Custom Font modification

fonthausen's picture

Am I aloud to modificate a Font for a customer?

And to sell him this 'new' design?

Should I notify the original foundry? Pay any fee? Not change the fontname, whatever!?

I am just being being curious. Until now, I havent had answer this, but i always wanted to know.

peterbruhn's picture

it depends on which foundry the fonts from (I think Emigre want's you to contact them).
But the usual thing is that the client should buy the original font.
With the proper CPU licens (number of machines used).

Then you charge the customer for the work you put in.

A good thing is also to rename the font & keep the original copyright info.
Maybe added with "Modified by Jaques 2002.

hrant's picture

It depends on the licensing agreement of the source design. But generally you can give somebody a modified font if they own the original.


jenhook's picture

I have an additional question (as completely fresh meat around here), Are there any 'Open Source' fonts?

Just fonts that no one owns and you can modify and say 'madeupfontname' altered version of 'originalfontname' altered by l33tphreak101?

Forgive me if I seem completely clueless.

core's picture

Each time you download/buy a font, there is a textfile included. (Almost every time.) Usually, the designer/company says that it's not allowed to modify the font. But if it says: "take this font and do whatever you want with it", i guess that is to be considered as "open source"... ¶Speaking as a type designer, I can imagine it is a sour experience if somebody else custom-modifies your font and sells the custom work for more money than you will ever earn just by making the font in the first place. ¶The Swedish phone company had their design bureau change Bliss, so that the upper case W was a bit different. I can imagine that wasn't cheap, and what does J. Tankard think about that? Ericsson Mobile apparently has "their own" cut of Helvetica Neue (or is it Akzidenz Grotesk?) - anyway, I can't see the damn difference. And where does the money go? In the design bureau's pocket? Not to the type foundry or the type designer, I believe... Contact the type designer if you are able to find him/her. I think that is the morally right thing to do.

jenhook's picture

Thanks Martin, so how does this apply to things like Arial and Times New Roman?

core's picture

i don't really know when it comes to mac/win system fonts. there is a difference between altering a font that you already own and using the modified version, and altering a font and selling it as a new font. what are you planning to do?

jenhook's picture

not really planning to do anything at the moment, but I'm new to this game so I'm still trying to get a handle on the boundaries.

But it's definately the former, at this point I'm not terribly interested in selling fonts, it's a hobby, tomorrow that could change though of course.


hrant's picture

> When does a "revival" become ethically unsound?

That's a very interesting question. For example, one of the entries in Bukvaraz was just disqualified because it was based on Stone Sans. I don't know exactly what line the designer took, but to me the result is so different that it's almost a moot point. Nobody would use that font instead of Stone Sans. Sure, the intentions matter too, but don't we have bigger fish to fry? And I wonder, would it have been OK fifty years from now? If I had a dime for every type designer who's benefited from the fact that Jenson is dead...

Besides the ethical stance, there's also the "cultural" one: overly literal revivals are good for making money, otherwise they suck. There have only been two fonts I've wanted to revive so far, and one of them I'd never do. The other is actually in the planning stages, but only because it's a totally unique text design that simply doesn't exist in digital form, in any guise.


Jen, it would indeed be good to have a list of "open" fonts, with sources. By "open" I mean fonts that you can just download, modify, resell (or at least redistribute), etc. Not that there's a lot of them, certainly not a lot of quality ones. But for example isn't there a "Times" like that somewhere?


close's picture

hallo jaques,

i've done a few font modifications for clients of mine and have been wondering about the legal issues as well. so i asked the AGD (Alliance of German Designers). they reccomend, that you ask the creator of the original design if its OK with him/her, before starting on the modification. you and your clients definately need to purchase the proper licenses of the original font. make sure your client has done this before delivering and charging your modifications. i think you can also rename the font you've modified as long as you keep the original copyright infos included in the font's database. if the designer of a font that you want to modify isn't alive anymore, you'll have to go through the trouble of finding out who inherited the rights. in germany, the copyrights of a design remain valid until at least 70 years post mortem. i'm not sure if they can be extended after that. so, as long as the designer or the owner of the copyright says GO, there shouldn't be a legal or ethical problem, unless you or your client redistribute or give away the modified typeface.


hrant's picture

> ask the creator of the original design if its OK with him/her

This is medieval guild mentality.
It's certainly necessary to require purchase of the original by the client and research restrictions on the rights (like the rare case where any modification is prohibited), and very good to ask for a blessing from the original designer, but *not* to ask for permission from him. Why? For one thing, the fact that the guy is not dead shouldn't be the determining factor - he himself copied from others, without permission - any design is part of our cultural landscape, and the "original designer" is not entitled to absolute control, just some control (like requiring adherence to the contract). Also, because the original designer might be an unreasonable, senile hogger.

There has to be balance - don't put your head under the guillotine.


johnbutler's picture

If you want to draw your own Jenson, no one is stopping you. If you want to make something derived from the digital outline data in Adobe Jenson or FB Hightower, you damn well better contact Adobe or Font Bureau and talk to their staff. Yes, most enduring type is historically informed, but this does not mean you can pillage someone else's programming.

