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@font-face: its time has come.

Posted by Sheldon Finlay on June 24, 2009

typekit-logoBrowsers are continuing to innovate and bring support for new methods which promise to make designer’s lives easier and more flexible. At An Event Apart in Boston this week was a call for designers to embrace the future of web design and start leveraging these emerging browser technologies. It’s time to get over the fact that web sites are going to look different in every browser. That’s the nature of the medium.

One exciting emerging technology is @font-face, a CSS specification which gives web designers the ability to add embedded fonts to the font-stack for use in on a web site. Web design has long suffered from an impoverished offering of web-safe fonts. Nonetheless, we have made a beautiful web with what we have been given, all the while turning a green eye towards print designers and their limitless selection of tidy fonts. The prospect of embedding fonts is exciting no doubt. Designers have wanted this flexibility for years as evidenced by such hacks as sIFR. sIFR works, but it’s imperfect. An interim hack at best until we have better techniques.

The two main road-blocks to using @font-face has been browser support and font licensing. Safari has supported @font-face since version 3.1, IE since version 4, albeit using a proprietary method (big fucking surprise), and Firefox will support @font-face in version 3.5 (released today). So we are getting to a point where browser support is no longer an obstacle. So lets check that item from our lists.

Now there is still the problem of font licensing. Sure, there are a lot of free poorly crafted fonts which have licensing that extend to the web. There might even be some reasonably nice free fonts which we can use. But all the big font foundries have refused to extend licensing to the web, and with good reason. There just hasn’t been a reliable way to embed fonts into a page in a manner which prevents the fonts from being downloaded. Web sites that use @font-face are basically making the fonts they embed available for public download. Not a good deal for the font foundries.

But that is about to change with the advent of Typekit an up and coming service set to launch this summer. Typekit allows web site designers to license fonts from the font foundries in a secure manner which protects the foundries fonts from being publicly downloadable. It’s very exciting. Is it perfect? I don’t think so. I have yet to see the service as it hasn’t launched. But it sounds like the service will somehow tie your web site to the Typekit service. Coupling sites can lead to problems. What will happen if Typekit’s servers go down. Nonetheless, this is progress. A first step. Opening the dialog up with the font foundries is huge. This is an industry that has feared the web for a long time. To bring them to the negotiating table is a momentous thing and the web will benefit from it enormously. I am certain more innovation will be made and we can thank Typekit for getting the ball rolling.

Resources:

  • Typekit (sign-up to be notified when the service goes live).
  • Typekit Blog (while you are waiting for Typekit read about their progress and get involved).