"Giving one typeface away for free will most likely only booster sales, and it's a good deed."

Si_Daniels's picture

Via the ilovetypography blog.

Pair of graphic designers ask type designers to give away fonts...


dezcom's picture

Not another one :<(


Frode Bo Helland's picture

Get these guys to post their fonts over here for critique!

dan_reynolds's picture

There are a lot of people out there who seem to be very interested in free fonts. Free in either sense of the word. Funnily enough, most of these people are font users and/or people active in the free software movement in some way or another. But how many of these new initiatives are founded by type designers?

I think that it is a case of priorities. I am a type designer, and I care about *one thing* more than anything else. And that is letters, and drawing them. I don't really care about licensing debates. I find all the manifestos and the rhetoric rather dull.

Every week now, it seems, more people start asking for "free" font projects. But what would be even cooler would be for some of these people, or really all of these people, to start just drawing type. Do it yourself. Or maybe with each other. Maybe you will create great results. Maybe you won't. But I am not interested in the rhetoric. The more important battles to be fought are how to make letters look good, and how to make typography better. These have very little to do with what software you use or what restrictions you do or do not place on your work. Too much energy in the wrong direction, as far as I am concerned.

1985's picture

Spot on Dan!

dezcom's picture

I am going to start an organization called Free Rent. Giving rent away for free will most likely only booster sales, and it's a good deed. Everybody who owns rental property or mortgages property should join and give away a bunch of property. Ofcourse I don't own any so I can't contribute but I will be doing my part by taking advantage of rent-free living.


Mark Simonson's picture

Funny that they use the word "booster" instead of "boost". "Booster" is a noun. Also, "boost" and "booster" have multiple meanings, one of which is related to stealing. Not the best choice of words if they want to enlist type designers.

Or maybe they're confusing "booster" with "bolster"?

blank's picture

Is there a professional association for designers who want to throw up every time some self-righteous twat starts telling the rest of us that we have a responsibility to advance their agenda and should expect little or no compensation?

hrant's picture

The good news is that increasingly people are realizing
that free fonts tend to suck, hard. They're waiting for us
to donate our hard-earned skills. Let's keep them waiting. :-)

There is however one good reason to release
free fonts: the "freemium" marketing model.
For example I could picture giving away the
roman weight and charging for everything
else, especially smallcaps, opticals, etc.


Jan's picture

Fontshop does that every once in a while.

hrant's picture

Proposed logo for the Free-In-Your-Dreams Typeface Design Federation:


paragraph's picture

Hahaha, well done, hrant!

nina's picture

Spot on.

blank's picture

Is anyone else interested in producing a free font manifesto from a type designer’s perspective? I’m thinking of a hybrid of First Things First, Free Font Manifesto, and totalitarianism. Something like this:

Part I
Most designers design a stuff nobody needs, packaging for stuff nobody needs, and advertising for stuff nobody needs. You’re all a bunch of parasites. So you’re far less entitled to your work then we are—after all, the designers who actually contribute to civilization (and pay for type without whinging) need typefaces more than they need advertisements for DVDs packaged in three-layers of non-recyclable materials.

Part II
But you need fonts for Facebook apps that market stuff nobody needs and can’t make the client pay because they promised substantial savings over a print campaign by a big agency. Nobody wants a bunch of unemployed designers running around high on spray-glue fumes vandalizing public transit with OBEY GIANT stickers (aren’t you the rebel!), so to keep you in line you’ll get free fonts.

Part III
Font designers can’t give designers the fonts they need to stay off the streets unless we have food and shelter. So to subsidize our work we need to following:
•Free housing: And good free housing in neighborhoods with coffee shops and bookstores, you can’t just stick us in Stuy-town or Kansas.
•Free education: That means our student loans get paid off and we get free tuition/room and board at Reading or The KABK.
•Free groceries: We can’t think clearly on empty-stomachs so twice-weekly deliveries of grass-fed-bison, free-range-chicken, and wild pork must be arranged.
•Etc., etc.

Part IV
Because everyone clearly has a social responsibility to make this work, all designers will be taxed at five-percent of gross revenues to provide for the font designers. In exchange, you get free fonts. Anyone who fails to cough up the five-percent will be imprisoned for an arbitrary period of time. Repeat offenders will be shot.

lailsonbm's picture

I'm confused. If we can have superb free software, why can't we have high quality free type? In what means developers differs from designers?
Note that this is not a rhetoric question. I'm really curious to compare both worlds.

