How to use fonts in Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and more

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We have access to more fonts today than ever before, and so many are free! Fonts, like graphics, can make or break a presentation (such as a PowerPoint slideshow); sell a book, magazine, newspaper (or leave it on the shelf); and make an advertisement succeed or fail. We’ll go over fonts in detail so you can start downloading and using them for your own projects.

What are fonts?

Fonts are the complete set of characters—that is, letters, numbers, and symbols/icons—within a typeface, which is the design of the characters. For example, Arial is the typeface; Arial Bold, Italic, Narrow, Extended (Wide), Black, etc., are the fonts, or font Family.

Each typeface or font falls within one of five classifications:

  • Serif (Times Roman, Bookman Old Style, Cambria, Garamond, etc.)
  • Sans Serif—which means without the short serif lines at the beginning and end of a character (Arial, Helvetica, Humanistic, Calibri, etc.)
  • Script (Calligraphy styles, Black Letter styles, Zapf Chancery, English Adagio, etc.)
  • Decorative typeface (Cosmic, Kids, Keyboards, Palette, etc.)
  • Symbol/Icon, which are images sized in points (1/72 of an inch), pixels, or millimeters (such as Wing Dings, Bullets, Ornaments, Holiday-Fonts, etc.).
  • A sixth classification (Handwriting) has emerged since the industry created font design software. These typefaces can fall into any one of the previous classifications, as long as they are “handwritten.”

A couple more notes about fonts:

  • Currently, there are three font formats compatible with personal computers, Macs, and other related devices: OpenType (OTF), PostScript (PS), and TrueType (TTF).
  • The Script, Decorative, and Handwriting typefaces often fail to provide numbers and special keyboard characters, such as the at (@) sign, the ampersand (&), and the pound or hash tag (#) sign. You will have to select another typeface to represent the numbers. Also, some of these specialty fonts only cover the uppercase letters.
01b symbols icon typeface fontsJD Sartain / PC World
Symbols/Icon typeface fonts

Where are the fonts located on my PC?

On Windows PCs, fonts are installed in the C:\Windows\Fonts folder. They are available to almost all software programs on the market today, including all the Microsoft Office programs, Photoshop, Corel Draw, Illustrator, and more.

Note: There is much debate regarding the number of fonts that come pre-installed with Microsoft Office. For example, Microsoft Office Professional & Professional Plus have about 216 fonts, and Microsoft Home & Student and Home & Business have around 68. I’ve asked Microsoft to clarify the disparity, but I’ve yet to receive a clear answer.

How to download & install fonts

The download process is the easy part. Finding the fonts is more challenging because of the sheer number of typefaces that are now available on the Internet. If you’re just browsing, enjoy the journey. But if you’re looking for the best typeface to complete that perfect book cover you’re designing for a very famous client, pace yourself—it could take days. Here’s a good way to get started.

1. Search for free fonts and select one of the websites from the results. If you are in a hurry, choose a site that provides a “Categories/Styles” list so you can, at least, eliminate all the categories you don’t want.

For example, the 1001 Free Fonts site provides a large Categories/Styles list just beneath the site header. If it’s a children’s book, consider the Disney or Fantasy group; for science fiction, try the Sci Fi group; or a book about the Knights of King Arthur would likely use a typeface from the Medieval group.

01 fonts website