rely on names.

    Faces that may look nearly identical in text size will show differences in larger sizes used for covers, title pages and chapter openings — and the variations should be explored and analyzed. Some faces work well when enlarged, others don’t.

    You can even mix faces if you prefer the shape of a comma or period (they’re not all round) of one face and the letters of another.

    When you purchase a typeface, its italic font may look prettier than the italic fonts supplied by Windows, because the purchased itals are actually designed to be italic. They’re not merely roman type slanted by your computer. Microsoft’s Garamond italic is really oblique — not italic like Adobe’s Garamond.

    Strangely, not all type identified as italic is significantly slanted. Most Quadraat italic letters have near-vertical strokes, but some of those strokes have different slants.

    Many (or most) of the typeface sites let you view a bit of your own text in a face you are considering before you download. Seeing a book title or author name may be more useful than “ABC abc…” or “The quick brown fox…”

    Michael N. Marcus

    NEW: self-publishing company parody, http://www.99BuckBooks.com
    http://www.BookMakingBlog.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.BookFur.com
    http://www.Facebook.com/SilverSandsBooks

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

    Thanks for the good tips, Michael.

    Reply

    Jo Michaels November 28, 2012 at 4:57 am

    Thanks for the resources, Joel. Great post today. WRITE ON!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 28, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Confession: yesterday I was writing an email and at the end, signed off with “Write on!” I actually laughed out loud and thought of you.

    Reply

    Andrea. November 28, 2012 at 7:21 am

    The place I use most frequently is Google Web Fonts (http://www.google.com/webfonts) ; they have a LOT of great fonts, all free (open source), all safe, all legit. The best thing is that because they’re web fonts, you can also use them on your website — so say you find a great font for the cover of your book, you can then add that font to your website CSS and install it for your post titles (just as example.) Plus since it’s synced with Google, you can also add it to things like your Google Drive docs, which is fun to someone like me, who likes to give even my To-Do lists cool title fonts. :)

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 28, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Thanks, Andrea. Obviously, another font fanatic!

    Reply

    Tracy R. Atkins November 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

    The right typeface will make the reading experience pleasurable. The wrong one will make a reader put the book down. It’s a fact and an avoidable reason that some books fail.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 28, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Tracy,

    And we don’t want that to happen, do we? That’s one of the reasons I keep writing about fonts but in truth, you need to experiment to find out what works for your own books.

    Reply

    Valerie W Stasik November 28, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I looked at fontsquirrel.com and notice that some fonts are OTF and others TTF. Does it matter which you use for a print document? Is there a question of licensing if a font is to be used for print?

    Word fonts: Can any of these be used for print (a book) without infringing on licensing? Which would you recommend for interior text–garamond?

    Thanks for the way to check if the font is embedable in a PDF.

    Reply

    Rob Siders November 28, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    The answer to this question is, “it depends.” If you purchased Microsoft Word as part of a home/student edition, then technically the software license extends only as far as what you make for personal use and individual fonts that were distributed with Word may have licenses that hinge upon the one that Word has… meaning that if what you make in Word may only be for personal use then the fonts delivered with Word may also be used only for personal documents. If you have Word Professional, then the license grants you considerable more flexibility to make documents for commercial use (whether in documents for sale or for internal business use), but you should still check to see what the license terms are.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 29, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Thanks for the clear explanation of a confuising subject, Rob.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 29, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Valerie, TTF are True Type fonts and OTF are Open Type fonts. You can use either, although OTF is a newer and more robust standard and generally preferable. But you can use either one for print. Each font on fontsquirrel.com has a license that explains how you can use the font, and most of them are completely unrestricted. But it pays to check because some do have restrictions. @Rob Siders addressed the MSWord situation, I would just add that Garamond is one of history’s most popular book fonts and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

    Reply

    Ryan Casey November 29, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Good advice, Joel. Timely too – I’m launching my debut novel next week so have had the headache of font selection to deal with.

