Free embeddable fonts for iOS apps

One of the challenges when designing an iOS app is finding high-quality fonts to use in your app’s interface. iOS comes with some great built-in fonts (see iosfonts.com for a handy reference). Sometimes, however, these fonts may not be right for the style of your app’s design.

One option is to license fonts from a professional type foundry, but this can be expensive – often hundreds of dollars for a single font weight, and more for an entire font family. The problem is, when you embed a font inside your app, you’re actually shipping the entire reusable font file inside your app’s bundle – which means that anyone who knows how to unzip an IPA file can grab it once they’ve purchased your app. This isn’t something that font foundries are too keen on, and the licensing prices for embedded fonts tend to reflect this.

However, there is an alternative. Google provides a set of free open-source fonts (521 font families at the time of writing) as part of its Google Fonts service. These fonts are easy to use on your web site via an external stylesheet reference, and I’m guessing that the download stats for these files give useful site usage analytics to Google in return for hosting the font files.

These fonts aren’t just available for web hosting. Once you’ve built a collection of interesting fonts on Google’s site, you can download a zip file of your collection, containing TrueType (TTF) font files for all of the fonts you’re interested in. (This is useful for web developers when designing their sites in Photoshop, for example.)

The great thing about these TTF font files is that they can be added to an Xcode project, and used directly within an app. You have the full font available for your app to use – even for rendering user-provided content. The only caveat is that you need to include the text of the SIL Open Font License (under which all Google Fonts are made available) in your app’s credits somewhere, to fulfil the usage requirements and give credit where it’s due. (A copy of the license text is included in the Google Fonts zip file when you download your collection, which makes this easy to do.)

Hey presto – hundreds of free, high-quality fonts to make your app more interesting. (You can also download the entire set of fonts from the googlefontdirectory project on Google Code.)

Credit goes to Rob Corradi for initially tipping me off about Google Fonts and their potential for embedded use in an iOS application. And if you know of any other good sources of embeddable fonts, do let me know – I’m @daveaddey on Twitter.

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