PS: I'm software developer, not graphic/type designer, just an enthusiast...


dezcom's picture

Why can't we have "real good free" rent?


Sye's picture

i think i like where you are going with this james...


merkri's picture

Lailson, I think it's just a cultural difference. There is good free type out there, although not as much as there could be.

Also, keep in mind that the advantages and disadvantages of free software aren't without debate either.

cerulean's picture

In principle, I'm sympathetic to all sides of this subject, but one fact stands out to me: There are lots of free fonts already. Lots. Some are bad, and some are really good. Every time somebody sits there with the dozens of fonts that came with their computer, more that came with their design software, and thousands available on the internet, and starts plaintively puling about the fact that some fonts aren't free and oh why can't type makers be nice and give away those, I think somebody's got that sense of entitlement that comes of having been given too much.

blank's picture

If we can have superb free software, why can’t we have high quality free type?

As I already pointed out in a previous thread, the reason we have good free software if because businesses and governments have spent a hell of a lot of money developing good free software. The reason Firefox is free isn’t because a thousand nerds are hacking away in Mom’s basement; it’s because Google pays the Mozilla foundation for Google searches run through the Firefox search tool.

We can have good free fonts if someone is willing to pay the font designers. That’s how some of the high-quality open-source fonts on the market came to be. But when sanctimonious academics, graphic designers, and open-source proponents can’t bring anything to the table but idealistic manifestos about—cue weepy violin solo—a “gift to humanity” or “making a contribution to the society” they’re insulting type designers without proposing a realistic solution to the problem that they insist exists.

Yehan's picture

This reminds me of the old maxim about cheap, good and fast design. You can only have 2. If you want it cheap and fast, it won't be good. If you want it fast and good, it won't be cheap. And if you want it good and cheap, it won't be fast.

There are some real nice free fonts out there, but seriously, everyone needs to live. I agree..pple who ask these things should start making their own...I'm starting to.

Sye's picture

i like getting free stuff as much as the next guy, but i also support commercial type,a and have bought many typefaces because the offer me what i want and are just generally better.

another bonus is that i can contact the foundry/type designer and request changes/additions and so far the people i have spoken to have been very helpful and tried to accommodate me.

of course there are exceptions, but not many.

hrant's picture

And tellingly, virtually everybody who starts making his
own immediately stops asking others to give theirs away!
From a distance type design can look like a menial task that
requires motivation and not much else, but soon enough
you realize that no amount of talent, real or imagined, can
make up for long stretches of observation, thought and
practice that are required to end up with something other
people would pay money for. Most people who start dabbling
in type design end up thinking we're a bunch of loonies to
even bother. But even loonies have to pay bills.


blank's picture

Most people who start dabbling in type design end up thinking we’re a bunch of loonies to even bother.

s/thinking/discovering ;)

Sye's picture

it looks like one of the founders of this place did make the font that's there:


Junction made by Caroline Hadilaksono

Inspired by my favorite humanist sans serif typefaces, such as Meta, Myriad, and Scala, Junction is where the best qualities of serif and sans serif typefaces come together. It has the hand drawn and human qualities of a serif, and still retains the clarity and efficiencies of a sans serif typeface. It combines the best of both worlds.

Bald Condensed's picture

I personally think it always comes down to the same problem -- the initiators of such movements purposely ignore the fact there are more than enough free fonts out there already. What frustrates them is that their favourite fonts aren't. ;^)

Sye's picture

totally agree yves.

Jackie Frant's picture

I haven't been around for a while - but I see you have been having a lot of fun in my absence. First, happy new year y'all... hope it is turning out well for you.

Second, Dan - all I can say is +1
Chris, where do we sign up for free property -- at our nearest Welfare office?

and Hrant - haven't seen you in more than a year. Welcome back, we missed ya! Meanwhile, one comment on your FREE logo -- I think the letter "F" should be the different color one - and maybe a little U stuck in near it...

Okay, back to work on Little Mary Sunshine - and finding out if they paid the royalties to use the logo....

