When It's Safe to Use Free Fonts

Many of us are intrigued by the idea of free fonts. However, the reality can be a little complicated. For example, if you use a free font on a client’s project, you want to be sure that the use is legal. There’s nothing worse than a type foundry calling your client with the news that the font wasn’t licensed for commercial use.

Yves Peters has written a handy guide to keep you on the right side of the law. Called “Licensing 101,” the guide is distributed by FontShop as a PDF.

Here are some of the topics you’ll learn about:

• Why are fonts licensed, and what exactly does that mean?

• Is it OK to use fonts bundled with software or hardware?

• Is it OK to use freeware fonts for commercial projects?

• Is it OK to use shareware fonts for commercial projects?

• Why do foundries give away some weights of commercial fonts? Can I use them for commercial projects?

The guide also includes links to FontShop’s collection of free fonts, which you can use on any kind of project and which never expire. Download “Licensing 101” here.

Posted on: January 30, 2012

3 Comments on When It's Safe to Use Free Fonts

  1. Not only the licences of (free) fonts need attention, also the quality of certain free fonts can be not that good. And with quality I’m talking about the internals of the font, not the visual aspect: with some free fonts you can get problems when creating a PDF, making some glyphs disappear or being replaced by nasty rectangles. You really need to preflight your PDF files, with good tools, to catch these kind of errors before a nice design gets printed. The preflight tools that are ‘GWG compliant’ can catch most of these errors (more info: http://www.gwg.org).

    BTW: you also need to read the licences of commercial fonts. I once saw a EULA that specified that the font could only be use on 1 output device (e.g. a monitor), if you wanted to use it on 2 output devices (e.g. a monitor and a printer), you needed 2 licences… For that same font you also needed to ask the font designer/foundry for a permission to include the font in a PDF… Ok, this EULA was an exception, but is was real. And legally binding.

    Eddy Hagen

  2. Thanks so much Terri. Great page to bookmark for established and new designers.

  3. To be honest, once I used “free” fonts, but my press officer called and said that their print-on-demand machine is intelligent enough to recognize hidden codes in some so-called “gratis” fonts and does not print PDF books with them. Ouch! Now I really prefer to buy fonts on CD-Roms (starting $1) with included code-licenses instead of having red face before my colleagues and fans 😉 BTW, the font I used was for comics and the provider was a major publisher who also was duped by the label “free.” Who knows who downloaded it and from where, right? As cliche as it sounds, “Better safe than sorry!”

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