Selling Through a Foundry: Pros and Cons, Preparation

sean's picture

To those who have had your type design accepted by a foundry - please be kind and answer a few easy questions.

A) What format did you submit your design idea in? i.e. PDF, Printed copy, paste up, actual file etc.
B) How complete did you feel your design was at the time? Be specific.
C) How complete was it really?
D) What would you differently if you could submit it again?
E) Where was this design accepted?

Please feel free to elaborate on any of these that you would like. Bragging is totally ok and short answers are good too.

Thank you very much for your time.


John Hudson's picture

The other question you might ask is:

F) Did you find selling through a foundry to be a worthwhile experience?

I think beginning type designers are prone to the assumption that having one's types accepted for sale by an established foundry is necessarily a good thing. It is not always. I know some designers who have excellent and mutually fruitful relationships with foundries, but I also know an increasing number of designers who seem pretty soured on this approach and are much happier marketing and selling their own work.

sean's picture

Interesting John.

I think F) Should be added.

Did you find selling through a foundry to be a worthwhile experience?

On the contrary I think that being distributed through an established foundry could have the benefit of two things.

One, for the beginning designer, it lends a certain amount of credibility to be listed as a designer for so and so foundry if it is a good one. Plus, the exposure that on would receive from a know company would most likely far exceed a start up foundry thus making it easier to begin selling fonts on ones own in the future.

Second, it may be advantageous to the designer, especially a beginning one, to focus on design rather than the efforts of distribution, marketing, sales etc.

Just bouncing ideas.


John Hudson's picture

I agree that going the foundry route can be a good thing, and is probably worth trying at least once to get the flavour of it. As I say, I know some designers who have had good experiences, who are content with the kind of royalties on offer, and who don't want to be bothered with organising their own marketing* and sales. On the other hand, I wouldn't want any new, young designers to be disappointed after assuming that the foundry route is the best or even the only option.

* On the subject of marketing, this is one of Jeremy Tankard's biggest complaints about foundries and also about distributors (resellers, to whom one does not license the design, but only the right to sell): if you license a design to someone, there is no guarantee that they are going to actively market it and make money for you. This is very frustrating if you know that you can do a better job of marketing the fonts yourself. Jeremy plays hardball with distributors, and insists on receiving copies of all their publicity material. If he doesn't feel his work is being adequately marketed, he'll either cancel the contract or renew it only with a smaller percentage going to the distributor. It's funny: I've seen experienced and successful type designers gape in amazement and admiration when Jeremy explains how he deals with distributors.

John Hudson's picture

Jeremy's fonts seem to have very wide exposure in Britain. I scarcely pick up a British design journal without finding one of his ads, and Bliss, in particular, seems very widely used.

The Tankard design I've seen used least, and also seen least in marketing and publicity material is Blue Island, the design he licensed to Adobe.

jfp's picture

John, I think you miss a key point about Bliss success everywhere:

It was part of Creative Alliance, and it helped a lot, as Creative Alliance have no others big family of a nice Humanist Sans. And Creative Alliance are sold by agfa with their library of fonts everywhere, from service bureaus to agencies.

As example, most of heavy agencies, such Publicis, RSCG in France purchased big licence of Creative Alliance in last past years.

Landor worldwide have a Creative Alliance CD for all their local agencies (many cpus...), I have a discussion about that with the creative director of the French bureau yesterday when i came there to bring some lettering jobs.

Note, as past Creative Alliance designer, as me, you never notice the presence of such very big worldwide licences in your Agfa royalties -- its the main problem about Agfa for us. HUM...

Creative Alliance is the first collection in term of the quantity of the designers who leave it in so short time because they not happy at all with their managing:

John Hudson
Jeremey tankard
Dave Farey
Jean Francois Porchez
Pierre di Sciullo

The only other recent foundry case I know, is Lucas de Groot and his FF families, but I think ist not all for same reasons.

jfp's picture

ok ok, a new topic and new game, list the move away from distributors!

Perhaps, the comparison between new trendy T-26 and Agfa, the etablished one, is not the right one? (I just ask myself.)

hrant's picture

> Creative Alliance are sold by agfa with their library of fonts everywhere

Well maybe then it's not so bad?

> Lucas de Groot

I think the timing of his "move" away from FF was just perfect.


sean's picture

Please note that all the mentioned designers started with a an established entity. Then they moved to selling on their own. It seems that starting out in the way that they did, given their current success, is not such a bad plan.

In conclusion, the questions that started this string have yet to be answered except by Jean in another thread. Thank you Jean.


John Hudson's picture

Well maybe then it's not so bad?

It was bad. We all got out of our contracts as soon as possible. Jeremy's Bliss happened to fit a market that Monotype needed to supply: people who were sick of Gill Sans but still wanted an indentifiably British humanist sans serif in the Johnston/Gill tradition. Bliss was the only Creative Alliance font that Agfa Monotype marketed with any gusto, but Jeremy still cancelled the contract as soon as he was able.

jfp's picture

any gusto: I don't understood that words?

hrant's picture

gusto = grand enthousiasme (comme pour appetit).


stitzlein's picture

A) i submitted the design via pdf
B) the look and feel was complete, as was 95% of the character set. i nearly completed the font before submission, i assumed someone, somwhere would accept it.
C) ^^^^^
D) nothing, the process was smooth.
E) both ITC and Fontshop

sean's picture

Hey Joe! Thanks! Thats what I'm looking for!
:-) Would you rather be distributing the type yourself or continue through foundrys?