Bye *waving over* -- missed ya!

abattis's picture

@Dan: In my opinion, "how to make letters look good, and how to make typography better" is: enable anyone to learn how to do these things, and to do them for a living. Proprietary software and proprietary fonts can't do this; they depend on secrecy. I've invested a lot of time and money in building the infrastructure for this to happen; plenty of others have too. It hasn't happened yet, but it is happening, slowly. That's fine; we are not in a hurry.

HaleyFiege's picture

You know what would be great? If this turned into like a hand picked dafonts or something. Similar to what Poolga did for iphone wallpapers or the selected version of threadless.

Si_Daniels's picture

> “how to make letters look good, and how to make typography better” is: enable anyone to learn how to do these things, and to do them for a living.

So your agenda is to enable anyone to do good graphic design, and make money doing so. But you're okay sacrificing the jobs of type designers and application makers? How does that makes sense?

>proprietary fonts can’t do this; they depend on secrecy.

How do they do this? Any font can be opened up in FontLab and the "secrets" are revealed. OpenType spec is public and is also a public ISO standard.

Moderator! Can you turn off Simon's EM tag. Thanks! Si

dan_reynolds's picture

Dave, proprietary software and fonts are not keeping you or me from learning about typeface design or letters, and they never have. I don't see how they are keeping anyone else in the dark, either. How did we start learning at Reading? By learning how to look at letters. In books. On any printed things. And by drawing them with pencils. Anyone can do this. There is no software involved. In fact, I'll wager that looking at letters in print, REALLY looking at letters, teaches way more about typeface design than looking under the hood of a font file ever will.

If you want to make a difference, why not start by drawing more letters. You're working on a typeface now, right? Make it good, and talk about your process with other people. That will teach more people more things than whatever software you care to use in the process.

hrant's picture

> Junction made by Caroline Hadilaksono

Now try selling that.


chadilaksono's picture

I'm Caroline Hadilaksono, one of the founders of The League of Moveable Type, the designer of Junction. I'm glad somebody realize that we are giving away a typeface that we designed ourselves on our site.

I've read that many here dislike the concept of open-source fonts because to you it's a movement started by a bunch of self-righteous people demanding type designers to give away their hard-earned skills and hand-crafted fonts for free; that there are a lot of people out there who do not appreciate the labor and skills that it takes to design a good typeface; and that there are a lot of people out there who want to take advantage and jump on the whole open-source bandwagon to advance their own agenda and well, get stuff for free.

I can't speak for other advocates of the open-source type movement, but as co-founder of The League, I can tell you that this is not at all our intentions. As a designer, I understand what it's like to feel unappreciated, and to have people look at what you do and think that it's a sort of luxury that they're not willing to pay money for.

Somebody earlier wrote "From a distance type design can look like a menial task that requires motivation and not much else... Most people who start dabbling in type design end up thinking we’re a bunch of loonies to even bother." With all due respect, but you couldn't be more wrong. I don't think type designers are a bunch of loonies, to the contrary, I completely respect and admire what they do. Having the experience of designing a typeface, I can understand the challenges and hard work that goes into it. It requires a lot of time, patience, an insane attention to detail and a great awareness to subtleties, I have never considered it as a menial task.

We're not asking type designers to give up their means of living and it is not our intentions to devalue typography or type designers in any way. So what are we saying? Are we asking type designers to donate their fonts for free? Well, if you look at the bottom line, then yes, essentially that is what we are asking. But to me, the issue runs a little deeper than that.

What we're advocating is a change in the way people look at business. What would happen if people run their business the way they treat their family and friends? Maybe sometimes, it's not about the money. And maybe once in a while we do do a good deed.

It's funny, we've been talking a lot about fonts and typography, but in a way, it's almost not about the fonts or typography or design. It's about people helping people.

What kind of statement does it make for someone to give away something as valuable as a beautifully crafted typeface to not only help raise the design standards of the web (and print), but also create a place where people can share their creations, knowledge, and expertise with their peers and the world. Does that make me a self-righteous twat? Maybe. Does that make me naive? Sure. But this is the kind of world I want to live in, and I want to do what I can to help make it that way, this is why we started The League of Moveable Type.

Si_Daniels's picture

Caroline, thanks for joining the fray and articulating your side of the issue.

Si_Daniels's picture

> Does that make me naive?

