Font, typeface, typography. These are all terms that graphic designers will be familiar with as these are tools that they use every day for creating their work. As with many tools for graphic design, there are free and paid options. So the question then becomes, should you pay for fonts as a graphic designer?
While there are many resources that offer free fonts to use for graphic design, if a font requires payment to use, then you should absolutely pay for it. Pirating or using a font without the proper license could land you in legal trouble and cost you more in the end rather than if you just paid for it.
In this article, I’ll go over why graphic designers should pay for fonts, where to buy fonts, what is a font license, and who should pay for a font when working with clients.
We’ll also discuss things like:
- If you can use any font commercially?
- Are system fonts available for commercial use?
Should You Pay for Fonts?
Just like any other good or service you may use to complete your job. A font takes skill, effort, and most importantly time to produce. Ensuring that the creator of the tools you use every day, is compensated for their work is important. Imagine if you did all the work for a client project and in the end, you handed over all the assets and the client didn’t pay you. Well this is the same for fonts and the type designers that make them.
Not only is it important to pay for a font to compensate the type designer for their time. Fonts that you pay for also ensure a level of quality. While there are plenty of resources where you can find free fonts to use, not every font is created equally.
For example, fonts that you may find on the popular website dafont.com can sometimes include fonts that are missing characters from the font set. This can lead to misuse and possibly making a mistake on your design project.
Fonts that you pay for come with the benefits of complete character sets, other languages, and glyphs as well as a font license that outlines the correct usage of the font. If you don’t know what a font license is, don’t worry we will cover that in the rest of the article.
What is a Font?
The word font is commonly used to refer to a specific visual appearance of a letterform or text. You may hear someone ask “what font is that?” when looking at an Instagram post, poster, or website. Each font has its own unique characteristics and traits but always refers to one single style.
Since a font refers to one specific style of letterforms, that means it can also be a part of a typeface that can encompass a family of fonts. For example, Helvetica is a typeface, and Helvetica bold is a font within that typeface family.
Fonts are usually developed by type designers that specialize in creating unique letterforms and characters. Creating a font takes focus and determination as it is a very time-consuming and lengthy process. Not to mention that a typeface can sometimes include more than 2-3 fonts within it.
Type designers not only create the letterforms that you use to write words and text. They also create the additional characters needed for other languages, punctuation, and numbers to form a complete font set.
Font and typeface are commonly misused and interchanged every day outside of the design community but it is worth knowing the difference if you ever find yourself in a conversation with a type designer.
Do You Have to Pay for All Fonts?
No and yes. While some fonts are offered as a free download, others can require you to purchase them. This is dependent on the type designer or type foundry. It is also important to note that the fonts that are offered as free downloads are usually offered as trial or test fonts.
Trial or test fonts are often used to see if that font fits your project. These fonts are usually offered with incomplete character sets to limit theft.
However, there are resources that offer free fonts for you to use commercially such as Google Fonts. If you are looking for the best place to download free fonts, then check out my article on the Best Free Fonts for Graphic Designers.
Where to Buy Fonts
Fonts are sold on a number of different websites. Some websites are marketplaces that sell fonts from hundreds of different type designers and type foundries. Others are the websites created by the type designer or foundry to showcase and sell the fonts they create.
Below I have listed my favorite type foundries, designers, and marketplaces to purchase fonts from:
- Colophon Foundry
- Grilli Type
- Klim Foundry
- Pangram Pangram Foundry
- Leinster Type
- OHNO Foundry
- Contrast Foundry
What is a Font License?
A font license is a legal document that gives you the permission to use a font. When you purchase a font, you are actually purchasing a font license.
This means that you are buying the right to use the font according to the terms of the license. The terms of the font license will vary depending on who created the font and where you purchased it from.
For example, some fonts may only be used for personal use, while others may be used for commercial purposes. Be sure to read the font license carefully before using the font to make sure you are using it in accordance with the terms of the license.
If you have any questions about the font license, don't hesitate to contact the font creator or vendor.
