knock off versions of typefaces

(the title isn't what you immediately think, honest!!)

Hello there,

I've been a stalker of these forums a long time, and I'm hoping you can all help me with this request.

A little while ago, I remember reading a journal or a blog someone had written that basically had a long list of "free" downloadable typefaces you could get, but then pointed out that they were exact copies of original typefaces (some of which are default on most computer systems) and this relates closely to my 8,000 word dissertation and FMP that I am researching for my Third Year of University.

The problem is, I've lost the article between now and then, and only have a handful of examples to work with.

What I'm asking, is what free fonts do you know of that are confirmed to be rip offs of original typefaces (is original the right word? I hope so). If you know of the article, even, that would great also!

Thank you for any help you can give me here!

Justin_Ch's picture

One that springs to mind is a free knock-off of ITC Busorama called Omnibus.

I think you need to take into account the fact that sometimes a low-quality free font might have been made before an official digital version.

riccard0's picture

Or, as for example in the case of China/Changeling/Terminator, it can be more complicated than that ;-)

Chris_gh91's picture

Helvetica's rip off = Arial?

Not sure if I misunderstood the question or not?

Nick Shinn's picture

...exact copies of original typefaces...

If you are writing 8000 words, you will have to become significantly more nuanced than "confirmed to be rip-offs of original typefaces".

Omnibus, for instance, is not an exact copy of Busorama.

The best place to start is John Downer's essay Call It What It Is.

vinceconnare's picture

Knock-offs are only legal in the United States and North American.

It is illegal to copy the exact design of any typeface in Europe and other parts of the world.

Monotype was taken to court in Europe and Israel for Arial and the court ruled in every case that each letter was not the same as Helvetica therefore not a 'knock-off'

This is a pretty good example of North American knock-offs:

These fonts from Canada Type are knock-offs or Eric and Just's Trixie, traditional faces like University Roman and notably the Arthur Baker fonts.

Nick Shinn's picture

...notably the Arthur Baker fonts.

Vince, didn't Canada Type license those designs from Mr Baker?

aluminum's picture

Another question is how do you discern between these terms:

- stolen
- ripped off
- inspired by
- influenced by
- resurrected
- historical interpretation
- revival

In some cases it's pretty easy. In others, not so much.

There's also the history of the practices above that can be added to the discussion.

typerror's picture

Actually Nick, I think there is some confusion. Bouwsma has, over the years, appropriated "Arthur's style " and possibly a bit of his work. That statement is probably not blunt enough, but it will suffice for the moment. Most, if not all of his "creations" (Bouwsma) are the result of Arthur's generous mentoring and the use of a tool, the Coit pen, that Arthur was instrumental in designing. I find it odd, and offensive that Bouwsma never mentions Arthur or the books that were the source for some of the fonts he claims are his "creations."

Queneau's picture

I can't agree with that statement. Just because people use the same tools and work in the same field does not make them rip-offers. A lot of designers are (at least at first) inspired by their teacher, sometimes to the degree that the works look a lot alike. This is not new, as this was the case already centuries ago, when artists were organised in guilds and transferred their knowledge in a master-student relationship. Inspiration is not the same as ripping of, especially when a lot of people are fishing in the same pond (like in typedesign). And then there is the phenomenon of the revival, working in a specific style (like geometric sansserif). Are all designers that create a new geometric sans-serif be called rip-offers of Futura? It seems silly.

JoergGustafs's picture

BTW, I assume it is rather unlikely that someone here will provide ‘a long list’ of typeface rip-offs…


flooce's picture

You probably mean this web site: - Font Forgery Industry

And I would not pay too much attention to it. There might be a lot of fonts out there, which are closely "inspired" by originals, but are not exact vectorial copies. I for example own Savoy (non-professional, personal use) from URW++ which is kind of a "rip-off" of Sabon. But I layered a test word above each other from fontspring (Savoy) and myfonts (Sabon) above each other in Photoshop and the outlines are actually different, as is the spacing.

Point is I would not take this guy seriously. Really. You can get an impression of his black&white world-view here: - Helvetica oblique – Helvetica bugs forever

I would not refere to him as a reliable source.

Werfer's picture

I am a little unsure, but here I tend to agree with Uli (which is rare indeed). Although I am glad to have Huckleberry, because it means I have a pretty good font ready to hand to visualize this great typeface (I wouldn't even know where to get Mark Twain), I do think that Canada Type should ask those designers still alive whether or not they would agree to having their intellectual property revived.

I was always glad to have Canada Type, because they basically revive old typefaces which would otherwise, for the most part, not be available on my Mac, and then I couldn't work with them. On the other hand, it does not feel good to know I am using a font which was NOT made with the consent of the designer. There should be some more respect here. I think Rebecca and Patrick are doing good work, saving many of those typefaces I am particularly fond of - but they should really really give more credit to the original designers. It must be quite strange for Gustav Jaeger to read his name on the Myfonts website, although he never consented to have something like Huckleberry made.

Hmmmmm..... my moral compass does not like it. Although I would of course not put it as rude as Uli did, because I do understand that Rebecca's and Patrick's reasons are by no means purely monetary, I daresay it is close to criminal, nevertheless. Maybe not in a legal way, but certainly in a terms of moral. *sigh*

flooce's picture

My comment was about the academic quality and the fierce way of expression. That I would not use his work for anything academic, as there is obviously a bias and an agenda.

I agree that one should not produce "inspired" work based on typeface-designs (not the font files of course), which are not in public domain yet, even if it is not illegal. Anyhow this is a question where the problem of "similarity" is a very gray area, and an ideological black&white view does not do justice to this problem.

