What is Font Licensing and Why Does it Matter for Your Business? - K Design Co.
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What is Font Licensing and Why Does it Matter for Your Business?

Font licensing is getting permission from a font creator or distributor to use a particular font in a certain way. Some fonts require you pay a fee to obtain certain usage rights, which involves purchasing the license, while others are free. Sometimes even fonts that are available for free have usage limitations or additional licensing fees depending on how you want to use them. There are several different types of font licenses you can obtain, all with different rules and allowances, so it’s important to always read the fine print of the End User License Agreement (EULA) that comes with your font purchase.

Why You Should Care About Font Licensing

Font licensing is one of those things you may have ignored in your business up until now, but it can actually be a very serious subject. If you neglect to purchase the appropriate font license for one of your brand fonts, you could be charged with piracy and find yourself in the middle of an expensive lawsuit like this one. Yikes! While this is an extreme example, it’s definitely better to be safe than sorry in my opinion. So it’s time to read up on the ins and outs of font licensing so you can ensure you stay in compliance with all the regulations.

Personal-Use vs Commercial-Use Fonts

FONTS FOR PERSONAL USE

If you’ve ever looked for fonts around the internet, you’ve likely encountered fonts that were labeled “free for personal use”. You may have wondered what “personal use” really means when it comes to fonts. Personal use of a font would be using it in any type of way that doesn’t benefit you monetarily in a direct or indirect way. A couple examples of personal use for a font would be to use it on a school project or for a sign in your own home. Even if a font is free, it should still come with a usage license agreement, but in that case, you just don’t have to pay for it.

FONTS FOR COMMERCIAL USE

Using a font commercially, on the other hand, would involve you using it for your business or in a way that could earn you money. Examples of fonts being used for commercial purpose are for business cards, logos or company shirts. In many cases, if you intend to use a font for commercial purposes, you will likely have to purchase a specific license for that font, unless the font documentation explicitly states you can use it for free commercially. Commercial-use fonts should always come with a usage license agreement which you you should read carefully to ensure you are using your font the right way.

Types of Pay-Per-Font Licenses

Most websites that sell fonts like Creative Market, MyFonts or Fontspring offer at least a few different options for font licensing. Usually they require you to pay per each type of font or font license that you require. Here are some of the font licenses you can typically expect to choose from:

  • Desktop Font License – A desktop license is the most common and applies to most commercial font usage. With this type of license you can create static images or printed items such as logos, signs and products for yourself and clients. Typically the font files for desktop use are provided in TTF or OTF format.
  • Web Font License – With this type of font license, you can embed a font in your website’s code and allow your visitors to see your custom fonts even if they don’t have the font installed on their computer. Some web font licenses have a monthly pageviews / usage limit. For example, if your website receives more than 500,000 pageviews a month, you will need to purchase an extended font license. The fonts provided for website use are typically in WOFF or WOFF2 format.
  • App Font License – An application license allows you to embed the font files in the code of your application. This could be for a phone app, computer app or other type of software or game. Application licenses are typically limited by the number of active monthly users.
  • ePub Font License – An ebook license allows you to use and embed a font file in your ebook for reading on Kindles, iPads or other eReaders. Ebook font licenses are typically limited by the number of publications you use it in and can typically be exported in PDF, EPUB 2.01, EPUB 3, and KF8 formats.

It’s important to note, for these types of fonts, if you need to use a font in multiple formats, such as for desktop and for your website, you will need to purchase both licenses in order to comply with the license agreements.

PRO TIP: What if you want to try a font before you buy it?

Some websites like Fontspring offer demo versions of many of their fonts so that you can try a font out before committing to it. Demo versions of the fonts usually have a limited number of characters but offer you a taste of how a font will look if you decide to purchase it. You should not try to use demo fonts as a workaround for not paying for a font license. If you decide you do want to use the font, you should always go back to the website and obtain the appropriate license.

Subscription Font Services Libraries

In addition to pay-per-font websites, there are a few font libraries that allow you to use their fonts with some restrictions by paying a flat monthly fee.

ADOBE FONTS

Some websites like Adobe Fonts offer a monthly subscription that allow you to use as many fonts from their library that you want as long as you are a subscriber to any Adobe Creative Cloud plan. For as little as $9.99, you can get a subscription to Photoshop and Lightroom that also allows you to use Adobe fonts for desktop, web or e-publications with only a few limitations. (If you want to use a font for embedding in applications, you will need an additional license for this.)

MONOTYPE FONTS

Monotype Fonts library has over 30,000 curated fonts from some of the best font foundries and creators in the industry, although the hefty price point makes it useful mainly for professional designers or other individuals who plan to invest a lot into fonts.

Free Font Libraries

GOOGLE FONTS

Google Fonts is a font library that anyone can access and download fonts from. As of January 2020, the Google Font library had 1,358 fonts that are available to the public, free, for both personal and commercial-use under what’s called a libre license. This essentially means you are free to do whatever you want with these fonts.

CANVA FONT LIBRARY

Canva offers a font library that includes Google fonts but also many other free and premium fonts that you can use in their online software to design graphics and marketing materials for your business. You can sign up for a free Canva account or upgrade to a pro account to access even more fonts and other premium assets in their library. When you export any design from Canva, you immediately become bound by their content license agreement for both free and pro content.

FONT SQUIRREL

Font Squirrel is another free font library that you can download fonts from. Unlike Google Fonts, FontSquirrel curates their library from other font creators so each font has it’s own license and usage rights may differ. However FontSquirrel touts that their fonts are all available free for commercial-use in *most* applications.

LOST TYPE CO.

Lost Type Co. is a library full of fonts with unique and vintage style created by independent designers. Note that while their fonts are free for personal use, you must pay a fee to obtain a commercial license. The licensing cost varies from font to font.

There are several other free font libraries out there on the internet, but beware, they are not all created equal. Some of the more sketchier free font distributor websites will give you glitchy font files that don’t look or work as you might expect. They may even be distributing fonts illegally. Be sure you trust any website before installing font files you download from them onto your computer. If you don’t receive a font EULA with your download, that’s a red flag, that the website is unauthorized to share the font you just downloaded. In that case, do not use the font!

Questions about Font Licensing?

Whether you need a font for your brand, website or something else, it’s always important to obtain the right license to ensure you don’t end up in a legal battle. Shoot me a message here if you have questions about which font license you should be purchasing for your business.

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Kristin Pruis  •  February 7, 2022

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