Instead of typical letters and numbers, an icon font contains glyphs, symbols, or pictograms. They are the simplest way for a UI designer to add an icon set to a design project.
One of the key perks of using an icon font is its scalability. They can be resized without losing quality, making them perfect for responsive web design, as they can be scaled – with CSS media queries – up for desktop or down for mobile. On top of that, icon fonts are fully customizable, allowing you to easily adjust the size and edit the color to fit the layout and color scheme of a particular UI design.
Icon fonts are incredibly easy to add to any web design or mobile app project using CSS. You load the font file using
@font-face, and using standard CSS rules, you can set the
margin, or other properties.
Although very popular, icon fonts do also have their pitfalls. Ian Feather has discussed his reasons for switching from an icon font to SVG, and CSS Tricks have outlined some considerations when choosing between icon fonts or SVG icons. Both favor SVG.
As a counter-argument, Pictonic has said that icon fonts are 10% faster than SVG. These are just things you should consider before you use icon fonts.
To ensure that your icons always load correctly and have reliable fallbacks for browsers that don’t support
@fontface, you should take a look at the guidelines set out by the Filament Group, Bulletproof Accessible Icon Fonts.
The Pros & Cons of Icon Fonts
Icon fonts provide consistency, accessibility, and customization options while maintaining cross-browser compatibility. However, it’s essential to consider their pros and cons and choose the right icon format based on your specific design needs.
Here’s what you need to know about using icon fonts for UI design:
- Scalability: Icon fonts are vector-based, meaning they can be scaled up or down with no quality loss.
- Lightweight: Icon fonts are typically smaller in file size compared to image-based icons, reducing page load times and improving website performance.
- Ease of Use: Incorporating icon fonts into your UI design is straightforward. You can include them in your HTML and CSS, then style and size them.
- Consistency: Icon fonts provide a consistent look and feel across various devices and browsers, helping maintain design coherence.
- Customization: You can easily customize icon fonts by adjusting their size, color, and other CSS properties. This flexibility allows you to match icons to your project’s design.
- Accessibility: Icon fonts can be made accessible by adding appropriate aria-labels and roles, ensuring that screen readers can interpret and convey their meanings to users with disabilities.
- Responsive Icons: Some icon fonts offer responsive features, allowing icons to adapt automatically to different contexts and orientations.
- Cross-Browser Compatibility: Icon fonts are widely supported by modern web browsers, making them a reliable choice for web design.
However, there are some limitations to consider:
- Limited Complexity: Icon fonts may not be suitable for highly complex or intricate icons that require multiple colors or fine details. In such cases, SVG icons might be a better choice.
- Icon Diversity: While icon fonts offer a wide variety of symbols, they might not cover every unique design requirement. You may need to create custom icons or combine them with other icon formats.
- Unicode Conflicts: Icon fonts use Unicode characters, which could conflict with actual text content if not managed correctly.
The Top Free Icon Fonts for UI Designers
Eva Icons Open Source UI Icon Set (480 Icons)
If you’re designing a new interface or you want to showcase your product’s features, check out this great (and free) icon font. These open-source icons feature actions and items, from arrows and attachments to color palettes. With over 480 icons, it’s the whole package!
Ionicons Icon Pack for Ionic Framework (1,100+ Icons)
Ionicons is a well-rounded icon pack for the Ionic framework. You will get numerous app icons (notifications, arrows, food, and more), as well as icons featuring renowned brands’ logos (e.g., Pinterest). Depending on your needs, you can download outline, filled, and/or sharp icon renders as SVG and web font files.
Font Awesome (1,500+ Icons)
Font Awesome is a massive and very popular icon set. They offer over 1,600 free icons, all of which have been meticulously designed to showcase friendliness and ease of use. You’ll find everything from AWS and other brand logos to business and lifestyle icons in the FA gallery.
Cryptofonts (1,250+ Free Icons, Icon Font)
Line Awesome Icon Font (1,380 Icons)
Add modern line icons to your materials in one line of code with Line Awesome. It improves upon Font Awesome’s offer and lets you add all sorts of icons (from accessibility and building to arrows and brand icons) to your website (via CDN), Figma prototypes, and much more.
Dashicons, the WordPress Admin Icon Font (300 Icons)
Dashicons is an icon font for WordPress. If you want to emulate the signature WP style in other projects, you’ll love it. It’s very technical in style, but it gets the point across and is easy to use. From brand logos to TinyMCE, run wild!