One could claim Sterling is a rip-off of TNR, but since it has its unique selling point, and was genuinely crafted, not cloned, most people would see it as a legitimate product, right?

Uli's picture


> I for example own Savoy (non-professional, personal use) from URW++ which is kind of a "rip-off" of Sabon. But I layered a test word above each other from fontspring (Savoy) and myfonts (Sabon)

To avoid your "black & white" bias concerning my website, you must read my detailed documentations more carefully and distinguish the "grey" font collections of URW, Megafont, and Fontsite:

Sean Cavanaugh's ripoff collection including "Savoy"


is as subset of the Megafont ripoff font collection:
(For Savoy see page 18)

But the Sabon ripoff sold by URW was called Sabius:
(For Sabius, see page 15)
(For Sabius, see page 7)

typerror's picture

Jeffrey... if a man's lettering/type is so obviously idiosyncratic and some of the very models in his book are blatantly appearing in other typefaces one must wonder... no?

"Fishing in the same pond" does not even approximate how obvious this is!

JoergGustafs's picture

Nevermind Frances, I misread your question.

Queneau's picture


Perhaps you are right, I'm not an expert. All I know is that I bought Bouwsma Text some time ago and that it is well crafted, and to my eye original. Perhaps more credit should have gone to Arthur Baker for making this possible, but I don't exactly know their relation. In my view Bouwsma does not rip off his types to benefit commercially from it. Maybe imitation and appropriation is another form of appreciation??

paperchime's picture

Ah, maybe I phrased my question wrong (or maybe I simply have to explain my project).

I'm not necessarily looking at "stolen" typefaces to say that they are stolen, I'm taking closely similar typefaces and creating a project that educates the differences (or lack thereof in some cases).

Such as Helvetica and Arial. I'm currently at the beginning stage in my project where my tutor literally wants to see loads and loads of made images, to do that, I need to find typefaces that look similar other than Helvetica/Arial and Palatino/Book Antiqua. It's not about taking the typefaces and saying: This is wrong, this is right, it's about educating and giving a choice. I mean, even Helvetica and Arial have their differences, and the point of the exercise at the moment, is to create as many images as I can to show that, and hopefully be able to move my project on.

My dissertation is being looked at by my tutor, and I'll be receiving it back soon to edit and rework, so he may bring up various other points anyway.

I don't know if that helps at all in terms of saying what I'm trying to do, but I hope it does.

Queneau's picture

Frutiger and Myriad are quite simular

Futura / Twentieth Century

Palatino / URW Palladio

Century Gothic and AvantGarde

Bitstream Vera / Bitstream Prima / DejaVu

Univers (LT) / Unitus (URW) / Zurich (BT)

Frutiger (LT) / Frutus (URW) / Humanist 777 (BT)

LTC California / Berkeley

Helvetica / Nimbus Sans / Swiss 721

etc. etc.

Khaled Hosny's picture

Palatino / URW Palladio

Both were designed by the same person, Zapf, so I don't see how he would be ripping-off himself.

Queneau's picture

Not ripping himself of, but they are different cuts of the same face, imo.

kevintheophile's picture

Knock-offs are only legal in the United States and North American.

It is illegal to copy the exact design of any typeface in Europe and other parts of the world.

If knock-offs are only legal in North America, Arial, Nimbus, Luxi Sans, Bistream Vera Sans, Titillium and other free knock-off fonts will be restricted only to North Americans.

Titillium is knock-off of Klavika and Sentico Sans. It's an Italian font, not American font.

Vince is an [offensive remarks removed by moderator]

.00's picture

Nothing about URW's collection of fonts is "gray". All of it quite legal. It all goes back to the early days of digital type, when some folks thought PostScript was just a fad. Its been discussed before, no need to discuss it again.

piccic's picture

@Kevin: Titillium is not a "rip-off" of anything, it’s a shared Open Source attempt patroned by the Accademia di Belle Arti di Urbino, started by my friend Luciano Perondi. Some forms may be similar to those of Klavika, but they have a lot more in common with a lineage of forms which has formed as Luciano’s own sensibility.

A "rip-off" may be called as such merely when there is a deliberate intent to copy and damage. So I would be very critic when judging these things.

kevintheophile's picture

Ah, piccic, yes, it was by Accademia di Belle Arti di Urbino. I know Lucciano Perondi, who reoslved the problem of Titillium fonts order for me.

Vince Connare seems to be [offensive remarks removed by moderator]

Nick Shinn's picture

Kevin, there is no place for your crude remarks here.
Kindly delete the offensive posts, or a moderator (if there are any around here) may well delete them for you and bar you from the site.

kevintheophile's picture

Nixk, I'm sorry, there's not a option to delete my message because when you have sent your message, my option delete has been deactivated and I can't delete my message.

kevintheophile's picture

I'm very sorry for my aggressiveness with Vincent because of knock-off fonts restricted to Americans. I was really aggressive and misunderstandful. Please delete my message. I'm very sorry.

Florian Hardwig's picture

The offensive remarks have been removed.
If you find someone is abusing the forums, please notify one of the moderators:

Werfer's picture

@flooce - no doubt about that! Believe me, I will never forget my arguments with Uli:

I am always ready to evoke the silence brigade :-)

However, when someone has a point in a thread, I would never take into consideration other threads. That is not netiquette :-) And I do think this is at least doubtful - if a designer still lives, he should be contacted before you make a copy of his work. I seriously believe in that.

flooce's picture

Well, I keep it in mind. Silent brigade is an interesting branding...

Silent Brigade

apankrat's picture

I know I am a couple of months too late, but just happened to run across another Typophile post explaining the situation around FontSite. It is an interesting read -

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