Free fonts that are good

A budget LCD TV with a budget bluetooth speaker strapped to the bottom of it.

This is a shorthand recommendation list to refer people to when they ask for type advice.


Inter is a spectacular piece of work from Rasmus Andersson. It’s part of the new(ish) school of interface grotesques (with Apple’s San Francisco and Google’s Roboto), available in variable form, and packed with handy OpenType features.

StylesVariableOpenType FeaturesOpen SourceLicense
18YesYesYesOFL 1.1

Get Inter on or view the source on GitHub.

IBM Plex

Plex is a mega-family (sans, serif and mono) that does double duty as IBM’s corporate typeface and a free/open-source gift to the world. The mono face is plain excellent. The sans face is well up to interface duties, but is a characterful paragraph face as well. I’ve avoided the serif – maybe it’s too tied to IBM corporate?

FacesVariableOpenType FeaturesOpen SourceLicense
3NoYesYesOFL 1.1

Get Plex from IBM or view the source on GitHub.

JetBrains Mono

JetBrains Mono is my favoured open-source monospace at the moment. Its letterforms are, in places, radically different from the norm (serifs on s and c achieve nothing but visual noise), and inherit a grotesk sensibility that plays very well with Inter. Mind you, it’s no Menlo.

I use JetBrains Mono for code blocks right here:

public class Factorial {
    public static void main(String[] args) {
        int num = 6;
        long factorial = multiplyNumbers(num);
        System.out.printf("%d! = %d%n", num, factorial);
    public static long multiplyNumbers(int num) {
        if (num >= 1) return num * multiplyNumbers(num - 1);
        else return 1;
StylesVariableOpenType FeaturesOpen SourceLicense
14NoYes (Enhanced)YesOFL 1.1

Get JetBrains Mono from JetBrains or view the source on GitHub.


Fira is the totally-free Erik Spiekermann typeface. Spiekermann’s meesterwork (i.e. Meta, Unit, Info and Officina) is the best type design of our time. Fira has superb legibility and is better screen-optimised than its forbears, but it’s surprisingly difficult to use elegantly. That’s sort of in its nature, but it helps to use a very subtle typescale, stay left-aligned and remember what 90s magazines and textbooks looked liked.

Fira was originally developed for Mozilla in 2013. Mozilla’s 2016-17 ‘moz://a’ rebrand supplanted Fira for a custom slab serif and a generic grotesque, but HERE Technologies, the mapping multinational (formerly associated with Nokia) picked up Fira in 2018 and invested heavily in a branch called FiraGO. FiraGO’s gained some really impressive language support and is maintained by the type foundry bBoxType.

HERE is being really lovely here. Maybe they borrowed an OFL face to save some money, but they’ve more than offset their usage with all this localisation investment.

StylesVariableOpenType FeaturesOpen SourceLicense
18NoYesYesOFL 1.1

Spiekermann’s old firm, MetaDesign, must rank amongst the coolest ever F1 sponsors. It’s name was stuck on some of the last Arrows cars.

Get FiraGo from bBox, view FiraGO’s source on GitHub, or experience the original Fira on Mozilla’s GitHub.


I got into Spectral back when it was one of the only variable fonts about, but it’s a really excellent serif, variable or not. Its letterforms contain very few extraneous curves but avoid becoming slabby, which makes them perform exceptionally well onscreen (especially for low pixel-density folks). I’ve used it chiefly for headings, but it’s quite capable of handling spacious paragraph text.

StylesVariable*OpenType FeaturesOpen SourceLicense
14*YesYesYesOFL 1.1


Overpass is a friendlier interpretation of Highway Gothic (in which most US roadsigns are set). It’s an excellent piece of work, and is really surprisingly versatile. I’ll never use it, because I’m a European and I don’t possess the right cultural baggage to know what I’d be saying if I did.

StylesVariableOpenType FeaturesOpen SourceLicense
16No?YesOFL 1.1

TeX Gyre Heros

The best and most totally-free Helvetica clone. TGH is better suited to conscious, hard-set text (i.e. a landing page blurb) – it’s given to looking a bit rough-and-ready if you leave it to its own devices with programmatic content.

StylesVariableOpenType FeaturesOpen SourceLicense

Libre Franklin

In my opinion, Libre Franklin is the most useful and most impressive OFL ‘revival’ typeface. It inherits the good bones of Benton’s original, but the execution is flawless – arguably better-suited to current usage and trends than the big-foundry cuts.

StylesVariableOpenType FeaturesOpen SourceLicense
18YesYesYesOFL 1.1

Honourable mentions

These are some lovely typefaces that you probably shouldn’t run away and use just anywhere. …but, if you’re making a billboard, putting title cards in a film or engraving a rock, careful use will make these folks sing.

Della Respira

A stately-but-quirky one-weight revival-of-a-revival that’s reminiscent of Souvenir or Bookman, Della Respira keeps working its way into my projects, and that’s something I can only explain as evidence of its quality.


Barlow’s a slightly rounded grotesk after the American style, which strikes a neat balance between uniformity and pleasing weirdness. It’s a very complete and well-built type family, but I’ve shied away from it. On screen it’s tricky for paragraphs: it’s drawn small, light at its normal weight and relatively narrow. Big and heavy, or carefully set, Barlow’s a masterpiece.

iA Writer Quattro

The choice if you’re a person who wants to write or set a blog in a monospace font. iA’s typefaces are based on Plex Mono, but they’ve tweaked the letterforms and added retro, Operator-esque italics. Quattro’s genius is in splitting/expanding the mono grid so that w, m and , don’t look so awkward. Naturally, it won’t work in a code editor.


Poppins was far too successful on the Google Fonts roster and was widely misused. Treat it like Futura and, like practically everything else ITF has released, it’s excellent.

A note of caution

There are some great ‘free’ fonts I’m not sure about. Some were released on the OFL, which is – by design – very permissive. As I understand it, a typeface once released on the OFL 1.1 license may be used under the terms of the OFL 1.1 license, even after it’s no longer publicly presented on an OFL 1.1 license. If I’m right about this, it becomes a bit icky when popular OFL typefaces are pulled from free distribution.