Better FONTS! (pt 2)

In part 1 of this Better FONTS! post, we learned about typography, design, and explored the font collection that we already have on our computers. Now we’re getting to the fun part – downloading and using new fonts!

Downloading new fonts:
Not all free font websites are created equal, as you may have already discovered on your own. Many sites claim to offer “free” fonts, but you quickly discover that only a few are actually free. Other sites are loaded with spam and ads that are meant to confuse the user and generate ad revenue. For this reason, it’s best to stick to the font websites that are tried and true. Before you start downloading fonts, check your browser’s settings/preferences to discover where your downloads will be saved. I set my browser to download everything to my Desktop, so the fonts are easy to find.

  • – This is my personal favorite because it’s simple to use and has a large collection to choose from. There are plenty of categories and filters on the page to help you refine your search.
  • – Another very popular website with a huge database of free fonts. You can also download “@font-face kits,” which includes a version of the font in each of the standards file formats, not just in TrueType format.
  • – TypeKit is a powerful resource from Adobe that has a large selection of fonts, but they aren’t free. TypeKit is a good resource for high-quality fonts, and they also provide very powerful font-hosting services for web designers.
  • Google Web Fonts – This resource is aimed at web designers, but you can still download fonts to use on your local computer. As you find fonts, you can add them to your “collection” and then download that collection as a single zip file. (Using custom fonts on a website is a whole-nother can of worms, because you have to install the font on your server and then embed a line of code into your CSS style sheets. Google Web Fonts is a nice service because it guides you through this process and even host the fonts for you.)

Installing new fonts:
Once you have downloaded the new fonts, you need to install them on your computer. When the install process is complete, they will appear in the fonts lists within your applications. Surprisingly enough, this process is the same on both PCs and Macs!

  • Step 1 – Most fonts download as a .zip file. If so, double-click the file to expand it and reveal the folder and font files inside. If there is a read-me text file included, open it and read about the font and its terms of service.
  • Step 2 – Double click the font file (likely a .ttf). A preview window will appear. Click the “Install Font” button. And that’s it!
  • NOTE: If you double-click the font and you don’t see a window with a button to install, you are likely running an older version of Windows or Mac OS. In that case, open the Windows Fonts utility (found in the Control Panel) or the Mac OS Font Book (found in your Applications folder), and then manually drag-and-drop the font file into the font window to complete the install.

Formatting tips:

  • Format painter – This is a PowerPoint feature (Mac and PC) that helps you keep your font styles consistent. Place your cursor inside some formatted text, click the Format Painter button from the main toolbar, and then highlight new text to apply the formatting. Double-click the button to lock it “on” if you’re applying the formatting to multiple groups of text (and click the button again to turn it off). This feature also works on graphic objects.
  • Paste and match style – Unfortunately, Keynote does not have a Format Painter. The closet option is the “Paste and Match Style” command from the Edit menu. Anytime you copy/paste text onto a slide, you can use this command to reformat the pasting text to match the formatting of the text already on the slide. This is most useful when you copying from an outside source, like the web.
  • Another simple way to keep text formatting consistent throughout a presentation is to simply copy and paste text boxes, or even entire slides, once you get one formatted the way you like. This is what I do. Once I have a few slides formatted the way I want, I just copy them over and over, and then edit the content (which is already formatted).
  • Like slide transitions and animations, font choices shouldn’t call too much attention to themselves and distract your audience. Fonts should be used to add interest and clarity, enhancing your message. So, choose your fonts carefully!

The Gotchas:

  • Read the terms of service for the fonts you are downloading and using. In many cases, you can only use free fonts for non-commercial use.
  • Font substitution – This issue is a real pain in the you-know-what when it happens. If you move your presentation to another computer that doesn’t have the new fonts installed, Keynote or PowerPoint will give you a warning message and then choose a replacement for you. And trust me, you won’t like what this does to the appearance of your slides. This can happen even if you aren’t using downloaded fonts, because fonts that are standard in Windows aren’t necessarily standard on a Mac, for example. To avoid this problem, try the following:
    • Convert your presentation to PDF. You should get in the habit of doing this anytime you’re preparing to deliver a presentation, even if you aren’t using special fonts. I always have the PowerPoint or Keynote file with me, and an additional PDF version as my “plan b.”
    • If you are using PowerPoint (PC only), you can embed the fonts directly into your presentation file. Choose “Save As…” from the File menu. In the Save As… dialog box, click Tools > Save Options, then check the “Embed True Type Fonts” check box. Lastly, select “Embed all characters” and click “OK.” Please note that this process will increase the file size of your presentation.
    • Open the Windows Font utility or Mac Font Book, then copy the .ttf files to your presentation folder and take them with you, just in case you’re able to install them on other computers as need.

And last but not least, I want to share a very useful online resource called It helps web designers choose fonts that are friendly across different platforms. For presentation designers, it provides a simple interface to compare fonts side-by-side. But most useful of all, it groups the fonts into categories so you can get a good idea of which fonts are standard on Windows vs. which fonts are standard on a Mac.

Creative font selection is another tool to add to your presenter’s tool belt. At first, it can be difficult to choose fonts that fit the tone of your presentation, but with a bit of research and a little practice, it gets easier over time. Just remember to keep it simple when you’re starting out, and don’t over-think it. Although, I have to admit, I am VERY tempted to use the Burrito font in my next technology presentation!

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