Yes, I think it does. As a type-designer you've chosen to give away a font you've created, and that's fine - hundreds of type-designers (and not just beginners and amateurs) have decided to do that in the past.

However, you’re calling on other type designers to do the same. This is where things start to go down-hill. My experience has been that type designers don’t like being preached to. A good cases study might be Ellen Lupton’s call at ATypI Lisbon. Of those who have given things away a good number of those have lived to regret doing so. Others are generally opposed to it. Whereas others see giving stuff away as a great marketing tool.

Hitching your wagon to @font-face was also a bad move. Most type foundries oppose it, and many type designers are really scared of it, and don’t want to have anything to do with it.

Another mistake is the Open Source connection. Although many type designers give away fonts for free, they stop short of allowing others to commercially exploit their work, or produce derivatives. The OS requirement doesn’t seem necessary for @font-face.

Final nail in the coffin in my opinion is to tie Open Source and @Font-Face together. The possibility that @Font-Face related mechanisms might offer minimal font protection and a business model for font producers is threatened by the Open Source folks who see font protection as “evil DRM” and believe all fonts should be free. Check out the W3C Style mailing list archive for examples.

I think talking to other practicing type designers and some additional research may have turned up these problems prior to launching your site.

Just my two cents - hope this criticism is taken as constructive.

Nick Shinn's picture

Caroline, I for one have no intention of becoming a ragged-trousered philanthropist.

Your argument is bullshit, as defined by Harry G. Frankfurt: pleasantry, neither true nor false.
No doubt the world would be a better place if everybody was nice and shared more; unfortunately, some animals are more equal than others.

Look in the mirror and redistribute your own source of livelihood, rather than someone else's.


As several have commented, the culture of "free font entitlement" has been largely created by Adobe, Apple, and Microsoft, corporations which do not rely on font sales for their income, and bundle free fonts to help sell their big money-makers. It's unrealistic for users to also expect foundries which rely solely on font sales to give away the store--although as Hrant has noted and Jos demonstrated, freemiums can be an effective marketing technique.


I also don't think it's a good idea to muddle business and philanthropy. As Thomas Watson once said, "I'm all for charity, but first business must make a profit." (Or words to that effect.) There are better causes I can contribute to than giving fonts to people who already have plenty of them.

blank's picture

What would happen if people run their business the way they treat their family and friends?

I’ve read enough Ann Landers to know that people who make a habit of giving goods and services away to family and friends usually get screwed. Running a business that way is suicidal.

Maybe sometimes, it’s not about the money. And maybe once in a while we do do a good deed.

And therein lies the pernicious part of your argument: the notions that wanting compensation for one’s labors is just about the money and that creating a society where creative output is given away is a good deed. If I sell a well-designed and properly functioning typeface the recipient is receiving something of equal value to the money he pays me. Why is that any less good than simply throw my work to the winds and feeding the notion that people have some entitlement to the means of digital production?

Money is not some unholy sigil of a cult of greed, it’s a simple token that represent the work the buyer is exchanging for my fonts. Swapping these goods and services is what makes civilizations work—a society that operates otherwise literally begins to meet the definition of primitive.

begsini's picture

Hmmm, how do you all feel about giving away fonts? Holy fright, there's a lot of indignation here. I, too, completely respect the effort, talent, experience, etc. that goes into type design, as well as the need to make a livelihood. Fine, don't participate.

However, as many of you noted, there are myriad free fonts out there. Perhaps this could be - as Haley suggested - a more curated collection, so that users are less likely to wade through mounds of crap and more likely to find quality.

Maybe they can sell ads on the site, and compensate participating type designers in spite of giving the fonts away. Maybe people would donate freely, as I did when I got free weights of Museo. Museo, what a fantastic typeface, by the way. Shame on you, Jos, for giving it away!

Granted, it's a lot of maybes, but again, no one is obliging anyone to participate.


Si_Daniels's picture

>Shame on you, Jos, for giving it away!

I think the consensus on this thread is that no one is opposed to a type designer or foundry offering "freemiums."

>Granted, it’s a lot of maybes, but again, no one is obliging anyone to participate.

Obviously no one is having a gun held to their heads here, but the site has a distinct air of "free font entitlement" which I think explains the negative reaction.

prokoudine's picture


Coming with free/libre software background I curiously find myself sharing most of your concerns.


