Google offers free fonts for the Web

Elaborate typography has been slow to emerge on the Web. Now the underlying technology is in place, and Google is trying to help supply fonts as well.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
Some of the 18 fonts Google released for free use on the Web and anywhere else.
Some of the 18 fonts Google released for free use on the Web and anywhere else. Google

In an attempt to move beyond drab typography on the Web, Google on Wednesday released 18 freely usable fonts and an open-source tool designed to smooth over browser issues in displaying downloaded fonts.

A number of Web designers--if not all readers--are excited that newer browsers support downloadable fonts so sites can use more than the handful that it's safe to assume are installed already on people's computers. For every eyeball-searing grunge font and blood-pressure-raising instance of Comic Sans, there's a tasteful use of an artful logo or distinctive text.

But font licensing rules mean a Web designer can't necessarily upload any old font for a site. This is where Google's move, announced at its Google I/O conference, comes in. The company released 18 fonts and also announced an interface that lets Web sites use them.

"Google has been working with a number of talented font designers to produce a varied collection of high quality open source fonts for the Google Font Directory," said Raph Levien and David Kuettel of the Google Font API team in a blog post. "With the Google Font API, using these fonts on your web page is almost as easy as using the standard set of so-called "web-safe" fonts that come installed on most computers."

The way to Web fonts was paved with the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) formatting standard and more recently the Web Open Font Format technology that helped encourage Web typography support from traditional font licensing companies. But even with those foundations, there are copyright concerns that might put off Web developers.

Google's fonts are free of copyright restrictions, though.

"Since all the fonts are open source, you can use them any way you like. We also have a separate project hosted on Google Code for downloading the original font files. Since they're open source, they can be used for just about any purpose, including for print," the Google font team members said.

In addition, Google announced an open-source project called WebFont Loader to supply Web developers with code to deal with differences in how browsers handle downloaded Web fonts. The software, a collaboration with Small Batch's TypeKit project, includes JavaScript code to control how Web pages display types for a uniform experience across different browsers, Google said.