Putting Google Fonts in R graphs

In keeping with my Lego theme, this statue from Nathan Sawaya’s exhibition at the New York Hall of Science represents some of the frustrations of adding fonts to R.

Inspiration for this post

I’ve been working on creating a visualization cookbook for R graphics (check out this great example from the BBC to see what I’m eventually going for). As part of this process, I wanted to be able to change the font of my plots to Source Sans Pro, which is a Google font.

sysfonts package

The first step here was to install and load the sysfonts package:



If you end up getting the following error when loading sysfonts: Reason: image not found, you might need to do some additional work. This happened to me initially, and after doing some Googling, I found this GitHub issue. Installing XQuartz was recommended as a fix, particularly for Macs, so I downloaded it from here. After downloading XQuartz, I uninstalled, reinstalled, and loaded sysfonts and things went smoothly.

Downloading font to your computer

As I learned from this super helpful GitHub repo, you need to install the font on your system as well as within R.


I went through this process on a Mac, so this is what I ended up doing to install the font. I went to the Google Fonts page for the font and clicked on “Select this font”. Then after clicking on “1 Family Selected” at the bottom, I downloaded the font by clicking on the download icon. This downloaded a zip drive into my Downloads folder. To install it as a font, I extracted the zip folder (by opening the zip drive). In a different Finder window, I opened my Applications folder and found Font Book. Then I dragged the zip folder over into Font Book.


I modified the above instructions from these instructions on Flourish Online, which also has PC instructions. If anyone gives these a try and they don’t work, let me know and I’ll try to do some troubleshooting!


Next, I used the font_add_google function from sysfonts to download the Source Sans Pro fonts:

font_add_google("Source Sans Pro")

If you want to install a different Google Font, you can run font_families_google() to see the list of family names of fonts currently available in Google Fonts:

## [1] "ABeeZee"       "Abel"          "Abhaya Libre"  "Abril Fatface"
## [5] "Aclonica"      "Acme"


To continue with my Lego theme, I’ll demonstrate using this font on data from the legocolors package. We can make the following graph of approximate lego brick availability based on the year a brick was released (colored by the brick color!):

## Warning: package 'legocolors' was built under R version 3.5.2
## Warning: package 'ggplot2' was built under R version 3.5.2
ggplot(legocolors, aes(x = year_released, y = bl_bp, colour = hex)) +
  geom_point() +
  scale_color_manual(values = legocolors$hex) +
  theme_minimal() +
  theme(legend.position = "none", text = element_text(family = "Source Sans Pro"), plot.title = element_text(face = "bold")) +
  labs(x = "Year released", y = "Brick availability", title = "Lego availability", subtitle = "All of the text is now in Source Sans Pro!")
## Warning: Removed 3 rows containing missing values (geom_point).


This process is a little bit finicky, so there are certain errors that crop up frequently. For me, just restarting RStudio and/or my computer (or updating the computer, if necessary) has solved these. The most common errors are No font could be found for family "Source Sans Pro" and "Error in grid.Call(C_textBounds, as.graphicsAnnot(x$label), x$x, x$y, : polygon edge not found", both of which relate to R not being able to find the font. If the font is indeed installed on your computer (you can check this in Font Book, for a Mac), then restarting things should help R find the font.

Cecina Babich Morrow
Data Scientist

My research interests range from harnessing data to improve mental healthcare to understanding global patterns of macroecology.

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