What’s a Web Font, Anyway?

For years now, web typography has suffered under the weight of severe limitations. Limitations of both technology and licensing restrictions have forced designers to rely on a handful of widely available fonts, installed locally on the end-users’ computers, and which resulted in the proliferation of such typefaces as Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, Times New Roman, and Verdana. To ensure that the integrity of a web page’s design would remain intact across a variety of web browsers and operating systems, designers relied on these few fonts because they could be found on a variety of platforms.

Although web fonts are not a new technology (the @font-face rule was introduced on the CSS 2.0 specification way back in 1998), disparate font formats, reticent font foundries, and slow connection speeds prevented any significant use or development of web fonts.

So, what is a web font? A web font is a font resource that is served to the web browser remotely. Sort of like an image on a web page; a reference in the HTML points to the image’s location on the web, and the image is then downloaded and displayed in the web page without the end user even having to think about it. By the same token, a web page’s CSS references the internet location of a web font, the font is downloaded, and the font is used to style the text that the user sees.

What's a Web Font?

Web fonts are resources called by a web page’s CSS, downloaded to user’s computer, and used to display the text on the page.

The web font can be self-hosted by the owner of the web page or it can be hosted by a third-party service that specializes in serving fonts online. Font hosting services include Google Web Fonts, Adobe Typekit, Fonts.com, and more.

In short, web fonts allow designers to break away from the tried and true (and boring) web-safe fonts and display text in the variety of typefaces we have become accustomed to seeing in print.

I’ll discuss the various options for including web fonts on your web site on this blog over the next few weeks. If you can’t wait, you can sign up for my webinar on web fonts, which is happening July 19.

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