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For this installment of the First Look series, James Williamson reviews the current implementation and future direction of web fonts: downloadable font resources that can be retrieved with the CSS @font-face declaration. The course begins with the evolution of online typography and current CSS font capabilities, and then dives into the W3C CSS Fonts Module specification, showing how to utilize web fonts, ensure cross-browser consistency, and how to use CSS3 to enhance the styling of web fonts. Font hosting services and tools such as TypeKit and the Google Fonts API are demonstrated. Exercise files accompany the course.
In fact, we'll cover many of those in a moment. If you do decide to self host, you'll need to make sure that you have fonts that have the necessary permissions to be used as web fonts. While this requires a bit more technical chops in some of the other options, it does give you total control over how your fonts are served and styled. If you decide that a font hosting service is right for you, there are a few questions that you need to ask yourself. First, how important is font selection. Do you need access to a huge library of fonts or are you content to use a small number of fonts to carry your design.
If you're looking for selection you'll want to use one of the services that licenses fonts from multiple foundries and offers hundreds if not thousands of font choices. You should also consider how frequently you might redesign your sites or make changes to your fonts. If you want to swap out fonts frequently, single font licenses will add up quickly. A service like Typekit or Fonts.com Web Fonts might be more appropriate in those instances. If you're pretty sure that you are going to use a font consistently throughout the life of a site, it might be more cost effective to use a single-user subscription service or just purchase the font license outright.
It sounds silly to say thi,s but you also need to decide how important font quality is to you and the truth is font quality tends to vary across services. So, that old adage about you get what you pay for, doesn't necessarily translate here. It's possible to find very high quality fonts for free. However, using a trusted service that vets all of their fonts for online usage is preferable to not knowing where a font comes from. Regardless of the service you decide on, if quality is important to you, take a moment to explore how the fonts were created and if they're optimized for on-screen use.
Another question for you to consider is whether or not you need to be able to install the font on your desktop. Some services will offer you the option of downloading an installable copy of the font and most free services will offer a desktop version as well. Many subscription-based services and service plans don't include this option, only allowing you to use the font within your browser. Having installed version of the font on your desktop makes it a lot easier to create prototypes and comps for your sites. Of course many services charge a premium for desktop versions.
So pricing certainly often comes into play when making decisions regarding desktop versions. That leads me to the various obvious question of pricing. Font hosting and licensing can be expensive and often budgets will be the deciding factor in choosing a service. In order to accurately gauge the affordability of a service, take some time to think about how you're going to use your fonts. Most plans are based on some combination of bandwidth, the number of fonts used, and the number of domains that you'll need the fonts for.
If you have an idea of these factors going into a plan, you'll be able to more accurately decide which plan fits your budget. A helpful resource for choosing a font hosting service is the @font-face face-off page Graham Bird. It features a handy chart for comparing some of the more popular font hosting services. I have no idea how frequently this is updated so be aware that some of the information contained here might be a little dated. In the end, I urge you to experiment with services by signing up for trial accounts, exploring their sites, and put a lot of thought into how you plan on using web fonts in your sites.
By making sure that you're properly informed regarding your options your final plan and a service that's right for you.
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