Treat type designs as you would treat any other intellectual property: with respect for the owner. Those looking for professional advice would do well to know that Hrant's opinions are, shall we say, not very representative of any major type designer other than Hrant. He continually demonstrates a need to see colossal, labrynthine complexity where there never was any. But THIS STUFF IS NOT HARD. Don't let anyopne convince you otherwise.

Talk to the font's originators (and by "font" I mean the digital outline) before you mess with their files. And yes, scanning printed output of their fonts is still derivative work.
Derivative work without authorization is ILLEGAL. And if you simply take the time to ask permission, you may be surprised at how cool the designers really are.

I had a request just like this today. Someone wanted me to add CE glyphs to a font package they bought. I told them I'd be willing as long as I get formal permission from the original foundry. What is difficult about this?

Those medieval guilds actually got a few things right.

Hrant, please cease these attempts to muddy the waters. Your posts have become so predictable, I have built a drinking game around them.

hrant's picture

> this does not mean you can pillage someone else's programming.

There is no pillaging if the thing is paid for.

> if you simply take the time to ask permission, you
> may be surprised at how cool the designers really are.

Yes, you may be surprised - or you may be disheartened.

If you have good reason to believe that he's a reasonable person, sure it's probably a good idea.

Otherwise you're risking too much, because:
1. It's legal without a permission.
2. Not getting a permission would suck, especially if you decide to do it anyway, like if the guy was being unreasonable, but who has time to explain? Do you happen to know the full story behind Adobe Trajan?...

One Very Famous Type Designer whose work was the basis of a derivation presented on this Forum is known to be an overzealous berserker - asking permission would have been stoopid.

> Those medieval guilds actually got a few things right.

Here, I agree. I'm actually very old-fashioned in some ways. You know, like being a monarchist and all.

> I have built a drinking game around them.

How rude not to invite me! ;-)
BTW, I've become predictable because I'm too caustic when decloaked... You think *this* is bad?! Check me halfway into your drinking game.


johnbutler's picture

There is no pillaging if the thing is paid for.

Exactly. And fonts are not "paid for" generally. They are licensed. You can license a font package for generally between $0 and $150 a weight.

Actually paying for a font, also called a commission or a work for hire, generally will cost you several orders of magnitude more, depending on the nature and scope of its use, whether you want exclusive use rights, whether you want exclusive distribution rights, or what have you. I suspect you already know this distiction, Hrant, and find it baffling that you seem not to acknowledge it.

And yes, some designers will let you add accents and other new features to their design, and others will be hesitant. Too bad. That's their right.

Fortunately for you, Trajan is not the only clasically proportioned imperial capitals font available. Try Friz Quadrata or Weiss. There are umpteen digitizations of Weiss floating around. Perhaps one of them is maintained by a mellower company.

A good metaphor, for Those Who Seem To Require Metaphors, might be font-as-child. Do not graft new limbs, organs or eyeballs onto a child without the parents' explicit consent.

Neither Hrant nor I are lawyers. I suggest anyone still not convinced you should approach the designer/programmer get a Real Opinion from a Real Intellectual Property Lawyer before taking any risks you may come to regret.

I will offer a wager, though, for anyone interested in losing some money. Inquire privately.

pogono's picture

... but if you bought a license to use the kid and it

johnbutler's picture

...then ask for your money back and pick another font. There are only 40,000 or so to choose from.

pogono's picture

dear monotype, i wish to return this font, its no good... i want my money back...

and what about adding some missing kerning pairs?

hrant's picture

> ask for your money back


> pick another font. There are only 40,000 or so to choose from.

Isn't this a dangerous argument? It means making more fonts isn't worth very much...


Thomas Phinney's picture

Somewhere further up the thread, there was a question about basing a font on Arial or Times New Roman.

People should be aware that some foundry's licenses, including Microsoft's and Agfa Monotype's, do not allow modifications at all.



jenhook's picture

Thomas - thank you, I was asking about whether there were any 'open source' fonts but it appears there aren't.

johnbutler's picture

Actually Janice, there are a few fonts floating around that should be freely modifiable. Check out the GNU-freefonts project. Of course, these are also Times and Helvetica knockoffs. It would have been nice for the GNU freefonts to have been original, but generally speaking you get what you pay for.

Christian Robertson's picture

You can modify any font you want, as long as you are a
corporation with more lawyers and money than anyone
else. This conversation is about money, power and ego.
Not aesthetics.

Joe Pemberton's picture

This is good, practical, advice but what about the
larger ethical debate?

This reminds me of the thread in our critique
regarding Miles Newlyn's "Verona" which was
based upon Zapf's "Melior." If I recall Miles
took a lot of heat UNTIL he was able to clarify
that the font was not for retail sale, but for a
client that owned the proper license for Melior...

Some questions Stephen Coles asked at that time
are relevant, but mostly went unanswered by the
previous thread:

Stephen wrote:

> When does a "revival" become ethically unsound?
> How different must it be? Can we only reissue a
> design that wasn't available digitally? Can we
> only revive type of a certain age? How old must
> it be? 500 years? 100? 50? I'm sure these
> questions have been asked and answered before.
> Anyone know of a good reference?

Joe Pemberton's picture

John, thanks for making the distinction between
licensing and commissioning (see John's
post from Oct 26 above). This is an issue that's
fuzzy for many people.

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