Most of today’s computers come with a library of installed fonts, known as system fonts. These are typically fine for most things—like email, spreadsheets, and documents—but when it comes to creative work, like e-learning, you might need to look beyond system fonts for something with a little more personality.

Let’s say you’ve got a special project coming up and you’d like a font that works with the subject matter. Where do you start?

The internet, of course! Finding fonts on the web is super-easy, but how can you tell which ones are safe to use? Let’s take a closer look.

Free Fonts

Free fonts are obviously the easiest on the old pocketbook, and they’re great when you’re looking to prototype different visual design options.

However, free fonts do come with some limitations. For instance, it’s common for font designers to offer a free version of their font in only one stroke weight—like bold, light, or regular. All of the other stroke weights may cost money.

Also, with free fonts, you tend to get what you pay for. Font designers might not invest as much time on the finer details with a font they’re giving away. They might cut corners on things like proper kerning—the spacing between characters—or they might choose to leave out special characters entirely. Fonts that aren’t properly kerned can be hard to read and might not render or scale well on different devices. And missing special characters can force you to use a mish-mash of similar fonts to try and maintain some visual cohesion in your design.

A final drawback with free fonts is that they are often just stolen licensed fonts, repackaged with the copyright removed. This means you could end up using a “free” front illegally. Yikes!

How can you play it safe with free fonts? Well, just as you would with any other asset, always check the licensing to make sure it’s free for commercial use. When you download the font file, look for a “readme” text file in the zip folder. These generally contain the licensing terms and conditions. If the downloaded “free” font doesn’t have these terms and conditions spelled out … be cautious.

There are many great sources for free, high-quality fonts on the web that you can trust. My go-to is Google Fonts, a library of more than a thousand free and open-source font families. I use a ton of them in my Storyline 360 projects. Google Fonts always look great and provide a complete set of special characters to work with, and I love the variety of styles.

One last note about free fonts: Although some pre-installed Windows Fonts can be published to the web without purchasing an additional license, others, like Arial, are owned by Monotype and are subject to a web font license. Personally, I’ve found Open Sans, Lato, and Source Sans Pro—free web fonts installed with Storyline 360—to be good substitutes for Arial. But if you’re already using a lot of Arial in your e-learning, you’ll want to learn more about Monotype licensing here.

Paid Fonts

If you have the budget for assets, why hassle with finding free fonts when you can just purchase the exact font you need for your project? Fonts for purchase tend to be higher quality and are more likely to give you access to a full assortment of stroke weights and special characters. 

Many people decide to purchase a font to mitigate any legal concerns over licensing. However, paid font licensing can still be a little tricky. Some font designers require separate payments for print and web versions of the font. As such, it always pays to read the fine print to make sure you’re allowed to use your purchased font the way you intend.


We’ve covered a lot of turf here, so I thought I’d leave you with a handy pros and cons table to wrap it all up with a nice little bow:




Free Fonts

  • They’re free!
  • They might only come in one stroke weight.
  • They might not come with a full set of characters.
  • The kerning (space between letters) might not be consistent.
  • It can be hard to be 100% sure you can use a font legally.

Paid Fonts

  • Often (but not always) higher quality.
  • Often (but not always) come in multiple stroke weights.
  • Often (but not always) include a more complete set of characters.
  • They’re not free.
  • Paid font licensing can be complex, so it’s best to read the fine print to ensure you’re using it legally.


Now that you know the pros and cons of free versus paid fonts, you might be wondering how to decide which fonts to use. Great question! The following articles will help you make the call:

Have any tips you want to share? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you! And remember to follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning. If you have any questions, please share them in the comments.