Remix Icon Open Source Library (2,000+ Icons)
Remix Icon is an open-source icon library with over 2,200 icons. All of the icons are free for both personal and commercial use. You’ll see a wide variety of icons, from thin outline icons to filled symbols for extra emphasis. Get them as PNG, SVG, or code.
Themify Icon Font (320 Icons)
Inspired by Apple iOS, Themify icons offer over 300 beautiful minimalist icons. From arrows to app icons, you’ll get everything you need as either an icon font for easier workflow integration (SVG included), or a plugin for WordPress. Themify icons are perfect for modern UI design!
Dripicons Line-Icon Font v.2 (200 Icons)
If you don’t want garden-variety line icons, check out Dripicons. This free icon font is incredibly easy to use, but the best part is that they’re beautiful! You’ll get a set of versatile bold line icons, from arrows and tech to education and music.
GitHub’s Octicons Icons (180 Icons)
If you like GitHub’s aesthetic, you’re going to love their Octicons. These icons are available in two sizes (16px and 24px), and they also include some special-case icons like pull requests. You can toggle between outline and filled icons, and they work perfectly with different programming languages.
Foundation Icon Fonts (280 Icons)
Get going with just a few lines of code and Foundation icons. This collection comprises different sets, from general icons to accessibility icons, so there’s something for every project. Foundation icons work as a web font, so you don’t have to jump through hoops.
The Elegant Icon Font (360 Icons)
Beautiful, elegant, and engaging – this icon font contains over 300 diverse icons. They’re simple to integrate and use, especially if you’ve used Elegant Themes or the Divi builder in the past. From file icons to arrows, you will find everything you need in this set.
Feather Open Source Icon Set (282 Icons)
Keep it simple and accessible with Feather, a vast collection of open-source icons. From arrows and chevrons, to app UI icons, Feather is an excellent addition to your standard design toolbox. You can customize the size, stroke width, and color of every icon, so they fit your branding perfectly.
Typicons Icon Font (336 Icons)
Simple, friendly, and perfect for a wide variety of projects, Typicons are a great choice. They are embedded in a web font, so they’re easy to use. You’ll get 336 icons, from cogs and arrows to brand logos. You can pick between filled icons or outlines.
IcoMoon’s Free Icon Pack (490 Icons)
Freshen up your standard icon toolkit with IcoMoon’s free icons. You’ll get 490 vector icons that are perfect for app and web UI. These icons are simple and minimalist with a bit of personality. From home icons to smiley faces, it’s the whole package!
Genericons Neue Icon Font (100 Icons)
Simplify your design with Genericons, a set of simple and minimalist icons for web and app design. They work perfectly for blogs or simple websites where you want to keep the focus on your messaging. You’ll get plenty of icons for key features, from sitemaps to RSS feeds.
Microns Icon Font (108 Icons)
Microns icons take pride in their simplicity. The collection provides icons for the most common use cases, from charts and arrows to navigation icons. They’re easy to encode, and the file itself is only 5kb, so they’re perfect for use across your project portfolio.
Stroke 7 Icon Font (202 Icons)
Straight out of the Pixeden workshop, Stroke 7 is a collection of thin-line icons. The set offers 200+ icons that can be customized with CSS. They were inspired by the early 00 icons, so they’re not going to stand out and draw attention away from your main message.
Stroke Icon Font Vol.1 (80 Icons)
Petras Nargela designed a set of 80 stroke icons, and it’s free. These beautiful icons are fresh, clean, and ready to spice up your designs. You can download them as PSD, AI, or web font files. If you’re need something different, you’ve found it!
Created by Google, the Material Design icon set contains plenty of icons you can use across your projects. You just have to add one line of code to your website, and you’re good to go! Since community members constantly add their own icons, there’s plenty of variety.
Tonicons Outline Icons (300 Icons)
Tonicons is a fantastic set of icon fonts that are not just easy to use but beautiful, too! You’ll get 300 clean and minimalist outline icons for app and web UI design. From all kinds of files to messaging icons, the Tonicons set covers every single use case.
CSSans is a colorful and dynamic CSS font. Composed of multiple colorful geometric elements that add vibrancy to your designs, CSSans is all about personality! You’ll get unique uppercase and lowercase characters, numerals, and other symbols. It’s infinitely customizable and grabs attention from the get-go!
