Pixel fonts aren't exactly the sort of type that you're going to need every day. Given the right scenario, however, a well-executed portion of pixel type can give a piece of work just the kind of retro cool you might be looking for, just as long as you choose the right one.
Such retro fonts may not be objectively pretty, but their blocky looks evoke memories of ancient technology with horrifically low resolution screens, and that's a powerful nostalgia hit for anyone who grew up with old-school home computers and games consoles.
We've collected together 10 of our favourite free pixel fonts; there's stuff here for '80s, '90s and even noughties kids, as well as choices for people who just like the look of big chunky text (if you don't, check out our free script fonts). And the best thing about them? Most of them are free for commercial as well as personal use. (If you can't get enough of pixels, also see our roundup of the best pixel art.)
01. Windows Command Prompt
Long gone from modern versions of Windows (we've just checked), this font is one you're unlikely to have encountered unless you ever had to open the command prompt to sort out a technical problem you couldn't fix through the GUI. There's something reassuring about the Windows Command Prompt font, recreated here by McFood; it's a sensible-looking low-resolution serif (of sorts), suggesting that Stuff is going to get Done.
02. ZX Spectrum
This one's for the '80s kids. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was one of the most popular home computers of the 1980s, and for anyone who spent hours sitting in front of one typing in programs (or more likely waiting for games to load off a cassette), this font will be indelibly burned into their brains. Each character was just 8x8 pixels in size, so every letter and numeral is a miracle of minimalist design; perfectly readable, with an instantly identifiable look.
Abstract isn't derived from any actual retro fonts, but we reckon it's just the thing if you're looking for a '90s feel in your design. Its super-wide blocky characters put us in mind of '90s games such as WipEout, or thumping trance compilation CDs, and while you'd never put it to use in body text (unless you really wanted to annoy your readers), it'd make an excellent attention-grabbing headline font.
04. Press Start
An unmistakable font for anyone who ever hung out in an arcade in the '80s or '90s, Press Start is based on the font used in classic Namco arcade machines such as Pac-Man and Galaxian. Specifically it's based on a lesser-known game, Return of Ishtar, which was the first Namco title to feature a full lower case set; the designer has also made it Unicode-compatible, and added symbol characters not found in the original Namco fonts.
05. Home Sweet Home
This is a very different kind of pixel font. Home Sweet Home is actually based on cross-stitch, and as soon as we saw it we knew we had to include it in this list. Cross-stitch, after all, is a form of pixel art that predates pixels as we know them. The designer, Raymond Larabie, describes Home Sweet Home as a sentimental, saccharine cross-stitch font; despite that, we love it.
06. Gothic Pixels
You have to admire the ambition of Gothic Pixels, if nothing else. Executing a gothic script font within the constraints of a 16x16 character block is one hell of a tall order, and Gothic Script isn't always successful in its execution; some of the upper case letters, particularly the 'B', 'K' and 'X', could be frankly anything. Full marks for trying, though, and the fact that it's doubly retro makes it all the more appealing.
07. Subway Ticker
We mentioned earlier that most of these fonts are free for commercial use; this is one of two exceptions. Subway Ticker by K-Type splendidly recreates the look of those low-resolution electronic displays you'll find on just about any underground line (it's based on an electronic display observed on a New York subway train en route to Coney Island in 2005), and while it's free for personal use, you'll need to buy a licence if you want to use it commercially.
08. Nokia Cellphone FC
Back in the days before the iPhone ruled the roost there was basically only one brand of mobile phone to own: Nokia. They weren't much to look at, but they were practically indestructible, they lasted a week or more on a single charge, and you could even play games (well, Snake) on them if you were desperate. And while you might not even remember what the Nokia font was like, one look at Nokia Cellphone FC will bring it all flooding back to you.
09. Blox BRK
Taking a fun angle on pixel fonts is Blox BRK by Ænigma Fonts. It's more of an isometric font, with each (caps-only) letter and numeral carefully crafted out of shaded, cubic pixels. Our favourite feature is that instead of a lower case set, it features a set of alternates with the characters rotated by 90 degrees, enabling you to make gorgeously solid-looking blocks of text.
10. Pxlxxl Font
To finish off, here's a fabulously minimal pixel font from Levi Szekeres. Most of the characters in Pxlxxl Font are just five pixels wide; despite this it's incredibly legible and visually very striking, even at low point sizes. Like Subway Ticker, this font's only free for personal use; the full Pxlxxl set is available through Szekeres' website at $20 per font or $96 for the full family of eight weights.