Not every good free/libre software project was sponsored, and not for every project sponsoring was what actually made the difference.


You are missing one very important thing here. Most free-as-in-beer fonts are coming with a license that doesn't allow modifications. So if I really need some font and it's there and free to use, but doesn't have the unicode block coverage of interest, I'm effectively off to rethink the whole design to be able using some other typeface.

The fact is that people are usually very sensitive about their creations and hardly can stand modifications to them without their supervision (and not everyone has time for that supervision in the land of typefaces). Even if it's not about money, a step over that sensitivity is a huge step which not everybody is ready or willing to make. So the point of the project, as I understand it, is to make that happen on a more regular basis :)

P.S. Let's not equal software to fonts. Having spoken to a Letterhead's type designer I know that some of you guys and gals think that using pirated software is not so bad (no, he wasn't such a user), while using pirated typeface is a worst kind of crime and any offender should be sentenced to death :)

P.P.S. I'd love to have something like Adobe Jenson with a free/libre license to ship with our Linux distro. Not that I have the whole money to cover such a project, but I would definitely participate financially.

blank's picture

Nick, I disagree with scapegoating font-bundling as a root cause of the problem. When people buy an operating system or an office suite, they know that they’re buying systems and suites, and that the fonts are part of the price, as are text editors and music players. I see entitlement culture as the result of callow warping of logic: it’s just a little file, you’re being stingy not to just give a little file away!

Si_Daniels's picture

>So if I really need some font and it’s there and free to use, but doesn’t have the unicode block coverage of interest, I’m effectively off to rethink the whole design to be able using some other typeface.

This is typically solved with a short email to the designer.

Re. bundling. I can’t disagree that bundling and the Web fonts have contributed to the culture of free font entitlement, although I don’t think they’re completely to blame. But in reality, if the font industry is truly built on selling the same fonts to the same people every few years, then Adobe, Microsoft and Apple are the undisputed masters of that game. The devils greatest trick… was making people think they get the fonts for free.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Perhaps this could be - as Haley suggested - a more curated collection, so that users are less likely to wade through mounds of crap and more likely to find quality.

Done. See Typophile’s FAQ_Free. Wanna improve/refine? Knock yourself out, it’s a wiki.

prokoudine's picture


Which makes the point of 1/2 of the license irrelevant :)

Si_Daniels's picture

>>This is typically solved with a short email to the designer.

>Which makes the point of 1/2 of the license irrelevant :)

Sorry, my edit put things out of order. It's better to withhold the right and make exceptions to people who demonstrate they know what they’re doing, than provide the rights in the EULA and have a hundred grunge versions of your font floating around.

Schrijver's picture

Hello all,

This is my first time posting in a discussion on the web. Apparently I’m not so good at it yet, because I read the comments and then started writing a comment myself but it became an essay.. And then of course I had to start rewriting it as other comments came in...

So I apologize for the length. Maybe I could reedit this and submit this as copy for a site related to these topics?

I actually also wrote a manifesto last week, but I won’t be going into that here. I would like to not frame this in terms of ‘gift to humanity’ and so on, but in terms of economics. Not because I don’t think in terms as the former, but because I think making money and giving a gift to humanity are able to happily coincide. To keep in the humanist tradition here, Aldus Manutius had high hopes for saving Classical culture, and at the at same time wanted to make a buck with his printing office—or at least he had to in order to be able to continue saving culture!

edt: That’s what James says, I think.

Anyway, what this boils down to, here’s another self-centered twit jumping on the open source band wagon, albeit with a different rhetoric: as a European I tend to be (too) well aware of my own dubious motives and those of others, so I’m underdeveloped in the lets be nice to each other school of thought.

But I still think there are some valid points to make, and I would firstly like to clarify what I think are two miscommunications that are happening between the both sides of the debate, and then describe what I think are real problems in the business of selling typefaces.

1 Where the typophiles are definitely right: people asking for free fonts don’t understand the economic position of a type designer

But when sanctimonious academics, graphic designers, and open-source proponents can’t bring anything to the table but idealistic manifestos about—cue weepy violin solo—a “gift to humanity” or “making a contribution to the society” they’re insulting type designers without proposing a realistic solution to the problem that they insist exists.

