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Free Course: Graphic Design for Beginners

How to Use Fonts Legally

This blog post contains affiliate links which will reward me a commission in the event that you use them to make a purchase. I use this money to fund my font addiction, but please... don't let that stop you. I can stop anytime, I swear. This post is also not intended to be legal advice. Please use this information to make good decisions about using fonts in your business.

Do you know if you have permission to use a font on your next design project? When it comes to choosing fonts for your blog, branding, and graphics, it’s important to select only the fonts with licenses that give you the right set of permissions in the form of a commercial use license.

To help you navigate the different font websites and to walk you through some important licensing terms you need to understand, I’ve put together this post with information and examples. I’m also going to assume that if you’re reading this, you are in some capacity blogging for profit, or have an business with an online presence.

 

Fonts are Intellectual Property

Imagine you create a freebie that you give away as some sort of subscriber opt-in. When you gave it to someone, you did so with the intention of them using it a specific way, likely for them to learn from or keep to themselves. This is a form of licensing.

If they take your opt in freebie and they use it in a way not agreed on, they are breaking your licensing terms.

Fonts are in fact intellectual property. Whether free or purchased, they have a licensing agreement attached to them… and you have to follow the rules or you could end up in pretty big trouble. These rules can vary depending on the type of license the creator provided.

 

Licenses give you permission

Even if you purchase a font, you’re not buying the font exactly. You’re really just getting permission to use it based on some agreed upon terms. This is your license agreement and it basically tells you how you can and can’t use the font.

The allowed usage can vary. It’s really important for you to read the fine print carefully so that you aren’t using your font in a way you don’t have permission for.

There are 3 main license types that you’ll need to look out for:

  • SIL Open Fonts
  • Personal Use Fonts
  • Commercial Use Fonts

 

SIL Open Fonts

These are my favorite fonts, because they are 100% free for both personal and commercial use. Everyone has access to these fonts and you can use them on personal projects, commercial projects for yourself, and even projects for clients – free and clear.

One example of SIL Open fonts would be those that you can find in the Google Fonts database. They are perfect for a wide range of projects, including embedding them into your website.

Here’s some popular SIL Open fonts you might have heard of:

You can read more about SIL Open Font Licenses on Wikipedia.

 

“Personal Use Only” Fonts

This is exactly what it sounds like – fonts that are usually free of charge, but don’t allow you to use them in a commercial way. That means you can’t use these fonts on anything for your blog or business, even if it isn’t something you’re selling or giving away.

“Personal Use Only” fonts can be used in other fun ways…

  • Your family Christmas cards
  • Baby shower invitations
  • School projects
  • Personal items in your home

DaFont.com is a good example of a place where you would find “Personal Use Only” fonts. All of the fonts on this website are free to download, and most (not all, there are a few exceptions) provide only a license that covers personal use. Some grant you some form of commercial licensing, and some authors provide information for purchasing a commercial license if you decide you want to use it on a project that requires it. There’s also a lot of “Demo” fonts that don’t include all of the characters. Font designers put these out there to entice you to purchase the full font.

Check out the above example. The author has chosen to release this font, “free for Personal Use”, and also provided information regarding where to buy a commercial license.

 

Commercial Fonts

If you want to use fonts for anything business or blogging related, you’re going to need a Commercial License. Granted, there’s a lot of lawyer type words and such that we could analyze here, but it really boils down to there being 2 main types of commercial fonts:

  1. Fonts that include the rights to use them commercially, for free (like the SIL Open Fonts I talked above above)
  2. Fonts that include a commercial license, for a set fee.

I admit it… I’m a font addict. But that’s really because I’ve come to understand the importance of having many fonts with a commercial license at my disposal. More importantly, I know the importance of investing in quality fonts created by real professionals who understand Typography.

 

When should you buy a commercial license?

A good rule of thumb is this: If you have any intention of using a font anywhere on your website, in your marketing collateral, on social media graphics, or as part of a product you plan to give away or to sell… Buy the commercial license for the font.

 

WHERE DO YOU BUY COMMERCIAL FONTS?

You need to buy quality, commercially licensed fonts at decent prices. Investing in fonts may be important, but that doesn’t mean you need to bankrupt yourself for them. Here’s some information about my favorite shopping holes.

 

1. Creative Market

You may already be familiar with the likes of Creative Market (and if you aren’t yet… you’re welcome). I love shopping there because as a contributor myself, I feel comfortable with using this website to support graphic artists who I know produce quality content (shout out to you, Sam Parrett – you’re a font genius!)

Font prices range on Creative Market, but typically you can expect to pay between $10 and $25 per font. But the good news is that often times, these fonts are actually sold in bundles or as “font duos”, so you can really stretch your dollar that way.

All fonts sold on Creative Market will fall under their “Standard License”. That means when you buy it, you can use it on your blog branding and graphics. If you want to use the font on digital products (like ebooks for example), or you want to sell something mass produced (like t-shirts), you will need to review their terms to make sure you’re not doing something naughty. And you can always reach out to the creator themselves for clarification – they are usually happy to assist!

Some of my personal favorites…

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2. Font Bundles

Want to really make your money work hard? Check out Font Bundles, home of the $1 commercial font. Oh yes, you read that correctly! I love shopping here, because I’ve saved myself a lot of money (or maybe not – considering how many fonts I’ve bought because of them) by shopping their monthly $1 font sale. You can even download a new free font every week, complete with commercial license.

Font Bundles is also a nice place to go to buy, well… font bundles. They regularly sell a bundle of fonts based on a theme.

 

3. The Hungry JPEG

Like Font Bundles, The Hungry JPEG is a great place to stretch your dollar. Literally… your dollar! They too offer $1 deals on fonts (and other design elements as well). But check back often, because these deals expire month to month.

 

In Short…

Pay attention to the licenses on the fonts you download to make sure that you are always using them in the way they were intended. While this blog post is in no way a alternative to legal advice from someone who is an expert in licensing, these rules should generally keep you out of trouble (and keep other small business owners like yourself happy).

What’s your favorite font? I’d LOVE to check out some others in the comments… I might have a font problem.

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