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I would like to kindly ask if you can give me your view on either purchasing a font or going with a free font for a logo design. In addition, I will add a few more questions that popped in my mind.

  1. What are the advantages/disadvantages of one over the other? (Personally I think that as free fonts are more widely distributed they are perceived better by the average user as they are already familiar with them and will be easier for the user to recognize what is written.)

  2. Does the font really matter? (From what I have seen there are a lot of companies using the same font. Therefore, it seems to me that the typefaces is way more important than the actual font.

  3. Can a font which is free but quite similar to a paid font be considered as copyright infringement? (Frankly, while I was browsing fonts from the same typefaces there were a lot of fonts that I barely can tell the difference between them.)

  4. From a business perspective isn't it better to go with a free font? (I have looked at the licenses offered by some major companies in this field. However, what I noticed is that usually even if you purchase the license you cannot use it for whatever you like. For example, if you want to use it in your marketing materials you will have to pay additional prices for x amount of views.)

  5. Are free fonts (for example such listed on Google Fonts) actually free?

Thank you in advance and I look forward reading your thoughts!

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    In very broad, general, terms.. "free" fonts are not always constructed as well. As with any work.. if someone is getting paid to complete it (design a font) then they generally take a bit more care with things like hinting, conflicts, etc. It's not always about the price tag, sometimes it's about construction and avoiding headaches.
    – Scott
    Nov 17 at 5:57
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Making a font is relatively straightforward. Making a font that is well kerned and has a wide array of weights and a wide language support is not.

  1. There is no inherrent correlation between quality of a random font vs it being paid or not.

    But its hard to find families of well made fonts in open source (for example ones have print specific optical variants. Because printing costs anyway).

  2. As much as i would llke to say no, it does. But nowhere nearly as much as some people think.

  3. US considers the shapes of fonts uncopyrightable, but germany does not. But realistically copyright does not stop you from redoing the work from scratch. As copyright does not stop you from remaking new versions of same look and feel. Besides most typefaces are certainly old enough not to have copyright (Though the digital font program is most likely still copyrighted). So nothing stops you from making your own by copying and reimplementing digital glyphs from original print copies.

  4. Maybe. Depends on specifics of the font. Licensing fees are isually neglible reasons to do or not do stuff.

  5. Licensing restrictions can certainly make certain freemium fonts seem less than free yes.

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  • I would disagree with #1 :) While it's possible to find a well constructed free font as well as a poorly constructed paid font. the odds of a paid font being constructed better are considerably greater in my experience. If one is asking for money, they tend to do a better job - not just making fonts, but in anything.
    – Scott
    Nov 17 at 6:15
  • @Scott well maybe it is not worded correctly, lots of badly designed commercial fonts exist, but good collections of fonts is qnother matter
    – joojaa
    Nov 17 at 6:29
  • @Scott editted a bit. But i find that it is seldom the glyphs that are poor as such, its the lack of language features and kerning that separate individual fonts.
    – joojaa
    Nov 17 at 6:35
  • Agreed... it's poor kerning, poor ligature support, more conflict consideration.. that sort of thing, not really appearance of the glyphs themselves. reality is 80% of the time if I try a "free font' because it's been requested or used by some previous designer, it will create a conflict on my system with some, relatively common, paid font. While a conflict can absolutely happen with paid fonts, they are far, far, less common.
    – Scott
    Nov 17 at 6:56
  • @Scott Conversely, the vast majority of paid, even expensive, fonts are not well-constructed in that they have far too limited glyph sets and few or poorly implemented OpenType features (Lexicon is a particularly egregious example – beautiful and insanely expensive font, but virtually unusable in practice). While that’s also true of a lot of throwaway free fonts, it’s exactly what many open-source font projects set out to overcome (SIL fonts, Fira, Plex, etc.). Nov 17 at 16:10
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Here are your answers:

1. What are the advantages/disadvantages of one over the other?
One is free, the other you don't pay for. That's it.

2. Does the font really matter?
No. Overall design matters.
(*Note - typeface and font are generally used interchangeably. Historically, and more accurately, a font is a subset of a typeface. For example, Helvetica is a typeface. Helvetica 9 pt. is a font. No one cares about the nomenclature - only its relevance to the design)

3. Can a font which is free but quite similar to a paid font be considered as copyright infringement?
No. A free font is offered for personal and sometimes commercial use. Even if a free font looks similar to a copyrighted font, it is not copyright infringement to use it. Always check the licensing agreement.

4. From a business perspective isn't it better to go with a free font?
Not necessarily. But if you want a font for commercial use, you may not be able to use the free font you like. Other than that, there is no business advantage/disadvantage.

5. Are free fonts (for example such listed on Google Fonts) actually free?
Yes - as long as you adhere to the licensing requirement.

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I think we need to separate out a few possibilities.

If all you want to design is a logo, you are only going to design the logo once, and then you no longer need the font. In this case, there are no ongoing licensing issues, you only need to pay for the font once and install it on one computer. In this case, obviously you could use a free font, but the logo will be used many times. In this case, you might as well pay for the best font you can that gets you the best logo. The price is one-off and the value will be long-lasting. Exact font licenses differ from company to company, but once a logo is converted into a final logo image, there is no need to pay further costs for the font.

EasyJet logo

Many companies use a specific font for their logo they never use for anything else. For example, EasyJet have a policy of never using the Cooper Black font for anything but their logo as it cheapens the brand and the look they want to use the font everywhere. They paid say $40 for that font and they got the look they want.

Fender logo

On the other hand, if you specifically want a logo, you could equally pay for a custom logotype that perfectly matches the image you want. This logo for Fender is not a font: every letter is carefully designed to fit in the available space and bond with its neighbours.

Swissair subbrand logos

If you are creating a series of logos for a company with many sub brands, there may be advantages to using a standard font. On the other hand, using a distinctive paid font makes your brand more distinctive and harder to copy. I am a font nerd, but I see Roboto and Open Sans and Montserrat everyday, they are not distinctive and do not give businesses with them a distinctive look.

And again, you really only need one paid license since one person could do all these logos. You generally only pay for fonts by number of computers it's installed on, and even for a big company one designer could do all these logos on one computer. The price is still not super expensive if the font you want gives you the premium feel you want.

Example corporate invoice

If what you want is a corporate font used in many documents, then obviously we need to budget more because multiple seats and individuals may need licenses for the font. In this case there may be advantages to using a free font. This is why big corporations generally print brochures and marketing materials in a nice font they paid big money for, but your electricity bill just uses Arial because printing the electricity bill isn't "designed" work. They only want to buy enough licenses for the designers' computers to get you in, not for the invoices and receipts.

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