You've decided to select a new, exciting font for your brand, only to find that licensing costs can go up to several hundred dollars, if not more. It may be tempting to ask your designer to work with free fonts available for download online, but there are numerous risks involved in doing so.
Licensing and copyright issues
Fonts available on such websites are often only intended to be free for personal use, so if you use them on commercial applications, you are liable to be sued for misuse. Even if the website states that a font is free for commercial use, this is not necessarily true—many fonts are reposted for download without permission from the original typeface designer, which is a violation of their copyright. Purchasing fonts from reputable sites is the only way to ensure you are purchasing directly from the type foundry or designer, and paying fairly for the intended use. Typefaces are incredibly complicated and intensive to design, and designers deserve to be compensated for their efforts.
Free fonts are often poorly modified versions of popular fonts, without the finish provided by the original. Even if they are unique, they are rarely designed by professional designers. Zooming in to the letters is the easiest way to spot this—look out for disproportionate shapes, oddly spaced letters and jagged or uneven curves.
Missing characters and styles
Imagine creating a whole set of assets with your new font and then realising it is missing an exclamation mark when you need one! Free fonts tend to only include the basics. You lose out on special characters and sometimes even punctuation. Purchasing from a reputed site ensures a full set of characters, as well as the option of a full family of styles if you need italic, bold, or other variations.
So what are my options?
An exception where free fonts are well-designed and safe to use are those which are open source. For example, Google Fonts offers over 800 font families that are free for personal and commercial use.
If you are looking for something more unique, extending your budget slightly to invest in a legal, well-designed typeface will be well worth it for your brand. There are plenty of fonts available at reasonable prices at fonts.com, Linotype, or through Adobe's Typekit.
If you have questions about font licensing or need help selecting a new look for your brand, get in touch!