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Type Worth Paying For

A Guide to Finding Steampunk Fonts (Part 2)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

In the first installment of this series, I discussed options for finding free fonts that are suitable for steampunk designs. That seemed like a good place to start, because most steampunks are not professional designers who can pass the cost of fonts or other assets to their clients. Typically they are hobbyists or operators of part-time craft businesses. If that's you, paying for a font when so many are available for free might seem like an extravagance.

But you still want your projects to look good, and often free fonts are not up to the task. The quality can be hit-or-miss, and even given the large selection of free fonts, finding one that's right for a specific project can be a challenge. So in this article, I'm going to discuss places where you can find premium fonts.

Letterhead Fonts

Letterhead Fonts is a boutique vendor that offers (mostly) historical fonts from a small group of designers. It caters to graphics professionals, and its fonts are pricey. One look at the fonts (and the website) tells you that these people care about quality. I'm certainly not the typical customer, but I've turned to them on a few occasions when the job was important and their fonts seemed like the best fit.

You can find two of those fonts on this website. The main site logo uses Signmaker 2, and most of the logos in the City Guides use Dreadnought.


Dreadnought is a good example of the subtleties that go into effective type design. It's highly ornate and condensed, yet it's still readable. The City Guide logos are modeled after the cover of the 1905 Sanborn Insurance Atlas of San Francisco, and Dreadnought is one of numerous fonts inspired by the Sanborn insurance maps. I tried several of those fonts, and Dreadnought was clearly the best fit. (Cities with short names are set in Pilaster Davy's Allegheny font because it takes up more space.)

Some Letterhead fonts are sold as packages that include variations on the base font and/or layered inlay effects. You place the inlay font on top of the base font to create the effect, as seen here.

Together, Signmaker and Dreadnought set me back about $110, the second-biggest expense in developing the site (after web hosting). But it was well worth the outlay to get the look I wanted.

Even if the pricing seems too steep, you can learn a lot about design and typography by looking at the descriptions of each font and the many examples of how they're used. The site also includes video tutorials about how to create type effects in Photoshop and Illustrator.

Walden Font Co.

This company takes a different approach to historical typefaces. Most of its fonts are sampled from old printed materials, and they're available in packages tied to specific eras. Steampunks will be most interested in The New Victorian Printshop, sets of fonts and clip art available in three volumes. Each includes a selection of display and text faces plus symbol and border fonts. You can test each font on the website.

Victorian Printshop

The border fonts offer a lot of flexibility when creating borders. Each font contains eight characters: four corners plus top, bottom, left and right elements. You build the borders by hitting number keys: 12222222222223 produces the bottom, 78888888888889 produces the top, 4444444444444 gives you the left side and 666666666666 gives you the right. You change the height and width of the border by typing more or fewer characters. You make the edges thicker or thinner by changing the font size.

Each volume includes a handy booklet that serves as a guide to the fonts and provides a nice example of Victorian-era design. The packages are priced at $49.95 each, or $129.95 for all three. That's for personal use; the price is higher for businesses. "If you're just using them for your fledgling home business, you can probably get away with the personal license," says proprietor Oliver Weiss. "But if you're shaping up to be the next Jeff Bezos, I expect you to pay up."

Walden also offers sets of Wild West and Civil War fonts as well as fonts from World War II, the Revolutionary War and Renaissance and Medieval eras. Dieselpunks might be interested in The Kraftwerk Press, which features German industrial fonts from the 1920s.

The website has an extensive gallery of designs created by Walden customers. They include a photo from the set of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," which uses fonts from The New Victorian Printshop.

E-Commerce Sites

For the broadest selection of premium fonts from multiple vendors, head over to MyFonts.com or Fontspring.

MyFonts is by far the largest e-commerce site for fonts, and it has a handy steampunk tag to help you focus your search. Many fonts are available in packages that cover an entire font family, or you can buy them individually.

The site includes a "Special Offers" section with limited-time discounts — sometimes substantial — on a selection of fonts.

One especially helpful feature on MyFonts.com is What the Font, where you upload an image containing type and it suggests fonts from the site that are close matches. (Identifont and What Font Is are similar services that will suggest matches from multiple vendors.)

Paul Lloyd fonts

Fontspring is a smaller service, but it still gives you a good selection. Many foundries offer their products on both sites, most notably Greater Albion Typefounders and The Fontry.

Greater Albion is the home of Australian type designer Paul Lloyd, who specializes in historical fonts. You can find some of his early fonts on free sites, but the premium fonts are of higher quality and the prices are reasonable. They're available as desktop and web fonts, but if you want to purchase the latter, Fontspring is the place to go because the licenses permit unlimited page views.

Iron Family

Before a recent design change, The Steampunk Explorer used Lloyd's Bromwich Bold in the navbar. The webfont version on Fontspring — with unlimited pageviews — cost me $14.95. On MyFonts.com, that same price limited me to 10,000 page views per month. The price doubles for 100,000 page views and goes up tenfold for 1 million pageviews. With a site that gets 50,000-100,000 page views per month, I paid a lot of attention to the page view limits.

The Fontry offers vintage fonts like the Iron Family as well as typefaces like American Captain and Earth A.D. that would work well in sci-fi or dieselpunk settings.

Creative Market

This site is a marketplace for all kinds of design assets, including templates, textures, patterns and lots of fonts. Many are suitable for steampunk or vintage design projects, and prices are reasonable, especially some of the package deals.

Unlike many e-commerce sites, you don't put items in a cart and pay for them. Instead, you purchase credits in increments of $20, $50, $100, $200 and $500, with free bonus credits for the larger packages. When you purchase an item, the price is deducted from your credit allotment. This is a common approach among stock content services. I presume that it's intended to boost sales, but I prefer the standard approach.

Graphic River is a similar website from Envato Market that includes design templates, fonts, graphic elements and more. However, it does not use a credit system: You just put items in a cart and buy them.

These sites are not just places to buy graphics assets — they're also markets where you can offer assets for sale and receive commissions.

Deal Sites

Finally, we get to the deal sites: places like Mighty Deals, My Design Deals, Master Bundles, DesignCuts and Dealjumbo. These sites offer limited-time deals on packages of graphics assets, and, in some cases, graphics tools.

One recent example from Mighty Deals: the "Sci-Fi Bundle" with "8 space-themed fonts; 30+ interstellar space backgrounds; 46 sci-fi type logo templates; Science-Fiction Themed UI Vector Kit." Price if bought individually: $115. Deal price: $17, or $25 with web fonts. Usually, only a few items will appeal to you, but sometimes that's enough.

This story was updated on June 13, 2019.

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