If you need to get serious in your designs, it's good to have a selection of great-looking serif fonts. Serifs are the sensible wing of typography; almost always pulled out for books and newspapers where long tracts of printed text need to be easy to read, they have a look and feel that we automatically associate with authority and class.
That doesn't make them boring, though; the variety of serif fonts available is absolutely huge, and while some of them are definitely suited to quietly maintaining readability in lengthy body text, others are a lot more visually arresting with plenty of potential for exciting font pairings. Here are ten of our favourite new serifs; they're all free to use on personal projects, and some can be used in commercial work too. For more fonts of different types, see our post on the best free fonts.
Created by Renata Polastri and Omnibus-Type and with a name that derives from the German for 'frontier', Grenze is a really useful typeface system consisting of nine weights, from Thin through to Black, with matching italics. It's designed as a cross between Roman and blackletter fonts, combining visual impact with classical readability, and while it's envisaged as a font for magazines, it could be put to all manner of creative uses. It's published under the SIL Open Font Licence, so it's free to use in all projects.
02. Isle Headline
A clear and sharp serif type family in four weights plus italics, Isle Headline was designed between 2018 and 2019 by Måns Grebäck. It's intended for large-scale use such as headlines and titles; if you want the same look for body text then look no further than its sister font, Isle Body, which uses the same basic structure but with a softer look. Both fonts are free for personal use; head to Måns' site for commercial licences and to see his other fonts.
For those projects that require a luxury look that positively drips class, get a load of Saonara, designed by Maxim and Denis Schepin of MADE Type. Inspired by the world of fashion, it's a gloriously elegant font with strokes that veer between whip-thin and super-chunky, with razor-sharp serifs to finish off the look. It's free for personal use, while a standard licence will cost you just $16.
Another font from MADE Type that's free for personal use, Coachella is a contrasting serif font family in six weights from Thin to Black. In the heavier weights the contrast between line widths across the font is even more extreme than in Saonara, but the look's a lot more approachable; we love some its quirky touches such as the terminal on the lower-case 'a' and the triangular tail on the upper-case 'Q'.
05. Red Delicious
Dan Zadorozny is a designer who's been creating fonts for the past 20 years, all of them free for personal use and available for commercial use in return for a $20 donation. His site's well worth looking through for typographic goodies; a recent offering that caught our eye is Red Delicious, Zadorozny's take on the classic varsity font often used on sweatshirts and the like. It features slightly rounded serifs to give the characters a full-bodied feel and weight, and comes in 25 different versions, each with an extended Latin character set.
06. Melisande Sharp
Serif fonts are often used as a visual shorthand for authority and gravitas, but Melisande Sharp, a hand-drawn serif by Brittney Murphy, is one that's a lot more fun to be around. It has some really eye-catching touches to it, such as the pot belly-shaped bowl on the lower-case 'a' and the incredibly high crossbar on the 'f', all of which combine to give this font a fantastically lively feel. It's free for personal use; for most commercial uses there's a standard licence that'll cost you just $8.
07. Halibut Serif
There's nothing fishy about Halibut Serif, an open-source display and paragraph font from Colllettivo. It's another lively free serif font that comes in three weights – Regular, Expanded and Condensed – each packing in 234 glyphs. We particularly love Halibut's sharp, toothy serifs, which look like they could bite your hand off. Like all of Colllettivo's fonts, it's free to use on any project.
08. Libertinus Serif
Linux fans will have doubtless noticed the resemblance between Libertinus Serif and Linux's Libertine and Biolinum fonts, and there's a good reason for that. Libertinus Serif is a fork of those fonts that addresses some of their bugs, and it's a classic-looking serif that comes in 14 styles to suit all manner of uses. Published under the SIL Open Font Licence, it's good for all applications.
09. Adega Serif
Created by Brazilian designer Anísio Dega, Adega Serif is a print-focused font designed with books, newspapers and magazines in mind, and shaped to give maximum comfort to the reader. Coming on like a softer alternative to something like Book Antiqua, it features wonderfully tall ascenders and some beautifully hand-drawn quirks, and it comes in regular and bold weights with matching italics. It's available as donationware; if you get good use out of it then be sure to send Dega some money.
To finish our round-up of 2019's best free serif fonts, here's Afterglow, a modern and classic serif typeface by Vintage Voyage. Full of contrast lines and with plenty of stylistic alternates, it's just the thing for retro-looking headlines with a bit of a 1970's feel, and it's free for personal use while a commercial licence is available for $14.