A guide to Google Fonts, the free library for fonts to use online

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Font choice can be a decisive crossroads for a website’s attractiveness: eye-catching fonts capture attention and invite action, while less apt choices can discourage users from staying. The goal for a brand is to balance readability and originality, accessibility and “style,” while trying to identify a typographic set that reflects the message it intends to convey. The answer to this problem may lie in Google Fonts, one of the best online resources to optimize the visual communication of the site thanks to fonts that can give the right emphasis to our content.

What is Google Fonts, the font library for the Web

Google Fonts is a library of fonts that Google makes freely available to all users.

These fonts are designed to be easily incorporated into websites, ensuring that text is displayed consistently across different platforms, and the open source nature of the project allows for a wide range of uses, including commercial uses, stimulating creativity and innovation in web design.

More specifically, Google Fonts is a collection of APIs (application programming interfaces) that allow users to use Web fonts on their site or application. Initially known as Google Web Fonts, the project was established in 2010 to enable and make it easier to discover and explore freely licensed fonts for import into web projects or applications; the interactive web directory is hosted by Google and all fonts and bandwidth are free.

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Today this open source library hosts hundreds of fonts in more than 1000 languages and over 150 writing systems, allowing you to browse font families and test different typefaces, which you can then download and use freely, with very high compatibility with CSS and Android and iOS systems.

Platform features and font information

For each font, it is also possible to discover additional and curious information, such as its designer, related work, and data on trends and usage of the font; in addition, Google sorts its fonts according to popularity, consumption patterns, and trends in the user’s area.

Legally, most of the fonts are released under the open source license and only a few are released under the Apache or Ubuntu font license-in all cases they are also perfectly available for commercial uses; this library is also distributed by Monotype’s SkyFonts and Adobe’s Edge Web and Typekit services.

As of 2021, the project has also expanded to icons, with an initial set of material icons, symbols made for common communication needs that can be downloaded to the desktop for uses in digital for Android, iOS and Web.

What this library is for

It might seem like a minor detail, but in reality we know how relevant it is to choose a suitable font for our site, in line with the brand identity and capable of speaking to the target audience even before a word is read, because every curve and line of the chosen font will help define the overall user experience on the site.

Google Fonts features stand out for their ability to enhance the web experience for both developers and end users, combining versatility and ease of use.

The collection ranges from timeless classic font families to contemporary designs, offering a diversity of styles capable of meeting any branding need. The simplicity with which these fonts can be integrated into a website, either through a code snippet or a direct link, eliminates technical complexity and accelerates development processes.

Because it is open source, Google Fonts allows not only free use without licensing fees, but also customization, to allow fonts to be tailored to the specific needs of a project. Optimization for the web is another strength, as these fonts are designed to load quickly and maintain their visual integrity on any device and browser, thus ensuring a consistent and cohesive user experience. To be precise, using code generated by Google Fonts, Google’s servers will automatically send the smallest possible file to each user based on the technologies supported by his or her browser-this makes the Web faster for all users, particularly in areas where bandwidth and connectivity are an issue.

Much care is also devoted to accessibility, with fonts that improve text readability and facilitate navigation for all users, including those with visual impairments. In addition, continual updating of the library ensures that typographic options stay abreast of design evolutions.

Why to choose Google Fonts

The concept behind Google Fonts is “simplicity”: as we know, web fonts can have an impact on the loading time of a page, but also on the usability and readability of content. In one word, they affect the user experience, but at the same time they also provide immediate information to the user about what the brand wants to communicate and the way it presents itself, because they are like the tone of voice of a content.

Being able to count on a library of thousands of Google fonts – free, of the highest quality and ready to use – is definitely a huge advantage for those who are working on a web project and also want to take care of the graphic aspect that will assume its communication.

Another aspect that explains the success of Google web fonts is practicality: the content of this extensive database is optimized for proper display on any media, device and platform. Compared to the classic fonts, these fonts are already created for Web display on monitors and screens, and therefore have a much more modern and fresh character – which also benefits the view of users.

From the technical point of view, then, Google ensures that the code generated by the platform is already optimized and allows servers to automatically send the smallest file possible to each user based on the technologies supported by its browser, using for example WOFF 2.0 compression when available. In this way, web pages become faster for all users, especially in areas where bandwidth and connectivity are a problem, and “everyone can enjoy the same quality and integrity of design in their products and Web pages, regardless of where they are in the world”.

The (also SEO) advantages of Google fonts

Wanting to try and summarize and outline the main advantages of Google Fonts, we can say that they offer some positive features not only in terms of readability and aesthetics, but also for the performance of content, with possible beneficial effects even for the SEO.

