One of the basic fundamental elements of good graphic design is the intelligent use of contrast: light and dark, big and small, serif and sans-serif, square and round, condensed and expanded and so on.
And, just as there is a place for black and heavy typefaces, we also occasionally find need for light typefaces for good contrast.
Some large and famous font families offer thin or “hairline” weights, such as Neue Helvetica, and Gotham but occasionally we can find, wild and free on the internet, typefaces that are purely designed as thin fonts only. Thin fonts offer that classy, elegant feel to a design. Of course, since the stroke of these fonts is so small, they can only really be used in large sizes and mainly for header work on posters, flyers and packaging. Thin fonts don’t tend to scale down well for logo design and, obviously, it’s a bad idea to use one for body copy.
With that in mind, here’s what I consider to be some excellent classy thin fonts that are also, thankfully, free.
LH Line 1 Sans
Developed by Lufthamn Studio, this elegant and professional thin sans typeface is a joy to behold and supports a nice range of character sets. This font is free, licensed under the OFL. There’s also a webkit @font-face package provided.
Acid Type [BETA]
This baby was designed by the talented Stephan Baum of Stivolio. Still currently in beta, the font offers three weights: regular, medium and bold, complete with italics, but it’s the regular weight that’s in use here as it is the thinnest. The design of the typeface is clean and sleek but note the unusual little details here and there, particularly the tails on the ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘m’ and ‘n’. This font is licensed under the Creative Commons v3.0 license.
Dekar was designed by the increasingly popular and super-talented FontFabric type foundry. The font comes in two weights, light and regular and boy the light weight is super thin. If you’re setting any type in Dekar Light I recommend a large size, around 96pt. The design of the typeface is very modern and somewhat futuristic; in particular I love the design of the upper- and lowercase ‘w’. The font is free for personal and commercial use but may not be redistributed or modified.
Another one from FontFabric and certainly one of their more popular releases of 2010. There is a certain “Gotham-ness” about Hero, this is possibly why I like it. Lovely elementary round shapes yet still professional and modern. The font comes in two weights, light and regular, and is free for personal and commercial use but may not be redistributed or modified.
Like Dekar, this is another super thin “hairline” font by French design studio Désigne.The letterforms of Jalane are very unusual and it’s certainly a very different typeface; some of the uppercase characters almost seem to have a sense of perspective about them, but that is what good contrast is all about. Jalane is free and available for personal use only.
Easily one of my favourite thin fonts this one. Lane Narrow was developed by Graham Meade who’s been developing fonts for, well, quite a while. His site alone has over 300. I love the open and clean feel of Lane Narrow, very classy and professional. The font is free for personal use and distribution.
I discovered this family of open source fonts when browsing through the Google Font Directory and instantly fell in love with it. This family was designed by Łukasz Dziedzic of tyPoland and includes 10 variants of very professionally designed fonts, which is quite a feat for an opensource font project. In demonstration here is the “hairline” weight, seriously thin. The family is licensed under the SIL Open Font license.
To this day I still can’t remember where I discovered this beauty but I’m glad I did. Designed by John Marco Mueller at Forever And Counting, this light, condensed sans-serif is still in development, with only light, regular and bold weights available, but it’s still beautifully crafted and would be superb for use in headers. The font is free for personal use only, but remember it’s still in development.
Raleway Thin has been one of my favourite thin sans-serif typefaces for a long time. Developed and designed by the awesome Matt McInerney and released by The League Of Moveable Type, this awesome super thin font is open source and free. To quote TLOMT:
It is a display face that features both old style and lining numerals, standard and discretionary ligatures, a pretty complete set of diacritics, as well as a stylistic alternate inspired by more geometric sans-serif typefaces than it’s neo-grotesque inspired default character set.
And finally, another set of fonts by the prolific Graham Meade, this time Walkway. Curiously the “semibold” weight of this font is the thinnest, displayed above. It exhibits a blend between Raleway and Lane Narrow and is kerned quite tightly. I enjoy the shape of the ‘W’ in particular. This font appears not to have come with a license but is, at least, certainly free to download.
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Ian Cylkowski aka Izo
Logo & Brand Identity Design
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