Have you got a license for that?

Licensing, in terms of typography, refers to the terms of use as stated by the type foundry who made and released the font. Even if a font is advertised as free, there will be a license tied to it. Using the font means you agree to the terms of the license.

Each font file is a separate piece of software that needs to be properly licensed. Otherwise, you risk going against trademarks or copyrights, and no-one wants that! Read this blog post to learn all about font licenses. 

font designer

Standard End User (Desktop) License

This is issued with an individual font after it has been purchased. Fonts under a standard end-user license are best suited for small use cases, where only a limited number of individuals will use the typeface.

Web Font License

Web fonts are licensed for use on websites, and supported by all major browsers. In order to use a font on a website, it needs to be embedded into the website’s code. Due to the font then being accessible to the reader, you’ll need to have a Webfont license. 

Sometimes, it’s on a pay-per-view basis, but others have no traffic restrictions. Instead, they will have time or domain limits, and then you’ll need to renew the license.

uk driving license

Desktop and Print Licensing

This is your basic font license that applies to most of the typefaces that come with your computer. For example, these include the typefaces on Microsoft Word. It allows you to use the font to make images for personal use.

App and ePub Font Licenses

Apps are not covered by web font licenses. If the font needs to be embedded in an app, you need to buy an app font license – usually, these are on a per-app basis, but an increased user base will also increase costs.

Server Font Licenses

Server font licenses are usually used in print-on-demand applications. For example, if you’re designing a site that means users have to pick a font to use on a printed product which then gets shipped – licensing will be different. All in all, just make sure you check.

graffiti font

Unlimited Font Licenses

If you’re running a larger organisation, it’s worth looking to negotiate an unlimited license with the type foundry. This would give you the right to use the font in an unlimited capacity both offline and online – from company advertising campaigns through to apps; you’d be covered. These will set you back over £10,000, but will keep you out of any trouble when it comes to licenses.

Exclusive Font Licenses

This would be a bespoke typeface created especially for your brand, and you would be the only organisation able to use the font. 

You’re looking at over £30,000 for this, so many small businesses can’t justify the cost – however, it may be worth it if you are planning on using them throughout your company’s life.

licensing paperwork

SIL Open Font License

This type of license allows a user to access the font for any purpose, personal or commercial, as well as letting them modify and redistribute creative works using that font. Google Fonts provides access to these fonts for free. But, be warned, these fonts are more basic and are likely to have been overused.

However, just because a font is free doesn’t mean it’s covered by a license. Some free font collections allow for their fonts to be used in personal designs and initial pitches of ideas, but not in published work for your brand or clients. Here, commercial licenses can kick in – which then requires payment.

License expired!

All in all, make sure you double-check what license your fonts are under. There are many fonts widely available, so as long as you keep an eye out, you’ll be able to find one fit for your needs at a good price – it may even end up being free!

Find out more about fonts in our blog post about the history of typography, and check out our list of the best free sans serif fonts for 2023!