In particular, Google fonts are:

  • Aesthetically pleasing, attractive and appealing, and therefore able to capture the attention of users.
  • Optimized for the web: the Google Font library ensures font compatibility on all devices, platforms and media, for a correct and enjoyable reading.
  • Readable: for each font family there is also a different “weight” that allows you to diversify the text content from the headings, for example, so as to characterize and optimize the visibility of the page.
  • Lightweight: Google Fonts APIs are compressed and optimized, so a web page that uses them has a generally higher loading speed than one that uses different characters. In addition, Googlebot could scan Google font families faster.
  • Different and versatile: the online catalogue is rich and constantly expanding, so everyone can find a right font for their digital project.
  • Free: as opposed to those available on other platforms, the fonts in this library are free and freely installable on each site and application.
  • Compatible: all fonts on the site comply with precise standards of the Google community and ensure high levels of compatibility.

Google Fonts numbers: the most interesting statistics

The Google Fonts directory has quickly met with user interest, so much so that it is estimated that fonts have been viewed 80,269,433,262,212 times (i.e., more than 80 trillion times) and downloaded in more than 30 billion instances — in practice, it is as if every person on Earth has downloaded each font at least 2 or 3 times.

To date, the collection includes 1591 font families that help “give personality and performance to Web sites and products,” as stated on the project’s website, a constant reference now for anyone who wants to download fonts to use in making a site or designing graphics.

In fact, this library is used by a large portion of web masters and web designers who are looking for solutions for their professional projects, and has quickly established itself thus as the standard for readability of web projects-thanks in part to the weight of Google as a search engine and beyond, of course.

According to some statistics, there are more than 53 million live Web sites that use the Google Font API, which is used by about half of the sites that rank among the ten thousand most visited in the world and ranks first on the Internet in the Font category.

What are the most used and appreciated Google fonts

It can also be useful to find out which are the five most viewed and downloaded Google fonts in the world, so as to understand the features sought by designers (and appreciated by users anyway).

The first place in the ranking is the prerogative of Roboto, a sans-serif offered by Christian Robertson and set as a system font for Android: displayed almost 17 billion times, it declines in 12 different styles (many of which are also present in these Google Fonts analytics: for example, Roboto Condensed is in sixth place overall). According to the official description, Roboto has “a double soul”, since it has a mechanical skeleton and shapes that are largely geometric combines friendly and open curves; the result is a style that allows you to place the letters in their natural width, making the pace of reading more natural.

Alcuni esempi di Google Fonts

To the second place we find Open Sans, a highly readable font created by Steve Mattson, which Google itself uses on some of its print and web sites and ads: among the main features are a design with a vertical stress, open shapes and a neutral appearance, but friendly.

The bronze medal goes to Lato of the Polish Łukasz Dziedzic, described as a character that, thanks to semiround details of the letters, offers “a feeling of warmth, while the robust structure gives stability and seriousness”.

Right off the podium we find Noto Sans JP, which is the declination of Noto Sans (a global collection of fonts created directly by Google for writing in all modern and ancient languages) for the Japanese language and other languages used in Japan, covering Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji but also supporting Latin, Cyrillic, Greek.

Rounding out this top five is instead Montserrat, a Google font created by Julieta Ulanovsky, consisting of 18 different styles ranging from the lightest to the heaviest and inspired, right from its name, by the Montserrat neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

How to choose Google Fonts

The Google Fonts catalogue includes over a thousand character families, as mentioned, and this vast choice could complicate (or at least lengthen the time) the search for the best font for your site.

The decision on the best font cannot be random, but must be the result of a thorough reflection on the identity one wants to communicate, a process that requires balancing aesthetic and functional factors, ensuring that the selected typeface is not only beautiful to look at, but also performs well and is accessible. Just to give easy examples, a brand that wants to evoke luxury and sophistication might lean toward elegant and subtle fonts, while a company that aims to convey solidity and reliability might prefer more robust and defined typefaces.

Readability is a beacon to watch carefully: a font that reads well on any device and size ensures that the message comes through loud and clear. This aspect is closely related to accessibility, a principle that ensures that all users, regardless of their visual abilities, can navigate the site unhindered.

The choice of font must then harmonize with the existing design: if the site already has distinctive visual elements such as logos or images, the font should act as a complement, creating a visual balance that does not distract but rather guides the user through the content.

Finally, it is important to consider the impact of the font on site performance. A font with an excessive variety of styles can slow loading times, negatively affecting the user experience and potentially even SEO ranking. Google Fonts provides useful insights into the impact of each font, allowing us to make an informed choice not only in aesthetic terms but also in technical terms.

