We’re often asked by clients if we can supply them with fonts – either the typefaces used in logos or as complimentary fonts for brand collateral like business cards & brochures. Here’s why it doesn’t matter in logo design and we usually can’t do that for other things.
Over the years we’ve written many posts and articles about common issues that crop up at our shop – usually spurred by having to answer the same questions or requests over and over again. One of the issues that has become more common as of late – probably as many small business owners try their hand at do-it-yourself marketing design – has to do with type, specifically supplying the client with fonts that are used in their projects.
Q: “Do I have to buy a font license for a typeface used in my logo?”
A: “No. Typefaces used in logo design are either custom or modified versions of an off-the-shelf source and are outlined to vector graphics.”
“Can you ship me the font used in my business card, I want to make a few edits” or similar requests. Generally speaking, we can’t do that (and designers as a whole shouldn’t) due to font licensing & copyright – subjects often misunderstood by designers and clients alike. Accordingly let’s try and an bullet-point everything into a simple summary before getting to the meat & potatoes. The normal “I am not a lawyer and even if I were, I am not your lawyer” caveat applies for everything you’re about to read.
Fonts & licensing.
Some basics: a typeface is the name given to how the letters look. Think Times, Helvetica, Arial. A font, font set or font family is the software that allows you to install said typeface into your design or office application and format any words you type. Fonts come in several formats – Open Type and True Type are the most common – and as they’re software and/or computer files, fonts are subject to licenses – what you can and can’t do with them – legally binding agreements that are subject to copyright (and in rare cases, trademarks) law. These copyrights only cover the software, not how the typeface ‘looks’, so whenever a typeface is used in a logo design project, the final deliverable should be in an “outline” format – when a typeface is converted from “live” editable to non-editable vector graphics. Like so:Outline vectors do not require the original font software to open, so the font copyright is no longer applicable and the logo artwork can be shipped around with no issues. The same basic idea applies to branding and marketing collateral – business cards, letterheads or other artwork with small areas of type. It gets a little more complicated when you want to use these fonts in marketing material or where there’s large areas of type that need to be “live” or editable – brochures perhaps, or even adding new names to previously outlined business card artwork. Doing this requires the original font set to be installed on whatever machine the artwork is being opened on.
Still with me? Let’s continue.
In some cases, the fonts used in your collateral material will be ‘system fonts’ or universal typefaces for the platform or device you’re using – under normal circumstances you’ll never having an issue moving artwork featuring standard Arial type from one Windows machine to another. On the Apple platform the same would apply to typefaces like Myriad. Where it gets complicated is with the addition of less universal fonts that may not be on every device – be it in your office or at your printer – and in those instances, if the type is live (and editable) the font set will have to travel around with the document. In some cases the font can be embedded into a PDF so that it’s live for reading & searching (but will still require the original font to be installed to edit) and in others, the type foundry will have this disabled entirely as a way to control distribution. And with this mumbo-jumbo out of the way, let’s tackle the ins and outs of what designers can and can’t, should and shouldn’t do when working with clients. I’ve always found that a question and answer format is best for this kind of thing so without further ado..
Q: Do I have to buy a font license for a typeface used in my logo?
A: No. Typefaces used in logo design are either custom or modified versions of an off-the-shelf source and are outlined to vector graphics. As we’ve just discussed, this means the original font is no longer required and the original software copyright and license no longer apply (if a designer ever supplies you with a logo that features “live” fonts, insist on an outlined version and then find yourself another designer.)
Q: Can you supply me with the fonts used in my design project?
A: Probably not.
Q: Why not? I paid for the design.
A: As we discussed earlier, fonts are actually licensed in a similar fashion to software, meaning whenever your designer (or our studio) purchases a font, they/we buy the rights to use, almost rent, the software that makes the typeface tick. The copyright doesn’t actually apply to how the typeface looks (though there are exceptions) but rather the software that allows you to install it in whatever program you’re using to build your brochure or business card, be it Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Word or similar. Whenever we use a professional typeface in a project – be it logo design, business card design or what have you – we “break” the final deliverables into outline vector graphics. making the art universally accessible. It doesn’t require the font set to be installed in any computer that opens the file at your office, a print shop or an online print vendor such as Vistaprint. The original copyright to the font no longer applies but a new copyright – if applicable – will cover the entire logo design.
