hello seb's picture

Hello fellow Typophiles,

Being a student, I know next to nothing about the complex, cursory parts of type design. One such part is the subject of revivals, do any of the more seasoned designers on here have any basic do's & don't's for revivals? How do you check if you're breaking the law by redrawing an old typeface from a specimen? Is there a minimum age before its in good-taste? What do you look for when finding a typeface to revive?

Any answers are really appreciated, cheers.


hrant's picture

Yeah. Don't.

Make something Seb would make.


hello seb's picture


Can you explain your position further? There are plenty of established, and budding, type designers that have completed revivals, and the specimens of history aren't disappearing. I don't see why I shouldn't at least investigate the possibility?


Karl Stange's picture

I don't see why I shouldn't at least investigate the possibility?

You should, if that is what you want to do. You asked for opinions and Hrant gave you his.

The process of digitising an extant typeface will no doubt give you an appreciation for process, type history and a variety of other things, most (if not all) of which you could attain in creating something new.

If you are in doubt from a legal perspective then it is likely that you have not done sufficient research. If you have and there is still considerable doubt then you should look elsewhere. Then again, what you do on your computer is your business, it is only if you intend to advertise, share, license and/or sell the results of your work that you could land in trouble.

You would perhaps get more (and more specific) responses if you were to post about a proposed revival you are thinking of, tell people why you want to do it at all and then proceed (or not) from there.

Chris Dean's picture

@hello seb: In situations such as this, it is always best to ask lawyers for legal advice. While some Typophiles have encountered similar situations through out their professional careers, they may not necessarily be lawyers. Just as an accountant is not a physician.

To begin, I am not a lawyer.

How do you check if you're breaking the law by redrawing an old typeface from a specimen?

To check if you are breaking the law, ask a lawyer. However, as a starting point, I would recommend contacting the current copyright holder of the typeface in question and getting their feedback. Again, they may not be lawyers either. Even if they tell you “no” there may still be no legal precedent. Confirm this with a lawyer.

Is there a minimum age before its in good-taste?

First you need to define “in good taste.” If you mean ethical, that’s subjective. If you mean legal, I believe it varies from region to region.

For more detailed information, I would recommend contacting an established foundry and designer directly. For example, try speaking with Mike Parker from The Font Bureau Inc. about Starling (he’s a great story teller, so you might want to set aside 30 minutes to listen to him if he is kind enough to give you his time). Be mindful, this person may not be a lawyer either. And what has happened in their context might not be the same as yours. Especially if you are in a different country.

Issues of copyright, plagiarism, outline theft &c have come up many times on Typophile, and if memory serves, many of them have little to no established legal precedent. Given this, they often spiral into debates about ethics. Which of course are entirely subjective (and very sensitive to some).

That said, given you are a student and (if) this is for educational purposes, you are most likely free from legal obligations provided you are not intending to profit from your work. One could start another subjective ethical debate on this as issue as well if they cared to.

Again, I am not a lawyer.

My best advice: Gather your materials, information, questions, &c. and ask a lawyer for legal advice (not a law student).

If, at the end of the day, you find no formal legal declaration, and it does in fact require you to make a subjective, ethical decision, the choice is yours.

If you do end up seeking legal council, please do share your results!

Nick Shinn's picture

John Downer’s essay: Call It What It Is.

altsan's picture

I wouldn't dismiss revivals out of hand, since contemporary typography owes a great deal to them. Many of the most admired and/or widely used types today are either revivals or reinterpretations... Garamond, Jannon, Bembo, Janson/Kis, Bodoni, Centaur, Caslon, Baskerville... the list goes on and on.

If you're doing it purely for your own education or enjoyment, and don't plan on releasing the results, I'd say do what you like. OTOH, if you want to design something for release then, yeah, do some legal research. Also, apply some common sense: don't 'revive' anything that's younger than the standard length of copyright in your part of the world. I'd also say, don't release a 'revival' that simply duplicates something that's already available. Your revival should be unique in some tangible way.

hello seb's picture

I think the consensus is that more research is in order. I would share what typeface I specifically had in mind to revive, but I do have dreams of perhaps releasing it one day, so legal research is in order and discretion called for. Altsan's point of not just reviving but being almost guided by a font is very smart and it seems like this option has the best of both worlds, since it still requires research keeping me out of legal grey-areas. I will most probably move my project in this direction now.

Thank you all for your helpful hints and sound advice. I really appreciate you taking the time to reply.


S.Olsen's picture

As far as I’m aware it is not at all illegal to revive and release any typeface so long as you’ve redrawn all the characters yourself—typefaces aren’t copyrighted, fonts however—that is the digital medium through which typefaces are delivered, (the typeface in its digital form) are. This is why we have font revivals in the first place—the visual aspect, the typeface, is not protected technically under copyright. In this fashion it’s entirely legal for you to bust out an old Helvetica specimen sample, redrawn all the characters yourself, which undoubtedly will not be perfect replications anyway, name it “Seb’s Helvetica”, render it/tweak it in your go-to font studio, thus creating an entirely new font (delivery system for the typeface) that is your own, and release it to the world.

