Not long ago, I wrote an article called The Best Places to Get Web Fonts For Your Website. In it, I noted that we’re typography geeks. I’m the kind of person that’s looking forward to getting a Typekit membership next month so I can splurge on all the great fonts I want. I read about them. I fantasize about using them on my site, because Equity and Miller are “so much better” than Georgia. But that’s only one kind of font. Technically speaking, it’s a typeface.
There’s another kind of font called “icon fonts.” If you haven’t heard of them, think about the way images work. They don’t scale well. They’re bitmapped images that take up more space than they ought to. But an icon is a symbol, just like a letter or numerical character is. So what if we could have icon fonts — symbol-based fonts that have infinite scalability, cost practically nothing in bandwidth space, make sites load faster and even allow quickly adjustable colours and drop shadows? Sounds like a pretty sweet proposition, right? The bottom line is, you’ll be surprised how handy icon fonts are. Whether you’re new to them or a seasoned vet, this list of great icon fonts is for you.
The pricing plans go from free to $50 a month, but most of them are pretty reasonable. The free one allows you to create unlimited fonts, but only supports one domain and 25,000 monthly page views. But for many of us, that would probably be enough. Although I’m not sure that the dust has settled enough with icon fonts to label a winner, Pictos Server is consistently one of the most-recommended sites on the Web for icon fonts. The people using Pictos Server include Bittorrent, WB, and EA Games among many others. I think their prices are fair and their service is reputedly excellent. Start your search here.
Price: $0-$50/month, with most plans costing under $100/year
First things first: Not that this matters beyond initial user experience, but Symbolset has one of the nicest websites I’ve ever played with. It’s a great introduction to what icon fonts are, but more importantly, it really starts my experience off right with them. The whole site is a joy to navigate, but it’s not as Typekit-like an experience as Pictos Server is. Many traditionalists will appreciate the fact that, instead of delivering up complete customizability, Symbolset has pre-packaged icon fonts and charges you directly for them instead of a monthly fee or annual fee.
In other words, purchasing icon fonts for the web is a lot more like purchasing traditional fonts for your print projects from a foundry. Symbolset has lovely icon fonts — check them out here — that cover the gamut for whatever purposes you need. If you’re the sort of person that prefers to stay away from annual subscriptions, then Symbolset might be the place for you. Recommended for the experience of their website alone.
Price: Varies per icon font package.
I don’t really believe in “free” products. I don’t think anything is ever free, and if something really is free — with no strings attached — I usually think it sucks. I mean, Google’s awesome, but I might as well just send Larry Page a text message every time I blow my nose because I’d accomplish the same thing. The Foundation icon font is one of those rare things that’s both free and excellent.
I did a double take when I realized it was free. This isn’t the most comprehensive set of icons I’ve ever seen, but the majority of most people’s needs are likely going to be covered with them. And they’re really well done. I took a close look at a lot of the icons and I think they’re remarkably well-designed. They’re simple and elegant, but still have a real sense of character. Not all icon fonts are designed with that level of detail in mind. Downloading them is free and they’re easy to implement on your site, so what are you waiting for? Hop to it!
I feel almost bad listing Fontello because it takes care of a lot of the other options I was going to include. Fontello is a service that allows you to create icon fonts by combining them from multiple high-quality sources, including Entypo, Font Awesome, Iconic, Brandico, Elusive and more. It’s actually quite the exhaustive list, and some people might feel they never need to find another site to get font icons from.
The website is very simple. All you have to do is click on the icons you want. You can customize their names and reference codes, and from there you’re off to the races. You can even choose the font size you’d like to view them at. Everything is free, but the website’s experience is a little less than glorious and help isn’t easy to find. Like I said, I think “free” rarely comes without strings. But these strings are tolerable. This is a very cool service that eliminates the need to visit multiple icon font sources. This is the kind of thing that stands out and carves a niche in the market.
Shifticons is a cool idea that lets professional designers make a little money off their work. Instead of giving away time-consuming icon fonts for free, designers can submit and sell their icon fonts. Users like you and me pay for each icon within a font that we want. Some of the icons are free, but some cost as much as $0.50 per icon. I don’t think that’s terribly expensive, all things considered, and it looks like they have a good selection, although it’s a little more limited than what you might see with other foundries.
At the end of the day, Shifticons is more valuable as an alternative way to support independent designers than it is a legitimate source of all the font icons you could need. But that’s okay. Sites like this need to exist to keep people doing great creative work afloat. Check it out and see if anything suits your needs.
Price: Varies per icon font
What Are Your Favourites?
Obviously, we haven’t listed every available icon font. I’m sure somebody in the comments will lecture me if I forget to mention IcoMoon or Fico, or even Sosa. (For the record, Sosa is made by Ten by Twenty, who are amazing.) I’ve heard of all of these icon fonts, but they’re not my favourites and this isn’t meant to be a complete list. This is meant to be a list of the best places.
But we know that, for whatever reason, icons and typography get some of the strongest reactions on the Internet. I think we’ve made some great choices, but I do want to know what we’ve missed. What’s that diamond in the rough you’re in love with? Icon fonts are such a new thing that there’s still plenty of room for hot new contenders, and we want to hear about them. Hit us up in the comments and share your thoughts, and show us some of your beautiful creations. There’s nothing we believe in more than technology aiding creativity.
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