What are multilingual fonts?
Multilingual fonts are designed to display text in multiple languages, ensuring readability and accessibility for users from different parts of the world. Unlike standard fonts, which only support one or a few languages, multilingual fonts support multiple languages and a wide range of characters, glyphs, and accent marks that vary across different cultures.
Multilingual fonts will ensure that your text blends in with the rest of your website design, so you can focus on writing content without worrying about something not displaying correctly.
The role and importance of multilingual fonts on your website
Multilingual fonts play a super important role in today's globalized world, as it's more and more common for software to be used by people speaking and browsing in different languages. 9 out of 10 users on the internet would rather visit a website in their local language every time if given a choice.
A font that supports multiple languages and different writing systems ensures that all characters and special accents are displayed correctly, minimizing misunderstandings and improving the overall user experience. Multilingual fonts also help to maintain a consistent brand image in a global market by keeping text in line with your design.
If you use the wrong fonts for addressing the local audience, you risk users seeing vertical rectangles - also known as "tofu boxes" - and they may have trouble understanding what you are trying to say. This means all the time and effort you spent perfecting your website localization will go to waste.
What should I watch out for before picking a multilingual font?
Now that you know why multilingual fonts are so important on your website, it's time to learn what to watch out for when selecting them so you'll make the right choice.
Choosing multilingual fonts can be a huge challenge, especially for someone that's not so familiar with website localization, so here are some of the most common factors that need to be considered before approving the font for your project:
- Language support: Make sure that your font supports all of the languages that you want users to read in. Don't forget about special characters or accents that may come with different options.
- Readability: Pick a font that is readable in all the languages you wish to support. Here you have to also consider things like font weight, width and height, which all affect readability in different settings.
- Consistency: Your font should sync with design no matter what language it's displayed in, maintaining consistent brand image in a global market.
- Licensing: Always check that the font you're using has all the legal licenses for use on your website or in your software. Keep in mind that some of it costs, so stay within your budget.
- Compatibility: Each font should be compatible with all the popular operating systems and web browsers that people from across the world use to visit your website.
- Technicalities: Technical aspects like font format, instructing and embedding all play a vital role on your website. Make sure it's all up to the standards of the languages you'll support.
A common practice is to use a family of fonts instead of one single font that can limit you in your design and readability. A family of fonts allows you to use other fonts in cases where one font doesn’t support a specific language. Plus using more fonts will let out your creativity, creating a better user experience.
How to check what languages are supported?
The most important thing you have to check before deciding on a multilingual font is what languages are supported. There are a couple of ways to do that, depending on where you search for the font. One of the biggest and most popular font libraries is Google Fonts, boasting over 1400 open source free fonts. Google Fonts provides a simple “Language” dropdown so you can easily filter whatever you need.
Adobe Fonts provide similar functionality in terms of filtering the languages and browsing for the right one. But if you’re paying for a font somewhere else, always make sure that it’s possible to check what languages it supports before it’s too late and you figure out there’s nothing you can do but to change the whole approach to optimizing your multilingual website.
But regardless of these filtering options that some of the font libraries offer, you should always double-check if the font you want supports diacritical marks (like accents), different font styles (italic or bold) and font height. The highest point of a font is called the ascent line and the lowest point of a font is called the descent line. Best case scenario, all of your fonts should match at both points.
The 7 best multilingual fonts
1. Google Noto
Google Noto is a font family that has been specifically designed to support more than 1000 languages and over 150 writing systems. The "Noto" actually means "no tofu", which already explains pretty well that this font should function well with multilingual websites instead of displaying empty rectangles over characters that aren’t supported.
Google Noto, as one of the most comprehensive fonts available, is a super popular font choice globally, with the aim to support all languages equally. It includes fonts for nearly all of the world’s writing systems - from Latin, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Indic, to Egyptian hieroglyphs and emojis.
Suisse is a font family known for its simplicity and clarity, designed with the goal that it's easy to read in any language.
There are 6 different collections of 61 fonts which all support Latin alphabets. If you need some more variety, the Suisse Int'l (18 fonts) supports both Cyrillic and Arabic alphabets.
Suisse is a paid typeface designed by Swiss Typefaces, but there's also a free trial available before you make the purchase. The price varies based on your individual needs.
Grotte belongs to the sans-serif family, available in three different geometric styles: light, regular and bold. The font is perfect if you're aiming for a clean and minimalist design that will fit all of your language needs.
Even if it looks simple at a first glance, the Grotte font supports multiple language choices, including Spanish, Portuguese, German, Danish, French (plus Canadian French) and can properly display even the Cyrillic alphabet. It’s a great value for money.
Katislen is a beautiful and elegant hand-written font by Vunira. This font was designed to keep your website clean and readable, with the touch of classy calligraphy. Although it's one of the newest fonts, it's used across a wide range of design software.
It supports multiple languages and glyphs, and is available in OTF and TTF format.
SST, branded as the font for everywhere, is Sony's official typeface. The SST font is designed to be universal and timeless, supporting 93 languages including Japanese, Greek, Thai, Arabic and more.
The SST typeface, crafted by Monotype's Akira Kobayashi and Sony's Hiroshige Fukuhara, is a hybrid of two styles - geometric and humanist. It boasts a sharp, solid, geometric edge, balanced by softer, more organic humanist design to improve readability in all settings.
The goal behind the SST font was to avoid trendy styling, because in two or three years it would already look outdated. They nailed it!
6. Helvetica World
You probably heard about Helvetica, one of the most popular typefaces in the world. Helvetica World is the refreshed version that supports over 100 languages and writing systems from all parts of the world.
Just like with the original Helvetica and its clean design, they made sure that the potential here is limitless when it comes to addressing local audiences in multiple languages.
Helvetica World is available in four styles: regular, italic, bold and bold italic. The pricing depends on your needs, but it can be bought in bundles.
7. Open Sans
Open Sans is a humanist-inspired sans-serif typeface designed by Steve Matteson, trying to mimic the look and feel of letters that people would write on paper. It contains 897 characters, offering support for the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets and a wide range of diacritics. The font was developed in a neutral, yet friendly appearance and is optimized for legibility across all kinds of interfaces, including the web and mobile.
Fun fact, the Open Sans font is the second most served font on Google Fonts with over 4 billion views per day across tens of millions of websites.
To conclude what we learned in this article, the fonts which support multiple languages play a pivotal role in website localization and in addressing local audiences.
We discussed the basics of multilingual fonts, their role and importance on websites, how to check if the font fits all criteria and lastly introduced the top 7 multilingual fonts picked from our personal experience. No matter what font you will end up using, remember to always check if it meets all of your needs before it’s too late and you’ll have to completely revamp the plan.