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Font Licensing 101: How To Pick A Website Font Without Breaking The Rules

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Updated April 9, 2024

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Did you know that fonts are creative works protected by copyright laws? All fonts, whether downloaded for free or purchased online, have an End User License Agreement (EULA) that outlines terms and conditions for the authorized use of those fonts.

If you want to use a certain font in your branding, you must have a proper font license! Without one, you could run into legal issues for piracy or copyright infringement, leading to lawsuits, financial penalties, and even damages. Don’t believe me? Check out these 7 real-life font lawsuits.

Disclaimer: This isn’t legal advice, and if you do need legal advice, please consider consulting a lawyer and always refer to the full license text for all details.

Different Types of Font Licenses

There are different types of font licenses available, and the terms can vary depending on the font foundry or typeface designer.

Personal Use vs. Commercial Use

Personal-use fonts are designed for individual, non-commercial projects. These fonts can be used for personal purposes such as creating documents, invitations, crafts, or other personal creative projects. They are not meant for any commercial or business-related activities.

Commercial-use fonts, on the other hand, are specifically licensed for business or commercial purposes. These fonts can be used in projects that generate income or have a commercial aspect, such as advertisements, logos, websites, packaging designs, or any project intended for distribution or sale. Commercial-use fonts require a proper license that grants you the rights to use the font in such commercial contexts.

It’s important to note that even if a font is labeled as “free” or “personal use,” you cannot automatically use it for commercial purposes. Some fonts may have separate commercial licenses available for purchase, or the font creator may require you to contact them directly to obtain commercial-use rights.

Pay-Per-Font Licenses

Most websites that sell fonts, like Creative MarketMyFonts, or Fontspring, offer different licensing options, allowing you to pay for each type of font or font license you require. Here are some of the font licenses you can typically expect to choose from:

  • Desktop License: This license allows the font to be installed and used on a specified number of computers for personal or commercial projects. Typically, the font files for desktop use are provided in TTF or OTF format.
  • Webfont License: This license allows fonts to be embedded into websites or web applications using CSS or other web technologies. The terms may include restrictions on the number of page views or unique visitors. For example, if your website receives more than 500,000 pageviews a month, you will need to purchase an extended font license. The fonts provided for website use are typically in WOFF or WOFF2 format.
  • App or Software License: This license permits the inclusion of fonts in mobile applications, software, or other digital products. This could be for a phone app, computer app or other type of software or game. The number of active monthly users typically limits application licenses.
  • ePub License: This license covers the embedding and use of fonts in electronic books or publications, such as iPads, Kindles, and other Readers. Ebook font licenses are typically limited by the number of publications you use them in and can typically be exported in PDF, EPUB 2.01, EPUB 3, and KF8 formats.

If you need to use a font in multiple formats, such as for desktop and for your website, you must purchase both licenses to comply with the license agreements.

Subscription Font Services Libraries

You could also come across font library subscription services, such as Adobe or Envato Elements, that allow you to use as many fonts as you’d like from their library as long as you’re subscribed to their plan.

Adobe Fonts is one of the most popular font subscription services. You’ll need to subscribe to any Adobe creative app such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign to access the entire Adobe Fonts library at no additional cost.

The terms of your font license will depend on the app you subscribe to. For instance, if you subscribe to Photoshop and Lightroom for just $9.99, you can use all fonts for desktop, web, or e-publication use. But there are limitations…

For instance, you can’t self-host Adobe Fonts, meaning you can’t download and upload them directly to your website. Your website must load Adobe fonts from your Creative Cloud subscription. Click here to read Adobe’s font licensing terms.

Envato Elements is another font library subscription service that offers more than just fonts; they also offer other graphic templates, video templates, stock photos, music tracks, and more – all of which can be used for commercial purposes when you have a subscription. You can click here to read Envato’s licensing terms.

Free Font Services Libraries

Google Fonts

Google Fonts is a free, open-source library of over 1,500 that can be downloaded and used for personal and commercial use without cost. This means you can do whatever you want with these fonts. If you don’t want to mess with font licensing terms, Google Fonts is the way to go. Plus, most design tools and theme providers have Google Fonts built into their software for easy use.

You can click here to read Google Fonts’ licensing terms.

Font Squirrel

Font Squirrel is another free library, but not all fonts are open-source. You’ll need to check each font’s license and usage restrictions to make sure you use it properly in your brand designs.

Canva & Fonts

Let’s talk about using fonts in Canva, the graphic design tool with a library of fonts that can be used in your graphic design projects. If you find a font you love in Canva, you can use it in your designs created on the platform with an active subscription; however, you would need to acquire a font license from a particular font to use it outside of Canva’s software.

Any design you export from Canva instantly binds you to their content license agreement, which applies to free and premium material.

Beware!

Many other free font collections are available online, but be careful and leery of any shady font websites. Some may even be distributing fonts illegally. Before downloading font files from a website and installing them on your computer, ensure the source is trustworthy. If you don’t receive a font EULA with your download, that’s a red flag that the website is unauthorized to share the font you just downloaded. In that case, do not use the font!

Disclaimer: This isn’t legal advice, and if you do need legal advice, please consider consulting a lawyer and always refer to the full license text for all details.

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About the Author

Katy Boykin is a WordPress website designer, marketing strategist and CEO of DIY Dream Site. She and her team have helped hundreds of business owners launch scroll-stopping websites, rank on the first page of Google for targeted keywords, grow engaged email lists on autopilot, create digital products that sell like hotcakes, and book dream clients! Want to create these same results? Shop now or hire us.