    In the end, I plumped for Goudy Old Style. Granted, it cost me a little, but I really like the look of it on the page.

    Ryan

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander November 29, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Ryan, exciting that you’ve gotten to the final stages of getting your debut novel out, congratulations.

    Goudy Old Style is a beautiful font that I’ve often used over the years. One way to deal with the price of fonts is to establish a “house style” for your books, use the same font for all of them and amortize the cost over all your titles.

    Good luck!

    Reply

    Alicia Young November 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    Very useful post, Joel, thanks. And great timing! Due to send my MS for interior layouts next month.

    1. I’ll use Garamond for the POD. Is it recommended for ebooks, please?
    2. With the various versions of Garamond – Microsoft, Adobe etc. is it considered to be in the public domain? If not, should my book designer/lay out artist carry the license, or myself as publisher? I’ve searched the net, but the only licensing I come across is for workplace computer stations, not books.
    3. I use Georgia on my blog and advertise the (upcoming) book on it, so it would be considered commercial. Do I need to license that font also? Or is this this covered by the word press subscription?

    Thanks, any thoughts appreciated!
    Cheers,
    Alicia

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus November 29, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    I’ll let the lawyers in the audience deal with #2 and #3, but I don’t think you need to be concerned about licensing typefaces.

    I never think about type licenses, and have not been arrested or sued after publishing over 20 books and over 50 websites and blogs.

    Don’t use typefaces such as genuine Helvetica (sold by Linotype) from “FREE” websites.

    For #1, keep in mind that with non-PDF e-books on most e-reading devices, the person reading can control type size, typeface, page color and horizontal/vertical orientation — completely altering the desires of the page designer.

    I generally format my e-books with Constantia — but my readers may select Arial, Georgia, Trebuchet, Times New Roman or another face.

    A tip about Garamond. I really like Adobe Garamond Pro, but the characters are “slim” and can get lost on cream-colored paper. AGP is fine on white, but if you want to print on cream, pick a heavier face to provide more contrast for easier reading.

    Reply

    Valerie W Stasik November 29, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Michael, I think there are probably a lot of people out there who do use the fonts on their computer as you do simply because they don’t know any better. I suspect it’s simply not cost-effective for the foundries to go after the little guys. And if you’re using CreateSpace to publish your book, you can avoid the whole issue by just sending them your ms and letting them design it. However, if you’re designing it yourself, I think it is a consideration even if no one comes after you. All of us who own intellectual properties would like to be compensated for our efforts. From what I’ve seen, I don’t think all the fonts are made by big foundires like Adobe.

    That being said, I did manage to find a very nice, clean, easy-to-read text font (Lora) and dingbats (Nymphette) at fontsquirrel.com. I was going to upgrade to Microsoft Professional Office so that I could use their fonts commercially depending on individual agreements on certain of their fonts, but a very nice rep (Lucas) at Microsoft I consulted to find out where I could find these font agreements clued me in on why I was having a problem installing the free fonts from fontsquirrel.com. So for me, the problem is solved.

    Reply

    Michael N. Marcus November 30, 2012 at 4:24 am

    Valerie, please don’t assume that I “don’t know any better.”

    As someone whose websites and photographs have been ripped off more than 100 times by competitors, I am very conscious of intellectual property issues. I have plagiarism warnings on my websites and have reported a few thieves to the FBI.

    I’ve spent a lot of money buying typefaces from legitimate sources such as Adobe and MyFonts.com. I buy photos from Fotolia and iStockPhoto.

    Also, although I am unaware on any limitations on using the typefaces supplied with the ‘lesser’ versions of MS Office, I use Pro.

