I’m speaking of both, fonts optimised for print, and fonts optimised for screens. Serif and sans-serif doesn’t matter. Commercial or free — also doesn’t matter.
What matters is the quality of the font. There are some fonts that you’d want to use for headings in a national newspaper or for a text in a printed book. And on the other hand there are poorly made fonts with details that a professional designer would spot and would want to avoid.
So, what distinguished a good quality font from a badly made font from a design point of view?
A Good font:
- Pair kernings have been addressed. How does “AV” look? Or “To”?
- The glyph box is not dramatically larger (or smaller) than the glyphs
- Glyph alignment on the baseline is correct, including adjustments for caps and rounds such as C, O, G, Q, S, etc.
- Stroke weights, thick or thin, are consistent between various glyphs, even if they have varying contrast.
- The x-height is an appropriate size compared to the Cap height. Some fonts have a drastically smaller or larger x-height.
- Proper family naming. This is a big one for me. And often a harbinger to just how much I’ll use the font. I detest when a font, even a beautiful typeface, is provided in a single file for every possible weight and style variation. Rather than naming the family all the same family name the designer chose to separate each face and not provide a common family name. Thus causing each and every face variation to take up a line in font menus rather than creating a submenu under a family name. If my menus are 3-screens tall to list all 20 faces in each of only 4 fonts… well, I won’t use those 4 fonts.
- Unique IDs. Often with some “hobbyist” or less experienced font creators they can edit existing fonts. Either their own or someone else’s and then save as a new font. It may be more a matter of “templating” their own creations. If they create
font Awith all their personal metadata, they may merely open
font A, insert glyphs for
font Band save it as a new file. There are times where the FONTID is overlooked. This can, and will, cause font conflicts on a system. The troubling part here is you won’t know there’s a conflict until you install/activate the font on your system and it’s conflicting “cousin”. Thankfully some font management applications can check for conflicts without activating/installing fonts.
These are few factors I look at.
Then beyond that a “good” font for me has a few subjective preferences. These are merely opinions and not really a factor in technical terms:
- OpenType format with a large table of glyphs
- Multiple weights, not just the 4 standard faces (Regular, Italic, Bold, Bold Italic). I really prefer “mega”, “pro” or “super” families with 15-20 face variations from condensed/compressed to black/heavy.
- I tend to prefer typefaces with larger counters and slightly larger x-heights for easier reading.