That’s a very apt description of the situation I think. The problem is: the gift to humanity camp is reasoning from it’s own economic perspective, they are not aware that a type designer works differently.

1. Open Source is a business model. You benefit by giving stuff away for free because it gives you recognition, this recognition in itself enables lots of things just as money does, and ultimately enables you to get a job that does earn money, as a consultant, a teacher, etc. Your manifesto, James, actually describes the ultimate situation this scenario aims for quite well.

2. This wasn’t invented by open source, its’s how a gift giving economy works in general. See Hans Abbing applying this model to artists. And of course the place where this is most evidently the primary business model is in academics, where you do your best to spread your ideas and show off that you’re smart. In fact, the Open Source movement was born in this milieu, which shows why it is how it is, and how it can produce great things: because smart people are willing to work hard for it. It works the same with artists or any other economic model that is based on prestige.

3. Where the misunderstanding starts is when people reason from there own socioeconomic situation judging other professionals. Because type design is quite clearly a different thing: you get paid to do a lot of hard work with a very concrete result.
Which means there is a much more concrete relation between what you produce and what you sell. As an academic, you don’t make money by selling the PhD thesis you worked on for three years, but because of the job it gets you. As a type designer, you do make money with the typeface you worked on, and there is far less economic proxy for it as academics and artists have with teaching etc.

So asking type designers to give away fonts is like asking them to give up their primary source of income. Which is not a nice or moral thing to do. And which understandingly irritates you over here.

So people should stop asking you to give away free fonts. I hope I can play some sort of a roll in this by making your situation more clear to to others.

That mean you should never give things away. What one of your members did in the other thread, giving away glyphs for a type face he would probably never finish—that makes much more sense. You contribute something that has no direct economic value to yourself, but helps others a lot. The same could be said for, for example, helping out with the hinting or kerning of a popular open source font.

2 External factors contributing to the debate getting as heated as it does

Dan: In my opinion, “how to make letters look good, and how to make typography better” is: enable anyone to learn how to do these things, and to do them for a living. Proprietary software and proprietary fonts can’t do this; they depend on secrecy. I’ve invested a lot of time and money in building the infrastructure for this to happen; plenty of others have too. It hasn’t happened yet, but it is happening, slowly. That’s fine; we are not in a hurry.

And here I completely agree with Dave.
But this also has to do with a cultural misunderstanding, I think.
My education was in the sphere of academics and of autonomous arts, and I was completely baffled at first by the type designer’s attitude towards the public sphere.

The hostility towards the amateur fonts etc. This thread at typographica still makes me angry, because the reaction to @fonts is ‘now the internet will be ugly’.
"Embedded Web Fonts Return. Uh-oh."

I figured ‘but these guys love letters, why are they saying these letters are nasty, but they are not allowing their letters to be used on the internet, and they’re also not telling people how to make them nice?’

But that’s also very much an academic’s perspective. Who is someone who spends his time telling people how to do stuff, next to doing stuff. A type designer probably has less time for that.

Now what made this debate particulary nasty (are there any discussion groups where flickr enthousiasts and pro photographers are bickering? not that I know of), is that type designers do find a lot of pleasure in discussing their trade together. Whether it’s organizing conferences, writing books or hosting a site like this.

Now in the world of Open Source this sort of communication also exists, but it has a different role: it’s also the main channel for battling out the ideological differences between all the programming religions.

But since this is the internet, the activity of both subcultures becomes very visible, and both subcultures are free to judge the activity of the others and will probably do so, because it makes no sense within their own frame of reference.

Which I think is what Dan says:
I think that it is a case of priorities. I am a type designer, and I care about *one thing* more than anything else. And that is letters, and drawing them. I don’t really care about licensing debates. I find all the manifestos and the rhetoric rather dull.

That concludes the part where I consider my self sort of neutral. Here comes the part where I think font foundries have been behaving rather strange for the past fifteen years,

3 The problem is real, not perceived.

But it’s not about free fonts.
It’s about fonts for the screen in general, and fonts for the web in particular.

The reason it has come up now, is because the open source movement is the first vocal and influential movement in which brings together users of typefaces. Not only using them in designing and publishing, but anyone who who reads letters on the screen.

