Understanding Font Licensing

posted in MakersType News by Michael Murphy on October 9, 2020
Understanding Font Licensing Understanding Font Licensing

Allowed Uses For MakersType Fonts

We are working to help content creators and graphic designers alike have an easier time understanding when you need a license for the font, and which type of license, and Understanding Font Licensing as a whole.

First off, just because you can download a font on a website (or have it pre-installed on your computer) doesn’t mean it’s completely free for anything you would like to do with it. Though some fonts are marked this way, many of the free font downloads on MakersType are simply there for you to try and see how they look and work, or to use on personal (non-commerical) projects. Knowing the difference is very important for you and the designer. Here is an explanation on how we try to label these on MakersType.


All of the fonts in this category are free to use however you would like. Typically they are marked this way in hopes that you will look at the rest of the designer’s work. Although not required, if you do use these fonts, it would be a big help to the designer(s) if you tagged them in a post of your creations on social media.

Free for Personal use

Many designers want to share their work with everyone and let you try it out. These fonts are great for making a birthday card for your friends, posters and signs for your house, or on your kids’ school projects. For these fonts, you will need to use the ‘Commercial Licensing’ button to find and purchase licensing for use any projects that fall under commercial use. Commercial normally boils down to anything invoiced in a group/organization/business that uses the font. This includes things like business cards, slide presentations, and flyers, as well as fonts used on products for sale and packaging, as well as extended licenses that allow things like installing a font on your server for use by clients.

Purchase Required

In the market right now, we are not aware of a site that offers free for personal use fonts in the same place as purchase license only fonts together. We wanted to be able to bring as many fonts as possible to one location so you can find ‘just the right’ font. These fonts are included in the search function on MakersType, but in order to use them, you will need to purchase a copy of the font which typically comes with basic commercial licensing.

Now that we have talked about what fonts will be marked as on MakersType, let’s look into what you might see from a licensing site, whether it’s a designers own site, or a partner site.

If want a better understanding of Personal Vs Commercial use, you can check out this article.

Understanding Font Licensing

As an imperfect summary, Font Licensing is broken down to where the font is installed/located at. If it is installed/located in multiple places, you will most likely need multiple licenses. **It is sometimes helpful (but not always) to think of font licensing similar to software licensing.**

Donation Based

Some designers just require a donation for any business/commercial use. Often, the description will have some guidelines on what the donation will cover, but if you have any questions feel free contact them.

How much should you give for a donation license? Think of the time you save not having to create your own font or the money you save not paying someone to design one for you. Font licensing typically ranges from $5-$40 but can go up to tens of thousands. We recommend trying to reflect the value it gives to your product or advertisement. (Note: Donations of less than a dollar will mostly go to PayPal, not the designer.)

Desktop License

If you need to purchase a license, the most commonly needed one is a Desktop License. Typically, this will cover the font to be installed on one (and sometimes more) computer(s), and many (but certainly not all) products that are made on it. Designing a logo and other graphics or products for sale like a mug and other physical projects are both situations where often the desktop license will cover your needs.

Projects in which you use programs like Photoshop, Power Point, Final Cut, and many other programs like these, are commonly covered by the Desktop License. Again, a guideline I often tell customers is that the licensing often corresponds to where you are going to install or embed the font. If you are going to install a font on your computer for business use, you will commonly need a desktop license. Even if your end-use is one of the other types of licensing, there are very few situations in which you will not need a Desktop License as well.

Users are the number of computers/people that will be covered by the license. If you have an office with 12 people and they all need access to the font, you will need a 12 user license. Some designers have a range of users the license covers (Ex 1-5 users).

Things get a bit more complicated after the desktop license, but we will do our best to explain the other types of licenses.

Application License

If you would like to embed a font into your application, many designers offer an Application License. The Desktop License would cover an image you created in an image editor (like Photoshop) and used as a png or jpeg in your app, however, if you would like to include the ttf, otf, or woff files in your source code that would allow you to use the font on menus, descriptions, or any other part of your app, this may require an application license.

Webfont License

If you would like to use a particular font within your webpage, an efficient way is to use a webfont. These files are compressed for speed while still allowing you to use all the functions of the font directly on your web page.

Can’t I just convert a font to a webfont? Why do I need to pay? This will depend upon the designer, but often it is against the terms of use for users to convert the ttf or otf into a webfont. Also, webfonts are commonly licensed by the estimated number of page visits your site will see. This is because many of us don’t want to charge ‘Mom and Pop Pizza Shop the same as ‘International Car Company’.

eBook/ePub License

As it sounds, eBook, also called ePub, licenses allow for embedding fonts into PDFs and other eBook, eMagazine, and eNewspaper files. Each designer will have different rules on how many copies, issues, or titles these licenses will cover, so make sure to check their EULAs.

Server License

If you would like to use a font on a website or application that allows the end user to make custom products or graphics with that font, you will most likely need a Server License. Allowing a customer to create a custom t-shirt, greeting card, or mug on your platform are all examples where you would need a Server License. Typically these prices are higher due to the potential volume of end-users that the licenses might cover.

Custom License

It’s possible there may not be an exact fit for how you would like to use the font in a license. Most designers are glad to work with you and come up with something that will be mutually beneficial. Feel free to ask them and and make sure you tell them the exact way you are intending to use the font.

There are many more licenses out there and we will try to add to this list, but if you need more help or explanations, always feel free to ask the designer questions about their licensing. It almost certainly will not be the first time nor the last time.

Why is font licensing so complicated?

In my experience, we as designers are trying to get a fair price for everyone using the font. If you are a teacher wanting to design products for other teachers to use, I don’t want to charge you the same amount as a Fortune 500 company. That’s not really fair for either company. Because of this, many designers have come up with systems that are as fair as they can make while still trying to earn income from their work. Many of us have been cursed at for charging for a font, all while we try to make a living for our families.

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Posted: October 9, 2020
Category: MakersType News


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