There are many font services out there that let you use beautiful typography on your website(s) for free. Google Web Fonts, Typekit, and MyFonts are some of the most popular choices. But what if you could try out a font the way you can on a website, but while you’re designing in Photoshop or Illustrator? That’s what SkyFonts, a new service from Monotype Imaging is trying to accomplish.
All you have to do is sign up, download the app for your Mac or Windows computer, and start renting fonts to try in your designs before you (hopefully) purchase them through their partner site, the well-known Fonts.com. The concept is legal, and appears to be simple on their website. But how does it work in the real world? I’ve been testing it out for about a week now on my Mac, so here are some first impressions.
There isn’t much for me to critique in the way of design, since SkyFonts is just a menu bar app for your Mac. If it wasn’t for the blue icon in the top left of your screen (I do wish there was an option to change it to a monochrome version), you wouldn’t know the app was running. Syncing notifications do pop up sometimes though, and can clutter up your screen if you’re using more than one or two fonts.
Most of the font choosing and account management is done in the web browser, and it doesn’t look as nice as it could. Typography websites aren’t usually known for their interfaces, and SkyFonts lies at the low-end of the spectrum in that category. The design of SkyFonts’ website, especially the font chooser, could use a bit more attention. Also, the whole site isn’t retina-ready, something that is quite a pain since Skyfonts uses images to show off fonts (to avoid loading each one individually).
Using Skyfonts is quite simple. Just choose the fonts you want, and they appear in the fonts drop down in Photoshop, Illustrator, or any other Mac app as if by magic. You can use the rented fonts just like any other; they’re just temporary. Sadly, there aren’t many quality fonts present, and the ones that are can be difficult to find, since the web-based font browser is very unintuitive. Unlike Typekit’s browser, there’s no way to categorize fonts by type (such as serif, sans-serif, or slab-serif), and the search function is very inaccurate. I was able to find one decent font family: Avenir Next Rounded. Using it in Photoshop was an experience just like any other, and that’s a good thing. The main gripe I have with the way SkyFonts works is the extremely short trial period. You can only try out a font for free for 5 minutes; if you want to use it for a longer period, you have to pay with credits. When you sign up for the service, you’re given 10 free credits, but for anything more you’ll need to fork over some cash. Here’s what it says on the SkyFonts homepage:
When you’re ready to purchase additional SkyFonts credits, packs start for as little as $15 for 5 credits, with flexible options tailored to meet all of your design needs. As an added benefit, the more credits you buy, the more you save.
This business model doesn’t make much sense to me, because I’d rather spend a little more and buy the font to use forever.
SkyFonts is an interesting, useful service, and I bet many designers will get a lot out of it. It’s not for me, though. From the non-retina imagery, to the mostly web-based interface, and the low-quality selection, I cannot understand why someone would want to spend money using this service. The idea is a good one, but it needs more work.