    Michael N. Marcus

    NEW: self-publishing company parody, http://www.99BuckBooks.com

    http://www.BookMakingBlog.com
    http://www.SilverSandsBooks.com
    http://www.BookFur.com
    http://www.Facebook.com/SilverSandsBooks

    Reply

    Fiona Pearse December 2, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Hi. Thanks for such a useful post. I am bookmarking for if I decide to self-publish. I found this site recently: http://www.dafont.com/ which I think is great. But I’m left with a question: when it says ‘donate to author’ so it is free but you can pay if you want, what is the usual amount?
    Many thanks,
    Fiona

    Reply

    Alexander Duncan August 7, 2013 at 7:21 am

    I love your site so Im sorry to quibble, but I need to respond to your comment about illegal fonts. As you may not know, fonts are not copyrightable property, so I doubt it is actually illegal to distribute them. This has been law for a long time. All fonts are considered to be public property, just as ideas are. It doesnt seem fair, does it, and it certainly may be immoral to distribute them, but I doubt its illegal.

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 7, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Alexander, thanks for your comment. Although the shapes and letterform designs cannot be copyrighted in the U.S., the computer files you obtain to create those forms are indeed protected by copyright. Since you cannot create typesetting without the scalable original files, the end result is pretty much the same, and in seeking to educate authors, I don’t want to put them in a position where they are violating the copyright of whoever created those files in the first place. So, respectfully, I’ll disagree and stay with my original caution.

    Reply

    Dave August 7, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Thanks for the article. You did not list any good free fonts that would be suitable for a self published book. What would you recommend? Is Century Schoolbook L a decent one? Is it even free for commercial use? I have done a lot of searching on Google and am not finding anything definitive.

    A short list of good professional free for commercial use list would greatly increase the helpfulness of this article.

    Thanks for your help,
    Dave

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Dave, I can do even better than that. If you surf over to BookDesignTemplates.com you’ll find 14 templates for book designs, and all these templates use freely available fonts. Each design lists the fonts used, and you can download a 3-page, full size sample of each to see exactly what they will look like.

    Reply

    Dave August 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Thanks for the quick reply. I checked out that site and they do have some nice fonts. However they charge $100 for a multi book license, and $37 for a single book license.

    Seems like there must be a nice professional font that is license free and in the public domain that would be good for a self published book.

    This does not seem like easy info to come by. I wish I could find a list of fonts and their licensing status. That would be handy.

    Thanks,
    Dave

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander August 7, 2013 at 4:24 pm

    Dave, you don’t have to buy the templates, it was just a way to show you some fonts that you can get for free. All the fonts used in the templates come from the sites linked in the article above.

    Reply

    DeeDee August 19, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Thanks for a great tip! I downloaded some fonts used in those templates from fontsquirrel.com.
    I’m just about to self-publish my first book on CreateSpace and I wanted a nice, free font for book interior – until I start working and I will afford the awesome Garamond.
    Cheers!

    Matty O'Gara January 9, 2014 at 1:40 am

    Hi Joel,
    I’m following your advice and using fontsquirrel for fonts. You quite rightly say to check them as restrictions may apply. What do I have to look for to NOT use in my (soon to be uploaded) CreateSpace book? They offer a few options on the “font filter > licenses”:
    Desktop
    Webfont
    Ebook
    Application
    OFL/Apache

    I’m designing a book for “hard” copy print, so it’s not an Ebook, I don’t need it for the web and it is not an application or OFL/Apache either (I don’t even know what the latter is!) That leaves me with “Desktop”! Is this license OK to use for printing a “real” book?

    Failing that, could I use any of the Google fonts for printing books without any trouble?

    Thanks – great site & fab info by the way!

    Reply

    Joel Friedlander January 9, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Matty, if you’re doing a print book you should be able to use any of the fonts on fontsquirrel.com with no worries. The license restrictions mostly apply to embedding fonts in ebooks, or using the fonts in a commercial product where you transfer the font files themselves to a third party. Good luck with your book!

    Reply

    S Braswell March 8, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Hi Joel, Great article. Appreciate the tips. One question: If your designer purchase a license for fonts for a print book and then wishing to also convert the book into an eBook, do you have to re-purchase the fonts? Is the licenses per book?

    Thanks

    Reply

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