Tips and Advice

Font files and how to create your own – the smart creative’s guide

Fonts – they’re a vital part of digital design jobs as varied as greetings cards and calendars, to web design and brand creation. And picking out the perfect typeface to fit in with your required look and style can be a time-consuming task. So here’s your guide to making font-finding, installation, and even creation, as pain-free as possible.

Before we dive into the technical stuff let’s quickly run through the basics:

Font or typeface? What’s the difference?

To put it simply, the character style and look is the typeface. The computer-readable file that you upload to your computer – that’s the font.

Using them in a sentence (always handy)?

“I think Helvetica would be the perfect typeface for this design.”

“I need a new font for Photoshop – I’m bored of all my old ones.”

Serif, sans serif, sans the confusion

What’s a serif when it’s at home? It’s those slightly decorative, calligraphy-style flicks or ‘projecting features’ on the characters. Serif come from the Dutch word for ‘line’ and the sans bit is French for without. So a serif typeface has those stylised lines and a sans serif one doesn’t.


fonts files: Curier and arial font examples






Are you a Mac or a PC?

So now that we’ve covered the font fundamentals, here’s what’s really important.

Where do you get them? And how do you get them up and running on your computer?

Like all ‘designed’ things fonts are protected by copyright, and while some typefaces are old enough to be out of copyright (in fact typefaces were only made copyrightable in England in 1989), the font is the computer file and therefore fully protected.

To use a font you have to purchase a licence from the copyright owner and like all software these will have terms and conditions of use, such as the number of computers you can install the font file on. You can purchase these licences and download the fonts at a range of online stores, and via Adobe who offer a range of their own fonts as well as links to other trusted sources.

And of course there are a load of lovely designers happy to offer up their fonts to the wider creative community totally free of charge. These can be easily found with a quick Google search (but as always check the source is trustworthy before clicking those download links!) and of course we also bring you a great free font in our regular Font of The Month feature.

fonts files: langdon free font

But before you part with any cash (or start downloading with abandon) you need to check that you’re getting the right fonts for the system you work on. There are three different main types of font – OpenType, TrueType and PostScript.

There’s a great in-depth description of the difference between these three at (which you can read here if you’re interested), but in general you should opt for OpenType (.otf) as they offer the best of both worlds in terms of features and compatibility, and were created to overcome the issues experienced with the two older formats sometimes not being compatible with certain operating systems or design programs. But if your desired font isn’t available as OpenType (a lot will be TrueType) don’t worry, just remember to check compatibility before you head to the checkout.

Right, so now you’ve got your chosen font file. How do you get it installed on your system?

There are a few variation between Mac and Windows and methods, and the steps, can change slightly depending on the version of your OS, but in general you’re after your system fonts folder. It could be tempting to try and add them to your design program but the font needs to be accessible to all systems on your machine.

For Windows 10 simply download the zip file for your font, extract the files, select them, right click and hit install. Or you can open up your Fonts folder and drag and drop or copy and paste as you prefer. Just click the looking glass to get Search and type ‘fonts’ into the text field. The folder will appear in results before you even get past the ‘n’.

For Mac OSX it’s all about Font Book. Simply open your downloaded font folder and Font Book will show you a preview. Like what you see? Then just hit the install button in the preview window and you’re done!

Cool font tools for your designing delight

Seen a font you love but don’t know what it’s called? Then the font experts at MyFonts are here to help.

If you’re an iPhone user they have the WhatTheFont iOS app ready to assist. Take a snap of the font you’re dying to identify and the app will analyse it and bring up the closest matches from the site’s vast database. There’s an Android app update in the works, but until then there’s the desktop option to keep you in the know. Just visit the MyFonts website here.

Now you’ve got all these lovely new fonts at your disposal, picking a typeface for your design might get even more difficult. But once again the world wide web can give you a hand. The fabulous Flipping Typical website (semi) accurately identifies the fonts on your computer, and displays your chosen text in all of them in one quick-reference window. Both fun and a huge time-saver.

fonts files: typical font preview


Just your type

But what if you’ve explored all the sites and can’t find that perfect typeface you’re after? Then creating your own font could be the best option.

First up you’ll need to design your typeface as a vector. You can do this a range of ways now thanks to the wonders of modern technology. You can design it as a vector from the get go using a design program such as Adobe Illustrator. Or  handcrafting those custom characters could be more your thing, in which case you can hand-draw and scan your creations. Make sure the image is scanned in at a minimum resolution of 200dpi, and remember to clean it up afterwards to remove any marks or dust. Then you can convert this to a vector. Again Illustrator is a good choice but there are a few free tools online that will do a decent job without charge. Or  you can even remove the middle-man and use a clever graphics notepad that vectorises what you draw in it using an app. Don’t forget punctuation marks, accented characters and an uppercase option to add some flexibility (and international appeal) to your wordart.

So you’ve digitised your typeface. Now how do you transform this into a font?

You’ll need to use a specialised font editor for this. There’s various levels of software depending on how serious you are about your font designing, but FontLab have great options from the comprehensive FontLab Studio to the cheaper and less involved TypeTool. These programs will let you finetune your characters and glyphs and output fully-functioning font files in any of the three formats.

Or if you’re the *ahem* ‘economical’ sort you can give the website a try.

Then simply install your new font file on your computer and you’re away!

The Final Font-teer

You adore your new font and want to share it with the world. You can be one of those thoughtful souls we mentioned earlier who kindly distribute their fonts for free, but if you think you’ve got Time New Roman mark 2 in the bag you might want to think about commercialising it and making some handy extra cash.

The first thing to do is run it through the font checker on WhatTheFont to make sure it’s distinct enough to stand out from any with a similar style.

All good? Great.

Next you’ll need a cool name (and maybe a back-up). Then head over to the Intellectual Property Office website and check that your chosen moniker isn’t already a trademark. But, before you start registering, you’ll need to do one final check to make sure that the typeface isn’t too similar to any already registered as a protected design. The IPO will do this for you for a £25 fee if you don’t want to try and navigate their slightly clunky search system.

If you get the ‘all clear’ you can then apply for design registration and trademark your font name if the fancy takes you. Then you can either market the font yourself or use a distributor. Again MyFonts are a must visit destination. Not only will they run checks to make sure your font is up to snuff but are a great resource for font do’s and dont’s.


Submit your font and that’s it, you’re no longer a simple designer. Now, my friend, now you are a foundry.


Why not share your own favourite font in the comments below or share your Sansita project with us in the Designers’ Community or on Facebook or Twitter. Also, if you think you are an expertise on fonts, take the font quiz here!


If you want to know more about fonts, check our article 8 Utterly Terrible Font Puns!

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About the author

Our in-house designer Becca has a love of all things creative. When she’s not designing, you can find her in Newcastle checking out independent coffee shops or getting her hands dirty with her house renovation.

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