That the ‘free as in freedom’ aspect is important now, is because it is important to the Open Source Community. But it’s not as important to everyone else. People care about choice, and about convenience. People were more than happy to buy songs on iTunes even when it was both DRM and bad quality, because iTunes offers an added level of convenience and choice both to pirating and a regular music store.

But here’s the deal: for the past ten years, if you wanted to use a typeface on your personal website or in your emails, there hasn’t ever been a convenient solution to do so, ever. Image replacement, sIFR, whatever: people don’t want to do that because they don’t see why it should be harder to use a font you pay for, than it is to use a font that comes with your system.

I think amateurs and enthousiasts would buy much more fonts if they had a convenient way to use them online.

What’s actually more worrying, is if people who are knowledgeable about type and use it in their professional practice are not buying typefaces.

That would be me for example: I’m a visual artist who uses a lot of text in his work.
A) I love type.It’s the perfect blend between technology and culture.
Ever since finding out more about type faces and typography I have been amazed at the ways in which it has enriched the way I could express myself.
B) I’m an artist, and I love buying great tools. The ratio between the amount of money I earn, and the amount of money I’m willing to spend on tools that fit me is not very smart.
Me, and everybody else for which these two propositions hold true (and that’s a lot of people IMHO) should theoretically be the people most willing to pay for a good typeface.

C) I don’t buy typefaces. Because I can’t use them.

I use type on my computer. 99% of the time I publish something containing type, it’s digital. When I draw I draw my own letters; when I publish something in print I work with a printer or a designer who own typefaces.

Why can’t I use them?


I’m not allowed to. This is of course the one that all the fuzz is about.

In the changing landscape the requirements for for example a font change, because the thing that the licences try and prohibit is the thing that characterises these new developments: redistribution. This is not just affecting type foundries. Everybody has to struggle with this. You have to have an online presence, because that’s how people find you. At the same time, anything you put online is fundamentally out of your control.

But as a user I feel foundries are not struggling with this problem, they’re just ignoring it and hoping it will go away.

In doing so, they’re ignoring the needs of their users. I want to use fonts that I buy on my website without having to burden my workflow and my web traffic with sIFR or image replacement.

Something like EOT is fine for me, but it’s not here.

The attitude becomes apparent when reading a blog post on Adobe’s site about web fonts:

We will be updating our licensing FAQ to make it clear that our existing font license terms allow EOT usage, and do not allow linking to original fonts placed on web servers.

I stumble upon this as an end user who wants to get type faces to work. This only tells me I’m allowed to do something that’s not there yet, and that something which is there already is not allowed. Nowhere I read when this EOT thing will be there, and what I should do in the meantime.

2. This is the one that’s mostly ignored, but which is even harder to change overnight.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think foundries and designers are still mainly designing and marketing fonts meant for print use. So even if I could use a font in the way I wanted, it wouldn’t look good as it was never hinted as well as the screen fonts bundled with my OS.

Adobe’s push of Opentype for me is similar as the music industry rallying behind Super Audio CD. A new medium is coming up, which you envision as threatening to your business, so you make your old medium (which was already pretty sophisticated in itself) even more sophisticated and desirable.

This doesn’t work because quality or sophistication in itself can’t influence a large social development like the switch from paper to screen.

An example. I completely love Adobe’s Caslon, Garamond and Jenson face. They are, in a way, the pinnacle of type design for DTP. In the context of a new technology they reinterpret a visual and an industrial heritage in a way that is very much their own.

What I don’t get, is why I haven’t seen efforts like this for the screen, other than the ones that come with my operating system. Why doesn’t Adobe make a Caslon Web, a Garamond Web and a Jenson Web?

A small character set, a small amount of typographic choice but a large amount of typographic sophistication, one weight only, with it’s curves and kerning optimized for the screen, and sublime hinting.

If anyone can do this, Adobe can. Why could this not be an economically viable outset?
IMHO it’s at least a viable outset aesthetically. I recently discovered Bitstream Charter, by Matthew Carter, which I am able to use as @font-face. It’s curves are very spartan, because of the requirements of early PostScript printers. But because Carter is a brilliant designer he makes the face work, not in spite of, but because of the limitations. It becomes it’s strength: it manages to reduce a serif face to it’s bare essence, as opposed to smothering it in mannerist putti.

