Just My Type
June 16, 2014
I am a lover of many things, but I am particularly a lover of beautiful type. I always have been. Typography conveys so much more than words to the viewer. It is one of the most important parts of a design for both print and digital work.
In the past, we were limited to a small list of fonts for digital use:
These fonts did not allow for a lot of typographical creativity. With modern standards, we are able to bring good design, content and accessibility together. Now fonts are being licensed and used on the Web through foundries.
What Is A Type Foundry?
A type foundry is a company that designs or distributes typefaces. The fonts are created by type designers, who can be freelancers working for their own independent foundry or they could be employed by another foundry. The foundries own the rights to the fonts.
Given that foundries can be run on an independent basis, there are thousands of options for font designers. Some of the more popular foundries are Adobe, Monotype, ITC and Linotype.
You can purchase fonts directly from the foundry or you can buy them from a distributor. Type distributors work in the same way; they acquire licenses with the foundries. Adobe Typekit, My Fonts and Fonts.com are a few of the type distributors.
For a moment, think of fonts as photography. You can purchase a photo directly from the photographer or you could go to Getty Images, for example, and purchase the photo there. Getty Images did not take the photo, but it is reselling it on behalf of the photographer.
So, you want to purchase a font and use it in a project? Font licensing can be really confusing; let’s see if we can make some sense of it.
Going back to my reference of purchasing images through Getty, fonts function similarly as far as licensing goes. Whenever a font is purchased, an End User License Agreement (EULA) is included. You will want to review this to make sure it permits you to use the font in the way you intend. Some fonts are intended to be used only on the machine with the license, while other fonts can be used on public websites. That is why it is important to review the EULA and ensure you are not violating the license.
With web font licenses, the name on the license must be the owner of the domain name, effectively meaning that you can’t share your license among multiple entities in the way you might have for print projects. One exception is the possibility of an agency buying the license for use while working on a project and then transferring the license to the domain owner once the project is complete.
Web font prices are typically based on the number of page views. Every time a page on your website that uses a web font is viewed, it is recorded as a single page view.
What are the common questions and misconceptions about web fonts and licensing?
- There is no difference between a font and a web font.
False. A font is installed on your personal computer, but a web font is one that can be served on the Internet.
- Any font can be used as a web font.
This is not necessarily true. Sometimes the EULA would specifically state that the font should not be used on the Web. If this is the case, you can usually find a web font that is similar.
- Every font that looks good in print will look good on the Internet.
This is also untrue. Many times when a beautiful print font is rendered in pixels, the designer may find that it does not translate to the Web. The font may be too narrow or confusing. It is important to keep in mind that because of different rendering methods on browsers, fonts can also differ slightly from browser to browser. Screen resolution, aspect ratio and device (desktop vs. tablet vs. smartphone) are among the many other variables that can affect how a font is rendered on-screen.
- Do web font licenses cover all devices?
Making sense of the world of web fonts can be confusing, but it is certainly worth it since they offer so much more variety than the web-safe fonts of the past. The Internet is becoming a much prettier place thanks to the technology behind web fonts. Web designers are finally able to be as creative as print designers while still maintaining a high level of usability.
For more answers to web font questions, see Fonts.com FAQs and Introduction to Licensing & Usage.