Whether cabinetmaker, chef, or photographer, artisans
choose their tools carefully. Good tools make
the job go easier and can improve the quality of the
finished product. (Ever try to flip a burger without
So it is with graphic designers and their fonts.
It’s pretty difficult to design a parts list without
a condensed typeface or a wedding invitation
without a script. Before buying fonts, however,
you should first know your options.
There are basically four ways that
fonts can be purchased: as libraries, in
packages, in volumes, and as individual
fonts. Type libraries are very large packages
of fonts from a single foundry or supplier.
Font packages are smaller collections put
together by font foundries or font resellers.
Volumes are normally all the weights of a
typeface family or a logical collection of fonts
from a very large family. Individual fonts are
single weights or versions of a typeface design.
Type libraries are the largest assortment of fonts that
can be purchased. They represent a considerable
investment, usually containing in excess of 1,000
fonts and costing several thousand dollars. Within
the libraries, however, average prices of individual
fonts are at the lowest prices obtainable. Where
individual fonts generally run between $25 and $50,
a library of 1,500 fonts sold at $5,000 means that
the individual font price is below $3.50.
Type libraries are almost always assemblages
of the total offerings from a font foundry. Typical
examples are the FontFont,
International Typeface Corporation/ITC, Adobe, Linotype, and Monotype libraries. Type libraries are cross-sections of type
styles and families. Some libraries, like P22 or GarageFonts (available through several
outlets, including Fonts.com), are as small as 200 or
300 fonts, while the major foundries’ offerings can
range from 1,200 to over 3,500 fonts.
Font packages are generally organized around a
theme, a range of applications, or a collection of
designs that their providers think will supply a basis
for a broad range of uses. These can contain as few
as 25 fonts and as many as 250. Typical examples
might be a group of faces that will work well for
signage, a group for setting wedding invitations, or a
collection of fonts from a specific typeface designer.
They could also be simple cross-sections of foundries’
offerings. Prices of font packages range from
about $100 for 25 fonts to $500 for 125 fonts.
Font volumes usually contain a typeface family or
part of a very large family. Sometimes they contain a
complete family in a non-Latin language like Greek
or Cyrillic. A typical volume of four roman weights
plus italics will cost about $80. A very large volume,
such as a “super” family of serif and sans designs,
complete with complementary small caps and old
style figures, can cost as much as $500.
Individual fonts vary in price from free to as much
as $100 per font. Generally, however, they run from
$25 to $50, with OpenType fonts claiming a slight
price premium. The majority of font sales are singlefont
How many fonts?
Think of your font collection as a palette of paints
that might be used by an artist. While an artist
could probably get by with just the primary colors of
red, blue, and yellow, a larger palette provides more
freedom and subtleties of application. Similarly,
bundled “system” fonts (those included with software
applications) will not take you very far. A
single-person or small design studio could probably
get by with about 200 well-chosen text/display typefaces
(basically, text families that can also be used at
large sizes) and 20–30 display-only typefaces.
A medium-sized studio or design office should
provide its staff with 1,200—or so—typefaces to
work with. And a large design agency, branding firm,
or college design department should have at least one
complete typeface library.
Building a basic type collection
The idea behind building a versatile type collection
is, first, to provide a broad cross-section of fonts,
then to add depth to the resource. Since many
design applications also have fonts bundled with the
software, these could be considered as part of the
additional fonts a designer should have. The crosssection
should have at least one family from each of
the major typeface styles:
- Old style
- Neoclassical or Didone (also called Modern)
- Slab serif
- Grotesque (a basic sans serif design)
- Geometric sans
- Humanistic sans
- Script type styles (at least one formal script, a calligraphic
script, and a casual script)
Purchase the complete volume when you are buying
a typeface family. Why? First, the per-font price is
less expensive than purchasing individual weights
over a period of time. If you purchase a typical
four-weight family with corresponding italics one
font at a time, it can easily run over $230. Purchase
the same family as a volume and the cost drops to
around $170. The second reason is to maintain font
design consistency. For example, just about every
foundry offers a Baskerville design. If you purchase
the roman and italic of ITC’s Baskerville and then
six months later purchase Monotype’s or Linotype’s
bold and extra bold, they will not match the design
of your first purchase. If you have a project that calls
for even one or two faces from a family, it’s worth
considering purchasing the complete volume.
Depth is added by purchasing additional families
of type styles that tend to get used often, as well as
additional weights and proportions of the larger and
more important serif and sans serif families. A full
suite of fonts from at least one sans serif family will
also prove itself invaluable. The most used and most
popular typeface styles are:
- Old style
- Geometric sans
- Humanistic sans
The 25 (or so) display faces in your collection can
be virtually any designs that are distinctive enough
to stand out from the crowd, but not so eccentric
that their use is impaired. For example, a typeface
that looks to be made from flowers may be distinctive,
but its use will be limited … to, well, ads for
flowers. Papyrus (an Apple system font, by the way),
on the other hand, is very distinctive but also can
be used to set display type in everything from restaurant
menus to annual reports.
Libraries: Make it your call
Type libraries are large purchases—so large that in
many cases your organization’s purchasing manager
will want to make the choice. Don’t let this happen.
Since you will be spending several thousand dollars
on the acquisition, be sure the purchase provides
the creative tools you need. While price is clearly an
issue, more important is the quality and selection of
the tools you will be purchasing.
Typeface libraries are continually growing things.
You will be adding to your collection of fonts as new
projects come along and as new typefaces are provided
to the market. Add to it like you would any
valued set of tools—with care, and an eye toward a