What's in a typeface? A lot more than you would think. With the Web rapidly evolving and digital design becoming more sophisticated, the way typefaces are used has had to grow along with it. Here are a few things you might not have realised affect the use of typefaces on the web.

Choosing typefaces on websites wasn't possible at all until 1995, although these were still limited to fonts that were already installed on a user's computer and would fall back to the next available option if one wasn't available. As only a handful of "web-safe fonts" were common enough to be consistently available, this didn't allow for much flexibility in design or branding. Various methods to replace typefaces using images, Flash, or Javascript were often used to give more options, although these all had their drawbacks.

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These days, modern web browsers allow us to specify any typeface we like - but the issue of making the font file available to anyone viewing your website remains. Although font files can be uploaded and used in that way, this presents a problem to the creators of these typefaces: if the file is easily accessible, anyone could steal and use it without paying for their hard work. Even if the license to use the typeface on the computer, in print and embedded in digital documents has been purchased, using the typeface online is considered separately and often requires a separate license. Different font foundries have different ways of dealing with this, from a one-time purchase license to big subscription typeface services such as Typekit.

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So what to do if your company has a specific font as part of its brand?

  • Firstly, remember that a typeface used for a logo is not always appropriate or legible for large amounts of text. Often font families, which are complementary to the brand but easier to read, will be suggested instead.
  • As not all typefaces are available through our Typekit subscription, in some cases a special web license will have to be purchased if a specific typeface is required - even if you already have the files for desktop use. Often a similar alternative can be suggested if necessary.
  • The design team will choose typefaces based on what we know is available and will suit your brand and goals - we know what we're doing!
  • Remember that a typeface is the result of countless hours of hard work by a type designer, and whilst it may seem a big expense over those good old web-safe fonts it can make a big difference to the perception of your brand.

Web fonts have come a long way from the days of Arial and Times New Roman, which presents new challenges but also a lot of new possibilities.