Font Licenses Examples
Not all licenses are created equally when it comes to buying fonts. Each type designer or type foundry will have different criteria and rules when it comes to their font licenses.
However, after reviewing the most popular websites to buy fonts from, we can tell that most font licenses are categorized by platform and if you plan to use the font for commercial or personal purposes.
A personal use or trial font license is exactly what it sounds like. This license allows you to use the font for non-commercial purposes. Non-commercial purposes is usually defined as for student work, testing fonts for use in a commercial project, or sometimes to use on your personal portfolio website.
These licenses are usually free from charge but are not offered by every type designer or foundry.
Commercial use font licenses are intended for projects or work that is created by a designer, agency, or on behalf of the client where any financial gain is involved. This can be anything from an advertising campaign, to a website, or digital app.
Commercial licenses can also vary in price depending which foundry or designer you are purchasing from.
Desktop license pertains to purchasing the font for use on a desktop computer to create imagery and documents for print or on screen. The price of this license can vary as it depends on how many computers or desktops will be using this font to create work.
Web licenses are for hosting and using fonts for display on a website. The price of this license is usually determined by unique monthly visitors to your website. Licenses can range from 10,000 unique monthly visitors all the way up to 100,000,000.
App licenses are specific to using a font in a digital app. After researching the different types of app licenses for fonts, there is no one way that the price of this license is determined. Some type designers and foundries consider how many developers or computers will be working with the font. Some charge a one-time fee for using the font in the app.
These are only a few of the most common font licenses but there are also other licenses for items such as e-books and digital ads. The most important thing, is to make sure to review the license agreement in detail before making your purchase to avoid any legal troubles and understand better how to use the font correctly.
What happens if I use a font without a license?
If you are found using a font without a proper license, the font creator can take legal action against you. You want to avoid this situation at all costs as not only are you putting yourself at risk but you can also put your clients at risk if you use the font for a commercial project.
Does the Client or Designer Buy the Font?
When it comes to purchasing fonts for commercial use such as a client project, who should buy for the font? Well, who ever needs to use said font will be required to purchase a unique license.
If a client is paying a designer to create an asset such as a poster or website and the client does not need to update the file later on, then the designer will need to purchase the license to use said font.
However, if the client will require to use that font later on to make updates to the file or artwork, then they will also need a font license to do so.
But what does this all mean? Who should actually pay for the font? This can come down to how you want to run your business. While each party is required to own a unique license to use a font, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t charge the client for the purchase of the font for that project.
For example, any time I work with a client that requires a specific font for a poster or website, I always include the cost of two font licenses with that project fee. This is something I started doing with my business as I was tired of losing profit to the expenses.
If you currently pay for fonts when working with clients, then consider adding the cost of any expenses such as font purchases to the invoice and let the client know you will be doing so as needed.
Can You Use Any Font for Commercial Use?
As we have discussed above, using any font for commercial use will require the appropriate license that allows you to legally do so. If a font is free to download, this may not mean that you can use it in a commercial setting like a client project or to sell your product. A lot of fonts are offered as a free download to test. This is only for testing purposes to see if that font will fit your projects needs. If you plan to use the font commercially then you should do your homework and double-check if you are required to purchase an additional license.
Can You Use System Fonts for Commercial Use?
Using system fonts or in other words, the fonts that come with your computer for commercial use is permitted. While it is not made obviously clear on an Apple or Windows computer, the fonts loaded onto your computer at the time of purchase are available for commercial use. However, redistribution or selling a font as your own is prohibitted and can get you in legal trouble as well.
When it comes to paying for fonts as a graphic designer, you should always pay for a font if it is being used in a commercial setting. Paying for fonts compensates the creators of the tools that we use everyday to do our job to the best of our abilities. If you are ever unsure if if you are required to purchase a commercial license for a font, always check with the creator directly or on their website to read more information about their licensing.
I am not a lawyer and this should not be considered legal advice. You should seek appropriate counsel for your own situation. And please note, this post is direct towards readers in the United States. If you are conducting business outside the United States, I highly encourage you to find and understand your obligations regarding disclosure.