Q: Other designers have given me the fonts. Why can’t you?
A: We hear this a lot and if it’s true, it means that there’s a lot of designers out there who don’t know some basics about fonts and the licensing of same. It also means a lot of designers – and their clients – are playing with fire, though it’s probably a long shot that anything serious can happen. But it might. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that this is a common attitude on design contest platforms and outfits like Fiverr, where IP considerations are lackadaisical and the suppliers being from locations where copyright isn’t as ironclad as it is elsewhere.
We have no opinion on what other people do or don’t do regarding their font licenses and can only to speak to how we respect ours. Having said that, there’s no such thing as a “social download license” and just because something’s available for free on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s legal or ethical to use as your own. If pushed further, our suggestion to designers (and their clients) is to respect other people’s intellectual property rights including those of font designers and foundries. Supporting type designers by purchasing their product incentivizes them to develop new high quality wares in the future and all things considered, the cost for professional fonts is more than reasonable and everyone deserves to get paid for their work (as participants on contest sites often don’t, it’s little wonder they wouldn’t be as absolute with this adage as other designers might be.)
Q: I only need the font for an itty-bitty edit. Can’t you make an exception?
A: This is the font version of “can you help a brother out?” and alas, the answer would still be “we can’t.” It doesn’t matter how small the job might be, giving away someone else’s property is still illegal distribution of their work and something we agreed to not do when we purchased the font.
“At the end of the day, we are responsible for making sure that these fonts don’t get out into the wild, and our address is where the copyright subpoenas get delivered if or when they do.”
Besides, if we were to give away fonts for every “itty bitty” project we had a request for, that’d still be a lot of favors and a lot of clients. It would also represent a lot of lost revenue for the original type designers and a lot of copyright infringement torpedoes in the water for us. Ethics and legality aside for a moment, once our licensed fonts – some of which actually have information embedded in them that identifies us as the original licensee (See below) – leave our network, we have no idea where they’ll end up.At the end of the day, we are responsible for making sure that these fonts don’t get out into the wild, and our address is where the copyright subpoenas get delivered if or when they do.
Q: Is there somewhere when I can download fonts for free?
A: There might be, yes. Some of the “free font” sites you’ll bump into feature homemade versions of font families – often with names that are very similar to the original typeface – or are sites that are proffering font sets that are illegally being made available for download (often as click bait to finance the site through advertising.) If the font is of the homemade variety, it may feature imperfections and technical issues with kerning and tracking, may not match the original typeface exactly when inspected closely. The illegal font sites are just that and are “stealing” revenue from the original designer or foundry (while making pay-per-click or impression advertising profit by doing so.) It’s unethical as all get out and these sites are often being targeted by foundries and type designers by DMCA take down notices (if you search for “free fonts” and similar in Google, you’ll often see DMCA notices at the foot of the search pages, informing you that some results have been “removed” because of a takedown notices.Bottom line, ethics does not permit us to give any client links to these bootleg sites, but they’re easy to find through search engines. We certainly don’t recommend such things and you download anything from “free wares” sites at your peril – some have been known to inject malware or ransomware through bootleg files so be sure to scan everything for malicious activity.
Q: Can I buy the fonts from you?
A: No. Unless they’re “shareware fonts” a license does not permit us to give away the fonts with projects so selling them would be even worse. We’d be profiting from the sale. The only way for a client to purchase the fonts is from the original type designer or foundry and we’d be glad to walk you through that process.
Q: Can you purchase the fonts for me?
A: We can do that as long as the account and purchase is in your name. This insures the license grants you the permission to use the typeface and the font matches the platform you’re using – Mac or PC. It also insures you get notified of any updates, freebies or special offers the designer or foundry may have in the future.