I am not a graphic designer, but I must find a font that has these considerations:

  • Readable onscreen at small (8-10px) sizes
  • Distinguishes readily between I, l, and 1 (Upper I, Lower L, and one)
  • A touch fancy, such as slightly sculpted letters or a surprise twist in a letter
  • GPL-compatible license. I will be redistributing the font in an open source application

The last requirement is often in conflict with the first, but nicely compliments the second. The Ubuntu font does match all the considerations, however I would prefer something a little more distinctive or fancy now that the Ubuntu font is so popular.

To clarify: I am not looking for a specific font recommendation as an answer (though if you do have a suggestion then a comment would be well appreciated) but rather to know what font-selection tools are available. I have found that identifont.com has a nice "Fonts by similarity" tool that lets the user describe the desired font, however that tool does not seem to cover GPL-compatible fonts.

  • 4
    google.com/webfonts ? Personally I still use paper font catalogs, but that's me - they're better at transferring the mood; however, GPL-compatibility is a strong requirement here, so I guess most of these would be useless.
    – Aadaam
    Aug 11 '12 at 15:32
  • 1
    I mean, all the fonts in google webfonts are open source, you can't use most paper catalogs as I don't know about a paper catalog with only free fonts.
    – Aadaam
    Aug 11 '12 at 15:45
  • THis is a Graphic Design question
    – DA01
    Aug 12 '12 at 0:21
  • I knew I had this link somewhere...it's a shareware/commercial font manager and selector. Apparently about the best you can get on windows OS. I haven't tried the software myself but, it promises to provide selections based on font characteristics etc. Website is neuber.com/typograph
    – user17102
    Aug 15 '12 at 11:50

Try with Open Sans or Droid Sans.

Both are open source, and designed to work on the screen.

Update: I just read that you want something more distintive or fancy. Sadly Open Sans or Droid is far from being distintive (they are just another Helvetica like fonts). You can try with Museo (there is a free version but is not open source), but I think that is not designed for 8px sizes (Museo is a slab serif). BTW I really like Open Sans Light is a good alternative to the Mac only Helvetica Neue.

  • Thank you. Open Sans unfortunately does not distinguish between uppercase I and lowercase L. Droid Sans does, however.
    – dotancohen
    Aug 11 '12 at 19:58

This is a notoriously difficult problem. Tools exist for helping you find the perfect font among the hundreds of thousands that exist, and (generally separate) tools exist to help you find the perfect font among the hundreds that you have installed, but there are relatively few tools that exist to choose a font among a large but select group of typefaces you don't have installed.

In your case, the best place to start is probably Open Font Library, which is dedicated to open fonts and provides a facility to demo the fonts at different sizes and with different text. It also has some (rather crude) categorisation to filter the list by attributes, as well as the facility to filter by exact licence (e.g. Apache, Creative Commons, MIT, GPL, etc.).

Another good place to look specifically for GPLed fonts is the Libertine Open Fonts Project.

In the more general case, finding an appropriate font among your own library of installed fonts is a task that can be handled by numerous great tools. I generally do it very manually using OS X's built-in font manager Font Book (I have collections set up for different font attributes—serif, sans serif, script, slab serif, etc.—and then I type a reasonably appropriate piece of sample text and simply do it by eye). I have previously used LinoType's FontExplorer X for this purpose, which allows you to select multiple fonts and view the same sample text in all the selected fonts at once.

The best tool I'm aware of that automatically does this is TypeDNA, which allows you to browse by things like weight and other such attributes.

  • Thank you for introducing me to the term "slab serif". Tell me, is there a term for the smallest serifs possible? I think that looking for such a font would help. Thanks!
    – dotancohen
    Aug 13 '12 at 3:15
  • @dotancohen I think you're referring to a Didone font (a.k.a hairline serifs), but it's hard to say. You could be referring to a font like Optima which is sans serif but provides terminals that suggest serifs.
    – Kit Grose
    Aug 13 '12 at 4:12

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.