What is Web Font?

by: Ashok Kesavan |

Webfonts are a font format with a specific license that permits web designers and developers to use fonts that are not installed on the viewer's computer. The text formatted using webfonts retains the advantages of live text of being dynamic, searchable and accessible content.

Until recently, the text online could only be displayed using the small selection of common system fonts already installed on the user's computer. Designers either had to create raster images or use software like Flash or javascript to render their choice of font. This had serious implications on google search results as google won't recognise text other than written in plain HTML.

Webfonts come in four flavors; a TrueType file, a WOFF file, an EOT file and an SVG file. Each file caters to different browser, therefore, while building a website all four webfonts are used to offset various cross-browser compatibility issues.

@font-face is the simplest way to use webfonts. It is a CSS declaration that web designers and developers use to specify a text font. The font file is saved either in the directory on host server or hosted on the server of third party service provider. It is requested from the server to display web page with the required font on client's browser.

FLIR, sFIR, Cufón, PIR are some of the other methods which can be deployed to use webfonts. These methods use technologies such as JavaScript, Flash and PHP to embed fonts in websites. FLIR and sFIR methods convert the font into JavaScript or Flash while Cufón and PIR use PHP and JavaScript to generate images from a regular font file on the web server.

Why webfonts matter

  • Much like layout, graphics, and colors, text is an important element of a web page and dictates whether visitors choose to stay on the page or drift away. It describes the valuable content related to the company specifics. Carefully chosen webfonts not only drags user attention but also makes the content easier to read. Therefore, choosing an appropriate typeface that clearly conveys your message is vital.
  • Another important factor why webfonts are required is because there are many languages that don't have fonts. Language requires type and absence of fonts in one's own language means not everyone is able to have the chance to participate in the World Wide Web. This limits the potential of web and its users. The introduction and sustained development in the field of webfonts has enabled users to use web in their own language and enjoy better user experience.
  • In this tech savvy world where information is now available in your hands on a click of a finger, there are multiple devices like mobile, ipad, computer etc. from where web is accessed. This makes it all the more important to use a typeface that displays text appropriately on these devices without compromising the readability of the content.
    Recent developments in web standards and font formats have made it possible to render HTML text in typefaces other than the available default fonts. This means your website can display indexable and dynamic HTML text in your individual styles previously only possible with static images or restrictive software workarounds.

Licensing for intended use of fonts

Custom fonts are increasingly being used on the web to present text in the desired format. But for their intended use it is necessary to make sure that its usage is explicitly covered in the font licensing.

Most of the fonts that are available online for purchase are licensed only for installation on your local computer. To use the font for web, either the license should explicitly permit it or an extended license will need to be obtained.
Understanding the digital media licensing can be a complicated process so it's always advisable to contact the author and seek explicit permission for its intended use.

The power of webfonts is about to unleash a more beautiful and diverse web. The dynamic text enabled by webfonts not only helps to protect your brand by allowing you to use the same typefaces that define your identity in the print world but also makes your site content search engine friendly. The features and advantages offered by webfonts have made it a popular choice in the web world.

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