MFG Labs Icon Set (120 Icons)
MFG Labs icon set was originally designed for an internal project, but the team couldn’t resist sharing this versatile icon set. They’re easily embeddable and customizable with CSS. You’ll find all the icons you need to create the right atmosphere for your next design.
Ligature Symbols Icon Font (240 Icons)
Ligature Symbols is an icon font with fun and minimalist icons. Individual icons can be combined to create ligatures (e.g., combine table and cell icons to create grids), improving this collection’s usability. You’ll find everything you need, so give this free icon font a go!
Devicons are friendly, dev-friendly icons created to represent programming and development tools. From Chrome and Confluence to Django and Adobe Illustrator, you’ll find the icon you’ve been looking for. You can easily copy-paste them into your projects by using either the font versions or SVG versions.
Mini Icon Font Set (80 Icons)
Simple and clean, these mini icons are perfect for a wide variety of projects, particularly those more formal in tone. This icon collection contains 80 precisely made icons in both PSD and icon font formats. From download/upload symbols to location and weather icons, this set offers every icon you need!
Helium Icon Set & Font (100 Icons)
Taras Shypka’s Helium icon set offers plenty of icons. Not only do they come in every format imaginable, but you can also use them as an icon font. You’ll get 112 icons with fine-shaded lines that add gloss. Helium is definitely an aesthete’s choice!
Gonzocons 2.0 Line Icons (100 Icons)
The Gonzocons set designed by Jan Rajtoral offers 100 line icons that perfectly replicate modern icon design trends. From simplistic arrows to buoyant hearts and hourglasses, Gonzocons icons definitely have a personality. You can get them as SVG files or as a web font for easier integration with your app/site.
Map Icon Marker Font (180 Icons)
Map Icons is an icon font made for Google Maps and Places. You can easily customize the icons with CSS, and pick from over 175 icons. From general icons for hair salons to icons for activities, this set gives you plenty to choose from to make your next project amazing.
Infinity Space Icons (230 Icons)
Shoot for the moon with these beautiful space icons. You’ll get over 230 symbols, including spaceships, planets, and more! They’re very easy to use as they’re a dingbat font, and if you start typing the numbers, you’ll find the entire solar system.
Weather Themed Icon Font (222 Icons)
If accurate forecasts are an imperative for your next project, you’ll love this set of weather-themed icons. With over 200 icons (including specialty icons like 28 lunar phases), you’ll be ready to create something amazing! You can easily customize them with CSS to fit your needs.
Meteocons Weather Icon Font (40 Icons)
Get 40+ minimalist and friendly weather icons with Meteocons. This set offers every format imaginable, from SVG to desktop and web fonts. They’re free to use personally and commercially, and you can even create your custom font with the icons you frequently use. Icon updates are free too!
Socialicious Social Media Icon Library (74 Icons)
If you’re on the hunt for incredible social icons, check out Socialicious. It gives you social media icons in font form, so they’re incredibly easy to use and even easier to customize. Integrate them with a single line of code, and customize them with CSS.
Mono Social Icons Font (100 Icons)
Engaging and dynamic, Mono Social are social media icons with a fun personality. You can use them for free and pick one of the three presentation options (rounded, circle, regular) to fit your style. Use them with CSS, HTML, and SCSS. They’re free for personal and commercial use.
Fontfabric Social Media Icons Pack (74 Icons)
Created by Jelio Dimitrov, Socialico is a package of 74 vibrant and engaging social media icons. They’re packaged as a web font, so every character on your keyboard generates a beautiful icon with plenty of presentation alternates. Since these font icons are free, add them to your toolbox!
Icon Font Use Cases
Icon fonts are incredibly versatile and offer numerous possibilities for enhancing the user experience, improving visual aesthetics, and conveying information effectively. Here are some common use cases and applications for icon fonts:
- Navigation Menus: Replace traditional text-based menu items with icon fonts to create visually appealing and compact navigation menus.
- Buttons & Call-to-Action Elements: Use icon fonts within buttons to make them more engaging and informative.
- Social Media Icons: Incorporate social media icons using icon fonts, making it easy for users to connect with your brand on various social platforms.
- User Interface Elements: Enhance user interfaces by using icon fonts for elements like checkboxes, radio buttons, and toggle switches, making interactions more intuitive.
- Notification Icons: Display notification icons for alerts, messages, or updates to draw users’ attention to important information.
- Progress Indicators: Use icon fonts for progress bars, loading spinners, and other visual indicators to convey processes and loading states.
