Methods of licensing digital fonts for making type caster matrixes

KalleP's picture

Hi All, (from a first time poster)

Would any of you distinguished readers here have a considered opinion to offer on the following two scenarios regarding use of modern digital fonts for hot metal type.

1: A Ludlow LineCaster makes use of loose matrixes to make up lines of type that are commercially used in hot-foil stamping and in some other applications. The font matrixes are rather complex to prepare and one needs enough letters to set a whole line of type. Each font matrix would be used with just one Ludlow for generating text line slugs for use on multiple presses. Many matrix sets could be machined.

2: A Monotype SuperCaster makes use of loose matrixes to cast loose type that can be set into copy or collected into a complete font for hand set letterpress. These matrixes are less complex to machine and only one of each character is required. The set type would be used to print at one location but multiple complete fonts could be cast and used in multiple locations. Again multiple matrix sets could be machined.

Other than free fonts what sort of license might cover the intended use where the cast lines, fonts of type or casting matrixes are distributed?


oldnick's picture

There is one very important point you need to clarify before you can expect and informed answer, and that is: How will the matrices be machined? If you use the font outlines (the "computer program" part of a font, which is copyrightable) to generate CNC or similar code to drive a mill, you will be running afoul of the prohibition against adapting, translating, reverse engineering, decompiling, disassembling or creating derivative works provisions in most standard End-User Licensing Agreements, and you will need to negotiate a special agreement to accommodate such use.

And please do not assume that any font which is free to use is therefore free to adapt/translate/etc.: the code is still protected, and a special agreement for its use is also in order.

delve's picture

Hi KalleP,

What an interesting scenario.

I'd second the points oldnick made. Also, would the distribution of the
metal types involve selling them for profit?

I'd seek a special arrangement with the foundries whose designs you
wish to reproduce. I'd bet that most independents would be thrilled to
see their work adapted to metal.

Everything new is old again. :^)


KalleP's picture

Hi oldnic, delve,

Well the idea would be to use CNC machining and some derivative of the digital font description to generate the shapes (faithfully with minimum effort and errors). I see how limitations on derivative works would restrict use of the copyrighted outlines in general. Would scanned copies of printed output (or pixel based renderings) be a way to avoid the copyright in all/most cases (requiring a name change if not sanctioned)?

The hope would be to use the mats to cast lines of type on the Ludlow or fonts of type on the SuperCaster for money, for the use of those people who need and/or like letterpress but desire some modern fonts. I agree that the independent digital font foundries would be more likely to entertain the concept even though the intended use is not real competition to anyone and might occasionally result in a marketing coup.

I realise now that I should have asked my question thus: What standard (free or for a fee) digital font license models cover (optionally marketable) analogue copies of the font?

The answer may turn out to be none.


delve's picture

I'd hazard a guess the answer is indeed none, specifically. This is an uncommon situation. Perhaps talk to those foundries whose designs are in question, just to see if they'd be willing to grant a special license covering your usage. You're on the right track thinking of the marketing partner(s) potential there. Good Luck!

crossgrove's picture


I would look at it from a different angle: Invite type foundries to have their designs produced in metal. I think some would be very interested, and you could simply negotiate an arrangement for them to receive some royalties or payment for fonts sold. Then the entire operation is legitimate. Not sure how large the market will be for the fonts, though.

Personally I've been thinking about how to get new type designs produced in metal, but for some reason I want to take the difficult path and cut my own punches.

Good luck, and keep us posted!

kegler's picture

What standard (free or for a fee) digital font license models cover (optionally marketable) analogue copies of the font?

You should look at what you are proposing as offering the font design in another format, so just as a TrueType to Opentype conversion would require licensing to market, so would a digital to analogue. Whether it is Ludow Mats or rubber stamps, even if the original bezier points are gone, the design remains a derivative product in a new format that owes its entire existence to that design. Licensing or foundry agreement would be a prudent first step.

I know of at least one foundry already working on a metal/digital release.

bieler's picture


There really is little point to this. A significantly large and growing percentage of the letterpress community already use digital type for printing, and less and less use metal type. Your conversion costs are prohibitive and the potential market is nil (if not, the metal type foundries would not have vanished like buffalo on the Great Plains). As the fellow said in The Graduate, plastic is the future. Photopolymer that is.


The Bieler Press

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