Open Baskerville

Published • 09 Feb 2009

Letters and fonts have two characteristics: On the one hand they are basic elements of communication and fundamental to our culture, on the other hand they are cultural goods and an artistic work. You are able to see just the first aspect, but when it comes to software you’ll see copyrights and patents even on the most elementary fonts. Therefore we want to give you a free alternative: This is why we founded the Libertine Open Fonts Project.

The written word is a fundamental component of communication, and it is type and typography that are vital to providing aesthetic harmony and legibility to textual works. Type and typography have come a long way since their inception; however, while there are thousands of fonts available only a small number are useful for setting vast quantities of text. An even smaller number are available to be freely distributed and built upon. That sucks.

Free… as in?

Free… what sort of free? It’s worth distinguishing between getting something for zero charge (gratis) and the freedoms associated with what you’re getting (libre). I’m talking about the combining both sorts of ‘free’. So aside from getting something for no cost (which we all love), why would anyone want to have the freedom to edit a font? — isn’t the ability to download it without paying enough? I guess the most appropriate answer really is “it depends”, and it does.

If you’re a type designer having access to good free fonts is quite handy. For one, it gives you the chance to correct problems in the font, such as edits to the kerning tables and secondly, having the ability to look at the finer workings of a font can be very educational — just think about how auto-mechanics learn about the guts of a car).

However truth be told, chances are you won’t be a type designer (type designer or not, please do keep reading!), so having the freedom to edit the font is quite useless? Well, probably, but there will be those aforementioned type designers who are bound to make corrections to the font that travel back ‘upstream’ for you to benefit from. Provided there’s a some form of organisation (e.g. a project) edits can be coordinated and new versions of the font can be made — a process not all too dissimilar to what foundries undergo when they release updated versions of their fonts.

The status of free fonts

A common question I get when giving presentations on typography is what fonts I use. It’s a mix between Free fonts (gratis & libre), free-of-charge fonts, and the ones that I purchased as part of the software I use (at least for my presentations — Mac OS X). So before going on, covering what’s already available and passing well-deserved kudos to those that have made their work available is in order.

Linux Libertine

Linux Libertine is a a project started by Philipp Poll (quoted above) to create a comprehensive serif and sanserif family complete with various styles aesthetically falling into the transitional group of typefaces. It is an apt and beautiful replacement for the ubiquitous font of our age: Times/Times New Roman. The family is dual-licensed under the GNU GPL and the SIL OFL and available in OpenType-goodness and FontForge’s native SFD file.

Bitstream Vera/DejaVu families

Bitstream Vera family was designed by Jim Lyles from Bitstream and licensed in a way that permitted edits. DejaVu (fig. 1.) is a derivative of Vera providing more styles and very extensive Unicode coverage. The serif is a slab serif and the family has become the general “super” family, ‘shipping’ with most free desktops. With Vera under Bitstream copyright, DejaVu is licensed under numerous terms though most of the additions since are in the public domain and available in TrueType.

DejaVu Sans Extra Light example

Fig. 1. DejaVu Sans Extra Light.

Liberation family

The Liberation family is composed of a serif (fig. 2.), sanserif and monospace by Steve Matteson of Ascender Corp. licensed by Redhat. The metrics are compatible with Monotype’s Arial, Times New Roman and Courier New respectively (and could be considered freely licensed replacements thereof) yet the Liberation serif is a beautiful slab serif and quite distinct from Times New Roman. The Liberation fonts are licensed under the GNU GPL with a font embedding exception (embedded, the fonts don’t automatically fall under the GPL) and available in TrueType.

Liberation serif regular roman example

Fig. 2. Liberation serif regular roman.


Gentium is an extensive serif typeface by Victor Gaultney (fig. 3, 4) covering almost all of Latin as well as monotonic and polytonic Greek (which look just lovely). Cyrillic and the bold weight are under development. The font is licensed under the SIL OFL and available in a variety of optimised formats, with sources available in FontForge’s native SFD format.

Gentium regular roman example

Fig. 3. Gentium regular roman.

Gentium regular italic example

Fig. 4. Gentium regular italic.

Iconsolata et al.

Raph Levien has created a number of beautiful typefaces, of which most complete and popular would be his humanist sanserif monospace by the name of Iconsolata. Check out the others on his fonts in progress page.


There are others too, including Caslon Roman (a Caslon revival by George Williams released under the BSD license and SIL OFL), Beteckna (a geometric sanserif inspired by Paul Renner’s Futura by Johan Mattsson), Junicode (a medieval-inspired Unicode font by Peter S. Baker of the University of Virginia), the many Greek polytonic revivals by the Greek Font Society and more.

Open Baskerville

I’d like to add another to the above list. Some of you may already know about this idea and where it sprung from but I don’t want to go into detail here, because there’s an entire page dedicated just for that. So, briefly in a nutshell: a fellow typophile released a Baskervillian revival he had been working on into the public domain which a bunch of us thought might be a great starting point for an open font project.

I’ll leave the above-linked page to fill in the rest for I want to cover how things have progressed since. I’ve set up a page for the project on to provide issue tracking and grouped messaging, and have committed the UFO font ‘source’ files and best specimens to a git repository on Why UFO? It’s XML-based, works like a charm with revision control systems and each glyph has its own file which makes both edits and merging much simpler.

The main project page is going to feature a quick guide on using git to branch the files and for those interested in making edits — should be up sometime late tomorrow. I’m also interested on making the messaging threads on lighthouseapp open for everyone to read; it doesn’t currently seem possible with their system but have lodged a question on their support discussions.

Either way: if you’re interested, zip to the Open Baskerville page, grab an account on to get involved in the discussions and issue our first ticket and/or branch the current UFO font files and specimens to start contributing.

If you have any questions just shoot me an email. Happy weekend otherwise.

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