Today, webfonts abound. You can find them in a number of places: Google Font Directory, Typekit, Fontspring.com, and myriad other sites and font delivery services. A number are even free. And yet, like most things, much of what is free is not useful, and much of what is useful is not free. For example, there are a great deal of handwriting fonts available for @font-face embedding, but I would be hard pressed to think of more than a few instances in which these would be put to use.
This article, then, focuses on the top 13 most useful free webfonts for headline use.
HOW TO COMBINE TEXT AND HEADLINES
One of the most common suggestions for combining headlines and body text is to set the headlines in a serif typeface and body copy in a sans-serif typeface, or vice versa. The key is to match exactly, or to use a great deal of contrast. Almost matching is not typically visually appealing. You can read more about combining type on the web here.
HEADLINES AND READABILITY
Because you’re typically only setting fewer than 100 characters in a headline, it doesn’t necessarily have the same requirements for readability as your text font. You don’t have to worry about it fatiguing the reader, because it’s at most a few words and not a long paragraph. Therefore, you have a bit more freedom in choosing a typeface for headlines. I tend to prefer faces that are at least semi-bold. This offers contrast to the weight of the text font and gives it emphasis, which aids the visual hierarchy.
HEADLINE FONTS FOR WEB EMBEDDING
Nice Web Type has an excellent tutorial on @font-face embedding here. Once you understand how to embed these in your website, you can begin to explore which typefaces can convey your site’s written content in a way stylistically consistent with your overall identity and branding.
13 TOP FONTS FOR HEADLINE USE
Available through Fontsquirrel, and designed by Typodermic, this pseudo-grotesque offers a generous x-height. The angled terminals add a modern touch. This can be thought of as a good alternate for Helvetica.
No conversation on free fonts is complete without mentioning Exljbris, a foundry by Jos Buivenga that offers a free face in every type family. Museo Slab is an excellent slab serif font that offers both impact and character.
This Fontsquirrel humanist sans is a font with a substantial weight. The capital E is particularly interesting. Megalopolis Extra is at once serious and playful and can be used in a variety of contexts. This font looks best in all caps, so experiment with the
text-transform: uppercase CSS declaration.
Cape Arcona is a small German typefoundry with quite a few offerings. Their CA BND Bold is a solid font with decent language support. When used in all UPPERCASE, it is a good transition between a grotesque and a gothic.
This is an excellent a readable humanist sans that evokes FontFont’s Dax, only slightly more angular. This is one of the more high quality free webfonts online, and it seems to be hinted very well for the web.
Let’s return to Jos Buivenga to check out his Delicious type family, all of which is free. The interesting thing about this type family is that all of the weights have the same line length, which you can read about on the font’s page. Also, the lowercase b and d are not just mirror images of each other; each glyph is completely unique. And yet Delicious is still extremely readable. It’s a great family that’ll serve you well.
If you’re using a sans-serif font for body text, consider Heuristica for extreme contrast. The bold serif has a pretty strong line contrast and an excellent x-height. It’s a classic looking roman serif, and would be great for a magazine-style WordPress template, for example. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information on this font on the web.
License: Open Font License
Designed by Steve Matteson for the Android Platform, Droid Sans is an extremely high quality sans. The regular is excellent for text, and the bold is solid at large sizes for headlines.
Graublau is a moderate contrast sans that performs excellently at large sizes. As a bonus, check out Nice Web Type’s experiment with pairing Graublau Web and Lucida here. As you can see, it is strong and eye-catching as a headline font.
Does Bebas look familiar? It might remind you of The League of Moveable Type’s League Gothic. This compact condensed gothic is great for that 1930s look that is so popular these days. It is sturdy and condensed, so you can pack a lot of text onto one line if need be.
A light contrast humanist sans, Aller is offered by fontsquirrel as a whole type family, including a regular and bold weight (both with italics), a display, and a light (regular and italic). It’s hard to beat an entire type family for free. What gives this font its unique character is a slight arc on the terminals. It’s definitely worth a look.
Designed by Type Together, Adelle is an award-winning slab serif with a generous helping of personality. This typeface exhibits great subtlety without sacrificing readability. At just over a year old, it’s one of Type Together’s most successful faces and arguably the one that put them on the map.
The last of our offerings from Fontsquirrel, Liberation Sans is a moderate contrast humanist sans that offers a great alternative to Helvetica. Interestingly, it is designed by Rad Hat, the company that offers enterprise versions of Linux. In any case, it’s a promising headline font, and the regular weight would look good at a text size using generous leading.
There are many types of font licenses out there. It’s extremely important to read the licenses of these fonts before using them in order to comply with the font license. Some fonts are free to download an embed with no restrictions, others require a link to the type designer on the page or in the CSS. I’ve included links to the font licenses in order to better inform you how to legally use these fonts.
Free fonts are a labor of love. If you find yourself using these fonts for a number of projects or on a commercial project, consider supporting the designer with a donation, or at the very least a link. Many designers such as Jos Buivenga [http://www.josbuivenga.demon.nl/] issue free fonts with the restriction that their site must be linked to. This is a way they promote their fonts. You can help them with this by, for instance, linking to them in your sidebar colophon or in the footer. Supporting designers with a donation or a link can help ensure that the excellent font development we know now can continue.
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