Here’s a little quote from Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type. “Intellectual property law in the United States protects the font as a piece of software (a unique set of vector points), but it does not protect the visual design of a typeface.”

It is extremely illegal however, to download an already digitized typeface (ie: Adobe Garamond) open it in your font program, tweak it in there, then release it—for you are releasing the same font—the same delivery framework for the typeface which is owned by Adobe and thus violating copyright.

To be on the safe side though, I would do as suggested and both stick to typefaces whose creators would no longer have any copyright due to time passage, and of course conduct further research/consult with an expert on law.

John Hudson's picture

Note that the original poster is in New Zealand, so all your comments about US copyright law might be entirely irrelevant.

S.Olsen's picture

Ah good call, my humble apologies for not realizing. Disregard then, of course, my post on U.S. copyright laws. Look up and abide by the laws of New Zealand!

charles ellertson's picture

I would share what typeface I specifically had in mind to revive, but I do have dreams of perhaps releasing it one day, so legal research is in order and discretion called for.

Here's a conundrum for you: is your dream to recreate the type, or to sell it? To put a point on it, if you can't fulfill the dream of selling it, does that mean you don't want to (re)create it at all?

The answer to that question will tell you what's most important to you, always a good starting point.

By the way, what's a "revival"? Same as the piece of metal (if it's a metal font)? Same as the look of the ink on paper that the bit of metal made? A modern reinterpretation of either of these?

Some work other than legal may be needed...

hello seb's picture

Mr Olsen ‒ Thank you very much for your advice. The distinctions you draw make the process clearer.

Mr. Ellertson ‒ This isn't so much of a conundrum as much of a reminder that I need to more carefully choose my words. I guess what I am trying to say is that I wouldn't like to limit any work that I do, to purely scholastic, if at all possible.

The way is project is shaping up, it will not be close to a strict revival, as I have already made some changes to proportion, ascenders & descenders, weight etc. I redrew it from low-quality specimens and many glyphs have been altered. After some exercises comparing it with the original, the differences are noticeable (and not completely terrible!)

Since I'm still very inexperienced in the field, I figure a project like this, where I study the skeleton of an existing typeface, and try to redesign to fit within the present context, is a smart idea. I have discussed it with some of my lecturers and they feel its a smart way to ease into the daunting world of type-design. So perhaps when I've finished the italics, the old-style figures, tabular lining, and the kerning, the work will be something of my own.

Thank you all for your advice, I really do appreciate it. I intend to put the process on here, when its worth your time.

Bendy's picture

Have you read that, Hrant? Haven't been able to find a library copy and wondering if I should purchase.

hrant's picture

No, I just saw it in the Colophon Book Shop email (although I think I'd heard about it before). The UCLA libraries don't have it either, and it's pretty affordable, so I might end up buying it myself.


hrant's picture

I think Paul just saved me $20. Plus shipping.


Albert Jan Pool's picture

Giving it a miss seems to be the right decision to me too.

Albert Jan Pool's picture

Quote from Paul Shaw’s review of Revivals by Jerry Kelly:

Kelly is fixated on Monotype, though he does belatedly acknowledge othe foundries: “Of course, typefounders like ATF, Deberny & Peignot, Bauer, and ohers also deserve credit for blazing this new ground [of revivals].” This list leaves out Stempel and English Linotype.

Although I think that Shaw’s critique is probably more valuable than Kelly’s book, I’d like to point at the fact that both Kelly and Shaw leave out the work of Günter Gerhard Lange, Berthold’s type director for several decades. I think that many typefaces that were revived under his supervision, such as Baskerville Book, Berthold Bodoni, Bodoni Old Face, Quadriga and Walbaum Buch are worth being noticed at least. Also the fact that the various Fleischmann revivals were left out by Kelly tells us that he rather sticks with the Anglo-American part of the world of type.

kentlew's picture

Also the fact that the various Fleischmann revivals were left out by both authors tells us that both of them tend to stick with the Anglo-American part of the world of type.

Hmm. Shaw mentions DTL Fleischmann specifically. He also mentions DTL VandenKeere, Renard, and Kis Antiqua Now — hardly Anglo-American-centric. And from the Spanish tradition: Eudald, Rongel, and Merlo.

I agree, however, that the omission of any mention of Lange is an unfortunate oversight.

Albert Jan Pool's picture

Oh, sorry, I missed the mentioning of Fleischmann and corrected my comment accordingly. BTW, Fleischmann (and I believe Kis too) had been revived earlier by Typoart Dresden.

hrant's picture

As long as nobody has revived the spirit of Fleischmann's #65, nobody has revived Fleischmann.


eliason's picture

So do it, Hrant! :-)

hrant's picture

Master Wong* say: "You have not finished your training!" But Paphos** will have some Fleischmann in it.




MHSmith's picture

Speaking of revivals true to the original and redesigned for current technology and unmistakably new and personal at the same time, I just thought someone should mention František Štorm.

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