Three years in the making, the eagerly anticipated collection chronicling the first two years of Fontomas is finally available. Containing over 75 typefaces which were originally available as free fonts, the library spans a wide range of eclectic styles. All profits from the $40 CD will be donated to a childrens project by the international humanitarian organisation World Vision.
Fontomas, Dirk Uhlenbrock’s “masked wonder” alter ego, is named after the gentleman thief Fantomas, the popular anti-hero of French cinema and literature. During its first year the website followed the format of a magazine or TV serial, as each week saw the release of another new free font. Those fonts — typographic experiments designed by either Dirk himself or contributors — had the life-span of exactly a week: they disappeared after 7 days. The second year saw the addition of ten more typefaces.
Why offer his work at no cost? Dirk’s explanation is pretty straightforward: he likes to see his fonts in use. He finds it interesting to discover what other people do with them and which places they go to. Giving stuff away is an effective way to get in contact with the world behind the confinement of one’s office. Also, creating fonts is a lot of fun for him. Dirk designs them mainly in his spare time, as a way to relax. Most of the free ones are “experiments” and were made without a specific reason nor in a specific order. He just started with an idea and explored where the alphabet could go.
A font a week is a lot, even if they were not all created by Dirk himself. There were some critical moments of course. Accient, for instance, was made in a hurry, something like three hours. Most of the time he tried to be one week ahead of the release date with the faces. The submissions were a great help, as they allowed Dirk to work on his own creations and design the website.
Giving away fonts for free can be viewed from both a positive and a negative angle. You can look at it with a punk attitude and hope that people will be inspired to design their own fonts. On the other hand, one may argue that the perceived value of digital typefaces is diminished in the process and this makes it harder for commercial foundries to sell their fonts.
Dirk thinks there is a distinct line between the amateurish way of playing with type and the work of a pro. The fonts that were given away for free were incomplete and untested, they lacked on perfection on many levels. They were made with and for fun, but maybe someone else could use them for a project. He doesn’t think that their existence really threatens the commercial font business. On the other hand, he’s been asked to expand and rework three of the original Fontomas fonts: Swisz was selected by Swiss magazine Massiv; Goal will be exclusive with an Italian magazine until August 2005; and Kazoo, featured in a TV campaign by the German music channel Viva TV. They are available at his own foundry now because he put extra hours of work into them. It became less “fun”, more serious, so now you’ve got to pay to license these versions.