- Rating Systems: Icon fonts can represent ratings or reviews, with icons indicating the number of stars, hearts, or other rating symbols.
- Symbolic Information: Icons can convey additional information or context in data tables, infographics, and charts.
- Map Markers: In map applications, use icon fonts to create custom map markers for points of interest or locations.
- Custom Bullet Points: Replace standard bullet points with icon fonts to make lists and bullet-pointed content more visually appealing and engaging.
- Accessibility Enhancements: Use icon fonts to improve accessibility by adding visual cues and labels to elements for users with disabilities.
- Toggle Icons: For collapsible menus, accordions, or expandable sections, use icon fonts to indicate whether a section is open or closed.
- Interactive Elements: Implement icons for interactive elements such as sliders, checkboxes, and radio buttons in web forms.
How to Add Icon Fonts to Your Project
Adding icon fonts to a project typically involves a few straightforward steps. Here’s a general guide on how you can add icon fonts to your own web or UI project:
- Choose an Icon Font Library: Select an icon font library from above that suits your project’s needs.
- Download or Link to the Icon Font: You can download the icon font files and host them on your server or link to them via a CDN. Many icon font libraries offer both options.
- Include the CSS Stylesheet: Link to the icon font’s CSS stylesheet in your HTML document’s
headsection. This stylesheet contains the necessary CSS rules to display the icons correctly.
<link rel="stylesheet" href="path/to/icon-font.css">
- Add Icon Elements to Your HTML: In your HTML markup, create elements (e.g.,
div) with appropriate class names to represent the icons you want to use. Assign the class names provided by the icon font library.
<i class="fas fa-heart"></i> <!-- Font Awesome Heart Icon --> <i class="material-icons">star</i> <!-- Material Icons Star Icon -->
- Style & Customize Icons: You can further customize the icons by applying CSS styles to the icon elements. Adjust size, color, and other properties.
- Accessibility Considerations: Ensure your icons are accessible by providing alternative text or labels when necessary. This is crucial for users who rely on screen readers.
<i class="fas fa-envelope" aria-label="Email"></i>
- Testing & Optimization: Test your icon fonts across different browsers and devices to ensure consistent rendering. Optimize your project for performance by minimizing the number of icon requests and reducing file sizes.
- Documentation & Maintenance: Document the icon classes you're using and keep track of any customizations for future reference and maintenance.
Refer to the documentation of each icon font for more detailed instructions.
Icon Font FAQs
What are Icon Fonts?Icon fonts consist of symbols and glyphs, offering a visual alternative to standard letters and numbers. In UI design, they're used to add scalable, styleable icons that enhance user interfaces and improve navigation.
Why Use Icon Fonts in UI Design?Icon fonts are popular in UI design because they're lightweight, scalable, and easy to style with CSS. They help keep your site's loading times fast and ensure icons look sharp on all screen sizes.
Are Free Icon Fonts of Good Quality?Yes, many free icon fonts are of high quality and created by professional designers.
Can I Customize These Icon Fonts?While you can't directly edit the icons in the font, you can use CSS to customize their appearance, like changing colors and size or adding effects like shadows.
Are Icon Fonts Compatible with All Browsers?Most modern browsers support icon fonts. However, it's always good to test your design in different browsers to ensure compatibility and consistent appearance.
Can I Use Icon Fonts for Both Web and Mobile UI Design?Icon fonts are suitable for both web and mobile UIs. Their scalability and customization options make them a versatile choice for any platform.
How Do Icon Fonts Differ from SVG Icons?Icon fonts are a collection of icons as font characters, which makes them easy to scale and style with CSS. SVG icons are individual vector images with more complex designs and colors. Both are scalable, but SVGs offer more design details.
How Do I Ensure Accessibility with Icon Fonts?For accessibility, always provide proper text alternatives (like "alt" text) for screen readers. Ensure that your icons are not the only method of conveying important information.
Will Icon Fonts Slow Down My Website?Generally, icon fonts are lightweight and shouldn't significantly impact your website's loading speed. They are often more efficient than using many individual image files.
Do Icon Fonts Work in Email Designs?Icon fonts can be tricky in emails as not all email clients support them. It's often safer to use images or SVGs for icons in email designs to ensure consistent viewing across different email platforms.
How Can I Match Icon Fonts with My Brand Style?Look for icon fonts that align with your brand's aesthetic in terms of style and simplicity. Use CSS to customize the icons to match your brand's color scheme and design ethos.