Before the advent of Typekit and technologies like Cufon and sIFR, designers were stuck using only the fonts that came bundled with the average computer, so the Internet mostly looked like a gigantic Word Document written in Times New Roman and Arial.
A plain looking website is fine if it functions primarily as an information distribution platform. But if you really want your business or personal website to stand out and stay modern, few things work better and more intrinsically than an inventive and stylistic font.
The ability to successfully implement custom fonts has evolved over the years from a basic concept that didn’t really work to a seamless technology that can be added to any website.
In the late 90s, Internet Explorer began allowing custom fonts that were translated into the proprietary EOT format. The problem was that it was insanely difficult to actually put a font into the EOT format because Microsoft’s EOT tool never worked and there were licensing headaches. Designers were basically taunted by an option that remained just out of reach.
That started to change in 2007 when Apple’s Safari web browser began to support custom web fonts using traditional TrueType and OpenType formats, but with a 2 percent market share, that still meant the Internet still looked pretty uniformly bland.
In 2009 Firefox and Google’s Chrome browser finally decided to join the party and support TrueType and OpenType fonts – opening the doors to widespread font customization – but there are still lingering problems.
Licensing Speed Bumps
It’s been one year since 100 percent of the browsers finally achieved web font (aka @font-face) support, but there are still licensing problems. While there are countless fonts made by an absurdly large number of font foundries, few of them are licensed for embedding.
Embedding fonts used to just mean distributing them in files like PDFs, but now it also means you can’t distribute and provide them to a website viewer. The licensing agreements for the vast majority of the fonts out there were drafted when the web didn’t even exist. So in the 80s and early 90s, only being able to use a font with the ultimate goal of printing on paper wasn’t a big deal. However, as viewing content shifted from paper to the screen, this limitation proved to be a huge stumbling block for everyone in the creative industry.
So the progress on the font front over the past year has really been made in licensing. One of the biggest advances came when Adobe approved all of their licensed fonts for web use, giving designers everywhere a grab bag of font options to immediately begin using legally.
A website called Font Squirrel popped up shortly thereafter, offering an online conversion tool that lets you convert any font that you have a license for – or any royalty free font – into a format that Safari, Chrome and Firefox can use.
You can also export the font to a format that Internet Explorer can use, finally making good on the promise of the EOT format.
The last piece of the puzzle is Typekit, which came out in September 2009. Typekit went to all the big font foundries out there and worked out licensing deals with many of them – the first big push of commercial fonts online. In other words, Typekit led the charge in updating licensing agreements from a pre-web world to the modern world.
Not only did they handle all of the licensing issues, but they also hold all of the fonts on their servers all around the world and distribute them from their end. So now designers have all these fonts to use and the licensing has been worked out. There are servers set up all over the world to distribute the fonts so the load time and performance are quick to the point where you finally don’t see delays or performance issues.
So now there really is no reason to stick with the same boring fonts website after website. There are far too many options out there and everyone has the ability to create custom fonts, so the variety can be truly endless.