To help us better determine which font is the best and most suitable for our needs, the official Google Fonts website allows us to set several filters to perform a targeted search. Specifically, we can take action on the following fields:

  • Search: we can write the name of a specific font, that we already know.
  • Preview Text: provides a preview of the visual effect of the font, selecting a basic text or inserting a sentence of our choice.
  • Font Size: sets the pixel size of the text shown in preview.
  • Categories: filters font type based on the 5 categories in which all Google fonts fall
  • Language: narrows down the search based on the alphabet of a language (Latin, Chinese, Cyrillic, Arabic, for example).
  • Font properties: selects some font properties, such as thickness, number of styles, width and inclination.

What are the categories of Google Fonts

It is worth investigating which are the 5 categories of Google Fonts, which define the style of the families of these characters for the Web.

Confronto-caratteri-con-grazie-senza-grazie-serif-sans-serif.jpg

  • Serif: as in classical typography, this category includes all fonts that present graces (also called sticks or serifs), namely special orthogonal stretches at the ends of each letter.
  • Sans-serif: is the family of fonts that does not have the serifs and are therefore missing the terminal traits.
  • Display: are characters usually designed for large headers, which frequently have little space between a letter and the other for a more impactful effect.
  • Handwriting: fonts that imitate handwriting.
  • Monospace: families of characters that have the same width and that remind in some way the style of the typewriter.

How to add a Google font to the site

Adding a Google Font to your website is a fairly simple process, requiring just a few steps.

If we are working in a WordPress environment or on other CMSs, we first need to check if our theme does not already include Google fonts by default (a frequent situation with the latest premium themes), checking the functionality in the configuration panel. If this option is absent, we can download a plugin (for example, Easy Google Fonts or Google Fonts Tipography), install it on the panel and proceed with the selection of the preferred font.

For manual installation, simply visit the Google Fonts website and browse the vast collection available, locating the font that reflects the style and tone of the site. At this point, we can delve deeper into the overview of available variants and relative font heavinesses. After choosing the options that best suit the design, Google automatically generates a code snippet to insert into the website, which essentially consists of a link to be placed in the head section of the HTML page, precisely linking the site to the Google Fonts library.

The next step is to apply the font to CSS styles, specifying the font name in the font-family property for the HTML elements we wish to style – for example, if we want the font to be applied to all body text, we will need to add the font to the CSS rule for the body tag.

It is important to test the new font on different browsers and devices to ensure that it displays correctly and does not adversely affect page load time: even though Google Fonts is optimized for high performance, it is always a good idea to check that the integration has gone smoothly.

Local installation of Google Fonts on a pc is done manually: simply visit the Google Fonts site, select the font and click on Download to download a Google Font (single font or entire family) in zipper format. To install the font on the pc, simply unzip the folder, right-click on the ttf file and select install. Now we can use the same fonts from the blog or site to create ebooks or graphics in line with the Web style.

There are, on the other hand, two main methods for adding Google fonts to our projects, particularly to a WordPress site: we can install a dedicated plugin to which we can delegate the job or we can proceed with manual installation.

The best practices to choose Google web fonts

So we understand what Google fonts are and how to choose them and install them on our website or blog, and we can then launch into the latest reflections related to tips for the use of these characters in our online projects.

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The font has an important role in visually defining the style we want to give to our site and our pages, which can not be disconnected from the target audience to whom we think of addressing. Web design studies have highlighted the “rules” related to fonts, colors and shapes according to the areas of belonging – which is concretized for example, in the use of green comes for nature, health and well-being – and there are “best practices” General that also apply in the choice of Google fonts.

  • The fonts must primarily be easy to read, since the fundamental purpose of a text is to be read.
  • As a corollary, it is good to remember that fonts of too small size could be tiring to read: instead of sacrificing the ease of reading, it is preferable to enlarge the size of the font (pointing at least around 16 – 17 pixels).
  • If we find a font that we like aesthetically, but that is difficult to read, we could still use it only for some graphic elements and not for the main text of the contents.
  • It is better to run cross browser compatibility tests before setting the font for the site, to be sure that it is displayed correctly on all browsers, or at least on the most popular (Google Chrome, Safari, Mozilla Firefox, Edge) and prevent its appearance from varying slightly.
  • Do not exceed with the number of fonts on the same site, and limit yourself to a maximum of two or three different styles, also because each font (each single variation, not only each family) contributes to slightly slow down the site. Each font can in fact add up to 400 kb to the page weight.
  • The classic combination to achieve a pleasing visual effect involves the use of a serif font for headers and titles and a sans-serif font for texts. But with the correct use of the font size, weight and color we can achieve a valid effect even with just one font.
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