Fonts in the tech world — a few tips for being fontsome

Anna Kamieniak
UX Team Leader
Anna Kamieniak

Today it may be hard for type-lovers to create significant digital experiences.

There are so many new fonts and foundries it is hard to get along with them — to know what is good quality and price.

I did some research on the topic and would like to share it with you.

When you design a vast digital project, the high prices and ancient fields of use in fonts’ licenses may scare you.  I wasn’t able to find any mention of cloud servers or SaaS services in any license I went through, and if something is not clear, it won’t go well when there is a legal problem.

Every use that is not described in the license type should be estimated by the foundry on your demand — that takes time and money.

Having conversations about fonts with tech and law people are tricky because of the different languages they speak.

Read this to have something to start with, and if you have any questions or tips, don’t hesitate to contact me. ☺

You can find permissions and restrictions in EULA — official and long legal document.

Remember that you are not “buying fonts,” but purchasing a license to use them. The design of the font remains the property of the foundry or designer, and some rules may vary. And in many cases it is better to ask.

A primary license — usually called a “desktop” — allows you to create designs on single or multiple workstations. Often you can do anything you like – but exported as a pdf or image. Sometimes you aren’t allowed to create a logo. With a desktop license, never embed the font on a website.

For a typical tech project, you will need

– at least 2 desktop licenses (for you and your client)

– a web font license (consider page views)

– app licenses (for one title, or for the number of downloads)

For example 3 styles of Proxima Nova for a website, 5 workstations and an app (only one title, but can be translated to many platforms) will charge above 1000 €.  If you plan to do something different, e.g. an SaaS service, you will need to wait for the quote. And a quote is almost always
needed when you innovate :) Check different font providers, because sometimes they can have the same font with rules that suit you better.

Font EULAs usually state that fonts may not be given to third parties, not even loaned.  Some font foundries will allow lending a font to a printing business, but many EULAs only enable the embedding of fonts in a PDF.

Most foundries don’t allow modifications of their fonts. It might feel unfair because all you want to do is change the font a little bit to render it better in-browser — however, it’s not OK. You can make changes to create an original wordmark or a logo based on letters, but never modify the font used on a website.

Ask questions to be sure! Contact your foundry or distributor if you feel you might be not on track.

You can do anything almost — anything a decent designer would do with a font :) You can embed them anywhere, but you should mention the author and license. Beware of fonts once downloaded for free — it happened to Google web-fonts that fonts like Droid Sans ended up going up for regular sale again in the foundry.

Any use where a font is easy to extract and be stolen might be a legal problem.

Double check the fonts you have in your operating system and graphical software. They are often licensed for non-commercial use. Read their EULA. Sometimes you can download well known and pricey letters for free — watch out! Check if the font is sold somewhere using its name, and google it more to make sure the free version really exists.

Unless you have a specific license usually called a “server.” Letting your user create a T-shirt with Helvetica Neue would need an additional license, as well as generating a simple invoice in PDF.

In these days we may be overwhelmed with plenty of new fonts.

My first advice is to look for classics. Don’t spend too much on trendy letters
 — fashion passes; style remains, so choose fonts that are legible.

I also recommend checking an offer on typenetwork which offers fewer choices, but extremely well-designed fonts.

Take a look at new font products and licensing models like the subscription model in fontstand — where you can even borrow a font for a fraction of the price.

On fontstore you can access the whole library for just $150 a year — and it is nicely invented so that the client pays more, but for one font, and a designer or studio pays less, but for a subscription.

I think that there is a lot of room for innovation in the font world :)

I’m a big fan of beautiful and well-designed fonts, and I’m curious about your opinion and tips. 

What is your way of using fonts for tech projects and staying up to date in the font-world?