Getting the right font

Thinking over the design of my game, I often try to find visual aesthetics such as icons and fonts to help express the atmosphere I’m looking for.  For this article, I’m going to spend a bit describing some of the key points I look for when identifying fonts to be used in a game.

There are a lot of fonts out there.  Even on a basic machine with limited amounts of productivity software installed, a font dropdown can contain over a hundred fonts.  For some people, this can extend into the thousands.  There are many sites and shareware sources where you can get fonts either for free, or in bulk for very little money.  To the average person, this is about as much as they know regarding fonts.

For the more professionally minded, such as a publishing firm, they often tap into the professional font market.  On these sites, fonts can range from tens of dollars to hundreds of dollars.  This bewilders the average person since they can often find a large source of free fonts.  Why would a font cost more than a major piece of software?  That doesn’t make sense.  Or, does it…

Fonts are like artwork.  There is a wide degree of quality when it comes to fonts.  The higher the quality, or the more exclusive you want the font, the more expensive it gets.  While it might seem relatively easy to design a font, there are a lot of considerations that go into the design of a font.  This includes the general design, how well it scales from very small to very large, and how it looks at different weights (light, normal, bold, extra bold), or when italicized.

For most free fonts, there is a single font.  Let’s take something like Arial which comes with just about every Windows computer.  Arial is actually a very high quality font that was professionally designed.  It scales well (4pt to 144pt), it looks good with bold and italic, and it supports a massive number of characters (10,000+) to support international languages, math, symbols, etc…  Now, if you were to look at many free fonts, they are often designed for a narrow size range, bold and italic are done via software, so there is no guarantee they will look as the author intended, or even good at all, and the number of characters is often limited, usually less than five hundred.

If the latter meets your needs, then by all means go for it.  Free is always good when it meets your needs.  There are many sites that will help you find free fonts and sample your text at different sizes.  Here’s a few links you can try.

Likely, you will find something you like that represents the character or atmosphere you’re looking for.

Now, if you are looking for something a little more robust or unique, you will have to look at the sites where you purchase fonts.  On these sites, fonts come with licensing terms on where they can be used, or how they can be distributed.  Pay close attention to these terms of use.  Using them outside of those terms can result in legal action.  That said, many of the fonts are priced quite reasonably given the quality and uniqueness.  Here’s a couple of sites I’ve used.

These two sites share many fonts in common, so often I browse both.  One of the things I like is the fact that the fonts on these sites are tagged for easy searching.  This often helps me narrow down to a particular style that I’m looking for.  For my logo name of DungeonZ, I wanted something with a generic, semi-exotic, fantasy feel.  In my find, this is a serif font that doesn’t feel too old school, but conveys a sense of higher fantasy.

While browsing the fonts, I often do a few things.  Many sites will default to showing you the font in the font name, or a common phrase, or basic alphabet.  These are all good for getting a quick idea.  Once I narrow down my list some, I often enter some custom text to see how my phrase or logo name might appear.  Additionally, many sites allow you to adjust the size of the font.  I adjust the size to something relatively small, and again to something pretty large.  At a small size, many of the great details can either be lost or muddied.  Very large, any flaws start to show up, especially in some free fonts where the attention to detail was not put into the design.

Okay.  Now onto a few terms that might help you narrow down your search.  These terms are common when describing fonts and can help you narrow your search down.

  • Serif – a serif font is a small line attached to the end of a stroke in a letter or symbol.  Times New Roman is a good example of a serif font.
  • Sans-Serif – is a font that does not have the small projecting features called ‘serifs’ at the end of strokes.  Arial is a good example.
  • Small Caps – is where the lower case letters have the same shape as the upper case letters, just smaller. Orator Std is a good example
  • Monospaced font (fixed-pitch, fixed-width) is where each character in the font occupies the same width.  Consolas is a good example.
  • Proportional font (variable-pitch, variable-width) is where each character can be a different width. Arial and Times New Roman are examples.
  • Symbol Font – this is where common letters of the English alphabet are replaced with graphical symbols.  Wingdings is a good example

There are many more subtle details when it comes to fonts, but the above is a good list of terms to help find fonts on the sites I listed.  If you would like a more comprehensive description of fonts, let me know. has a good description of the above terms with examples of fonts and differences.

I plan on spending today narrowing down my selection to a few fonts that I think work well together.  I’ll report back my final selections and why I choose them.


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