It’s tough to spend a lot of money on an unusual or eccentric display font for limited use, but some web or graphic projects require a display font that conveys a time period or tone and has a distinctive personality. Fortunately there are many decent fonts that are available free for personal and commercial use. Some fonts require a small fee or donation for commercial use.

Display Font Examples

Elegance is sometimes conveyed by thin minimalist fonts or lavish cursive fonts. Here are three inexpensive or free fonts that were perfect for specific projects that required a certain look: Caviar Dreams and Champagne & Limousines, two elegant fonts by Lauren Thompson, and Scriptina Pro by CheapFonts

The first two are available at dafont.com. Caviar Dreams is free for both personal and commercial use, as is the lovely ornamental dingbat font Nymphette. Other fonts require a donation (that you determine) for commercial use.

Caviar Dreams has an interesting capital Q and W, nice slanted lowercase e and #, lovely curly braces and a great-looking ampersand. It has a curious energy from rounded lowercase letters that rise above the straight letters. Caviar Dreams is a little quirky, elegant, and amenable to Photoshop styling in big font sizes. Champagne & Limousines is slightly more polished and looks very classy in a quiet way.

Caviar Dreams

Scriptina Pro is a lavishly drawn font with huge loops and alternate glyphs from CheapProFonts, available at myfonts.com. Other very nice free or inexpensive display fonts are available from this foundry. Another version of Scriptina is free from dafont.com.

Cheap Pro Fonts offers tweaked versions of free fonts that fix problems with the font outlines and add support for more languages. You can’t go wrong by getting the CPF versions. This font seems most suitable for a few large-sized words. Overused, it could be too much of a cupcake.

Scriptina Pro

Font Squirrel

Another great resource for high-quality free commercial is FontSquirrel. It offers Open Type fonts along with the usual True Type fonts, including many you will recognize from the Google webfonts library and My Fonts. Usage of @font-face for embedding fonts is growing and Font Squirrel makes it simple to generate the code and download your selected fonts in one place.

Adobe TypeKit

If you use Adobe products, you may be familiar with their TypeKit service, which lets you embed selected professional quality Adobe fonts on your websites. The fonts are stored on Adobe’s servers. For people who are certain they will continue to use an Adobe TypeKit membership or the new Adobe Creative Cloud service, TypeKit will be just the thing. I signed up for Creative Cloud when it became available, but I’m hesitant about using TypeKit because I don’t know how long I will be able to afford the monthly fees. I have no plans to use TypeKit on any site I don’t personally own because the possibility of stranding client sites is unacceptable. You can’t download TypeKit fonts like you can Google webfonts or Font Squirrel fonts.

Why would you want to use free commercial fonts?

I already have a pretty good commercial font library that I’ve built up over the years. Well and good for graphics work. However, I’ve made ePubs and a few identity sets for clients using Illustrator and you can’t just throw your own licensed commercial fonts into the output. If the client ever wants to go in and change the text you’ve set, they won’t have the complete font. It’s a recipe not only for disgruntled clients, but for rejection by services such as Apple’s iBookstore and CreateSpace, Amazon’s on demand print service. Font Squirrel and daFont have enough high-quality fonts to get you through times when you need a commercial-free or inexpensive font.

The Downside of Free Fonts

Recently, I worked with a client who discovered free fonts and requested versions of a piece using dozens of free fonts he had found by searching the Internet. Many were poorly drawn clones of popular fonts and each other. Even worse, the client wanted to combine words and letters in different fonts to overcome glaring problems. I was in hell, but learned a valuable lesson about setting explicit limits on revisions! More importantly, more than a few of the free fonts were appallingly bad, with awkward spaces between some letter combinations, ill-fitting ligatures, bad font hinting, and ugly letter forms. There are some excellent free fonts and some terrible ones. It takes effort to sort them out. Also, some free font sites use deception to trick visitors into clicking on unintended downloads. Unless there’s no alternative, I would stick with daFont, Font Squirrel, and Google.