Public Sans: a free/open font from the United States Web Design System

Originally published at:


It’s nice enough, but pretty much “Do you like Helvetica? Well here it is, again!”


Yes, but this one comes without the “And now pay Linotype $90 for some creative work done in 1957”


dons tinfoil hat

I hear the government is trying to switch everyone over to this and they have tracking code inside the font that runs on an AI blockchain tracking everything everyone says ever.

removes tinfoil hat

O that’s a decent font I guess.


If it’s so free and open, how come I can’t find a download button?




Go to the github page. You probably want the Truetype font, which is in the fonts/variable directory. There are two kinds, but when I installed one it seems to have installed both? Or maybe they both have the same name? Anyway, just clicking on the .ttf link should pop up the font installer for your OS.


I read that as “Pubic Sans.” Disappointed!


As the readme mentions, this typeface is a fork of SIL’s “Libre Franklin”, which is based on “Franklin Gothic” by Morris Fuller Benton. Which itself is based on even older typefaces. I guess 26 (give or take) letters leave little room for genuinely new inventions.


In a sense all typeface design is based on older typefaces. Even the earliest mechanical typefaces were based on the appearance of handwritten text which in itself went through a number of reforms dating back to the ancient Phoenicians (or Sumerians, depending on your definition of “type”).

If you invented letterforms out of whole cloth then nobody would be able to understand them, and if you alter them too radically then the typeface distracts from the written content instead of enhancing it. The craft comes in the tiny tweaks you make to what came before. Helvetica shares 99% of its DNA with its precursor Akzidenz-Grotesk, but those tiny tweaks were still enough to make it the world’s most popular typeface.


Double-storey ‘g’, though.

Yes, though that was still really non-obvious to find. Instead, I went back to Github’s main page, and search the search window. Even then, it handed me dozens of files in a zip, from which I pulled one ttf file and deleted the rest.
Not very user friendly, but I’m the IT Guy, so I didn’t quit.

Thanks for the heads-up!


Github’s UI has always been pretty terrible. Once you figure it out it’s usable, but the learning curve is way too high for someone who just wants to download a zip file.


Be advised there’s a “readme” file on the main page ( ) underneath the file list, that explicitly tells you which directories to download the various files (e.g. OTF; TTF) from. So it’s not that difficult.

The readme file also tells you how the font compares to other sans serif fonts.

Not trying to be critical; just saying.

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But that doesn’t point to a download button?

For anyone else having trouble thinking in geek it’s the green ‘Clone or Download’ on this page or maybe just click this link.

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Unlike Helvetica, it distinguishes between capital i and lowercase L with more than a couple of pixels worth of height.


True, uppercase i is differentiated from lowercase L, and that’s good. But the zero still looks like the uppercase o. Gimme slash zero Ø or something.

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I tend to favour OpenType fonts (.otf) if there’s one available, although if you have no intention of ever using ligatures, alternative characters, swashes, etc. then a .ttf is OK.

Sometimes I don’t think about these things in a literal way. It can cause problems with friends on the autistic spectrum.

It is open source, but I don’t know who I would ask to change this. Asking a government department doesn’t seem like the fastest way.

I think that’s what the designers intended, but they also include ttf files in the webfonts section.

The most confusing problem is that the basic set of fonts (Regular, italic, bold, bold italic) is mixed with the less used weights.

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