You can see the traditional cross platform system fonts like Arial and these , but in 2011 with Leopard/Lion and Vista/7, surely there are a load more fonts we can use reliably?


  • I saw your comment down below about migration. Since this is on-topic for GD, I am going to keep it here for another day or so to see if you get an answer. Otherwise, I will migrate if no good answers are given. Aug 26, 2011 at 11:56

4 Answers 4


The easy answer is to keep to OpenType (.otf) fonts. These are all inherently cross-platform (Mac OS, Windows, Linux). They can have Postscript or TrueType outlines internally. The only bit of (annoying) confusion comes in where some OpenType fonts with TrueType outlines are given a .ttf extension. You can determine if a .ttf is OpenType by looking at the font properties.

They are also feature-rich by comparison with Type 1 or TrueType fonts, which are limited as to character set. In order to create good typography with earlier font formats, you had to use multiple font files (standard character font, an alternate glyphs font, a small caps font, a ligature font, etc.), where OpenType fonts can have all of these, plus multiple language support, built in.

I work almost exclusively with OpenType fonts, partly to avoid compatibility issues, partly because it's way faster to set text when you don't have to switch fonts just to add small caps, a special glyph or a swash capital.

OpenType fonts are at their best when used with fully OpenType-aware applications such as Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress. Photoshop has some OpenType support, but still lacks a glyphs panel.

  • Oh I don't seem to have phrased the question correctly, sorry. I really meant which fonts are safe to use, like Arial, Times, Courier etc, I'd have thought in 2011 there would be a lot more to choose from. I'll have to edit my question. Thanks! Aug 25, 2011 at 21:27
  • Safe to use in what context, perhaps. An answer for the web would be different than an answer for print. Aug 25, 2011 at 21:51
  • hmm now you're making me think I've posted in the wrong .stackexchange. Yep I meant for web, in browser. thanks anyway! edit - can you vote to move this to webmasters.stackexchange.com pls - I don't have enough reputation :( Aug 25, 2011 at 21:58
  • @alan...he's asking which fonts one can declare with CSS's font-family property and be able to assume would be installed on a fair number of computers by default.
    – DA01
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:57
  • Yes, he clarified the point after my original answer. Aug 29, 2011 at 20:44

If you want to be as safe as possible, stick with the fonts that you link to, or use an @font type embedding.

That said, you can make font stacks that specify a "riskier" font first, as long as the fallback fonts are safe.

I've been adding Century Gothic, as that has very good coverage now.


I really don't think the state of cross platform fonts has changed much at all over the last decade. Most of the fonts that ship with the platforms are just about the same as they were in 1997 (yes there are some exceptions). However - they haven't changed enough that you could reliably use a font other than Arial, Helvetica, Georgia, Verdana, Trebuchet, etc... and expect it to be available on all devices.

And I doubt this trend will change any time soon:

  1. 95% of the population is satisfied (personal and professional use) just by having a Serif, Sans-serif, and a handful of "Comic-sans-y" fonts for those ever-popular chain emails, "wacky" fliers, and homemade party invites.
  2. Apple, Microsoft are aware of #1, and are also NOT font foundries.
  3. @font-face type kits (Google Web Fonts, Font Squirrel).
  4. Font delivery services that protect the font foundry's intellectual property (Typekit, Fontdeck).
  • minor note that #4 doesn't really protect IP in any shape or form. It's a bit of a misnomer. But it is convenient for web dev's to use (as is Google Web Fonts, Font Squirre, and Kernest)
    – DA01
    Aug 29, 2011 at 19:59
  • Well, it does in the way that one can't download font files - like they can with Font Squirrel. That "benefit" was prob the number one criteria put forth by the foundries before they'd even consider offering a web-user license for their fonts.
    – Dawson
    Aug 30, 2011 at 5:48
  • Again, it's a bit of a misnomer. It's like DRM...it sounds secure, but really isn't. I think it was more of a marketing spin to get the foundries to reluctantly get on board with the concept. In the end, if your browser is downloading and using it, you have the file on your own hard drive.
    – DA01
    Aug 30, 2011 at 13:19

Windows 7 has introduced some rather nice typefaces. I'd definitely look into using some of them in your font-family property list.

OSX hasn't added many typefaces over the years, so you're still stuck with the usual.

As other's have stated, @font-face CSS embedding has improved quite a bit, so you may have some options there too.

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