The same goes for Georgia. The screen handles curves differently, I’ll use different curves that still look great. The screen doesn’t allow me to choose between normal and old style numerals, I prefer the latter, I’ll only give it Old style numerals. That’s great.

The great fonts we have are here because companies like Microsoft commisioned them. Lucas de Groot’s font for Vista are a stellar achievement. But they also clearly highlight the failure of font foundries to venture into this terrain

So that’s the problem in a nut shell. It’s not like we need five thousand typefaces. Five or six good ones would be enough. But we have only have one widely available, and that’s Georgia. So there we have our transitional serif. But I want to use a neutral sans on the screen, a geometrical sans, a humanist sans, a modern serif and an old-style serif.

This has been a gaping hole ignored by the market for a long time. Of course there’s probably lots of reasons for that, but one of them seems to have been all the concerns about piracy, which IMHO has been a waste of energy and resources that could have been better spent in formulating new business models more suited to today.

But seeing the current attitude towards fonts on the web from the foundries, I don’t see it happening overnight. That has people like me jumping on the open source band wagon as well, which Sil, you might find selfish. It is. But my needs aren’t met by the type foundries now, otherwise I would not have bothered.

As their predecessors failed to adapt to new technologies, to me it looks like the big foundries of the 90ies are bound to become small again. They’re not keeping pace with the rest of the technological world, which is moving on-line and massively adapting open source technologies (adapting is the key word here-companies do so because of economical advantages, not because of ideology.).

I find it somewhat unsettling, for example, to read Emigre’s licensing requirements. Firstly, because it’s a document that only consists only of statements that inform me that no I can’t use what I want to buy in whatever way I see fit, which by itself is enough to make me uncomfortable. I can’t even embed a font in a PDF without paying more for it. But what unsettles me most, is that it reads as the report of an organization desperately trying to cling on to strategies that once worked, but now are being ignored the rest of the world.


micahbrich's picture

Hi everyone. I'm Micah, and I'm the other founder.

All due respect, after the thread from the other day, I expected this sort of negative attention here, and it's okay.

I think there's a big misunderstanding here. We're not asking you for anything.

This is not a generic call to type designers everywhere to give up their business models and follow us into the Communist heaven in the sky. Not that I wouldn't love it, but that's not what this is. We're reaching out to typographers who already agree with our perspectives on business and good deeds, who understand the benefits of giving a typeface away, and who want to help. We're contacting them, and letting them contact us, and everyone else can take it for what it is. I do hope that everyone here can take it for what it is, and not assign intentions that don't exist.

The end product of that is something that will allow amateurs and professionals alike to experiment with using and making high quality fonts without being restricted by licensing and legalities. We politely disagree that mixing philanthropy and business is a bad idea, and in fact, that's exactly what we're trying to do.

Micah Rich

Si_Daniels's picture

>I think there’s a big misunderstanding here. We’re not asking you for anything.

As I wrote the one line summary "Pair of graphic designers ask type designers to give away fonts..." I should probably point to what led to this misunderstanding...

"There are people who design typefaces for a living, and we want them to make money off of something that they do well. This revolution is not a movement against type foundries and type designers; it's quite the opposite. The kind of revolution we want is a change in the way people think about doing business. We want type foundries and typographers to start thinking,

"Maybe there's nothing wrong with giving things away sometimes."

It's not always about the money, sometimes it's also about making a contribution to the society, in this case, the design community. Giving one typeface away for free will most likely only boost sales, and it's a good deed. We want more people to look at it like that: like they have a responsibility to do something good for their peers. We're not asking type designers and type foundries to sacrifice profit, we're asking them to contribute to a greater cause, to create a community where we not only have a high design standard for print and web alike, but also a community where we're able to share our creations, knowledge, and expertise with our peers and the world."

So sorry if I got the wrong end of the stick. To me it comes across as both "preachy" and "asking".

blank's picture

To me it comes across as both “preachy” and “asking”.

Seconded. A clearing house for high-end F/OSS fonts is one thing. A dogmatic manifesto is another.

@Eric: You make many good points, and if you can put all that together, you should follow it up with a good essay explaining why type designers should be the ones responsible for solving the web-fonts conundrum and why letting people derail web fonts with the piracy strawman is a waste of time.

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