John, Is your advise to distribute designs on ones own from the start?

What does everyone else think?


John Hudson's picture

John, Is your advise to distribute designs on ones own from the start?

Not necessarily, I just want beginner designers to be aware that there are options, and that having your first typeface accepted by a major foundry, while exciting at first, may not work out to your satisfaction.

I do have this advice: read the contracts carefully and make sure you understand what will be necessary to get out of the contract (usually easiest at a regular renewal time, typically five years). Try to ensure that the contract permits you to sell your own work: if the foundry wants a complete exclusive make them pay for the privilege.

hrant's picture

Tactile seems really interesting. Hey Claudio, check it out.

BTW Joe, looking at your profile, you've done some cool projects, like that SGI font. It's interesting that you still feel licensing to a large font house makes sense for you - there must be a reason!

Pardon me for asking (I'd certainly pardon you for not telling), how much did the SGI and Sempra gigs pay?


Diner's picture

Hi Sean,

I've been following this thread since it was at the end of another thread and even typed a really lengthy response before I deleted it because I was interested to hear from others before making my own statement.

Generally speaking, the root of your question you're finding is more puzzling than what you're asking for. Most of us seem far more concerned with your reason to distribute rather than how to submit a typeface for distribution.

Truth be told, you send in a PDF with a glyph showing, a sample setting in paragraph form and the hamburger word and wait to hear back.

My take on your initial post was, is it worth your effort to build a foundry from scratch online or go right to distribution and be done with it. To be honest, you'll never know unless you try both routes.

I've personally found self distribution is more comfortable for my foundry in that I get to establish a relationship with my customers and them with my products and brand so they can feel like they're doing more than just buying fonts from a big company.

Regardless what you decide, and I've said this many times on the boards, be as good a businessman as you intend to be a font maker. Just because you pour months and months of effort in to making a great font doesn't mean you should then simply hand it off to somebody else to sell for you becuase you think they can do it better.

Would you have a child with your wife and send it to somebody else to raise because your part was done after it was born? I know it's a little extreme but you get the point.

So, take care of your children (fonts) and they will take care of you when you're in an old folks home, and don't pass them off willy-nilly to the next willing stranger cause just like Frankenstein, what you've created you're now responsible for.

Enough metaphors, good luck!
Stuart :D

sean's picture

Thank you Stuart. I am glad you held out.


jfp's picture

Again, don't completly agree with John Hudson about distribution.

In major cases, go with a distributor is the best thing to do in early years to create you a name and reputation, then, go alone when you will be hink your enough tstrong.

More various foundries (various focus various market), with various fonts from you, less chance you lost something at end.

Then, start your foundry after. Ok you must take care about your typefaces, but in same time, a typeface is just a typeface, and you always be there to have new ideas, create others.

The most important rule, is to NEVER go with only ONE foundry for everything, as you never know if financial this foundry will be on trouble and disappear (but not your design who perhaps stole by some bad guys, such Hu...)

Its my own experience, and it worked I think:
-FF Angie via FontFont (1994)
-Apolline, Parisine early version (1995, creative alliance-Agfa, not anymore)
Anisette via FB (1996)
Sabon Next via Platinum Collection Linotype (2002)
and just old version of Apolline and two weight of old Parisine via myfonts (2001)

All the rest are sold only by me directly, NO local distributors at all. Probably less sales, but less piracy and better marketing and reputation (I hope).

In anycase do a freeware font.

stitzlein's picture

sean, i agree with jean, start with foundries when you are young, and then build a body of work you can market yourself. this is my next step. tactile was released in december of 2002, and i am curious to see how many units it can move. i can make a good guess as to how much money i can make on my own from there.

there are perks to going with a foundry. you get to meet interesting people with good industry contacts, and you have access to engineers who will troubleshoot your typeface. and a good foundry will pay for contest fees.

one thing to add about my experience: if you can choose between various foundries, look at their distribution, how supportive they are of their designers, and what kind of royalty percentage you get. itc allows me to sell tactile myself as well, and they offer a very competitive royalty. much better than fontshop's. and they are very nice people.

hrant, i'm sorry but i'm going to dodge your question, but i'll say that corporate commissions can be quite lucrative, as jean would probablt attest to as well.

eolson's picture

Interesting thread. I

jfp's picture

Be confiant, we all rebuilt all the time all of our fonts, because we learn all the time, and discover lately new bugs in FL.

eolson's picture

Just to clarify here.

sean's picture

Thanks for your input everyone. This has turned out pretty well in my eyes.

I think I am going to present my design before I am finished with it on the advice that the foundry will likely make certain requests to, in their eyes, make it more marketable. What do you think of that?

I feel now, as I did before, that it seems productive to sell an early design to learn about contracts, dos and donts etc. Also, I feel that as a designer progresses they are only going to get better. So they really have little to lose and a lot to gain in the beginning. It seems a good way to learn the ropes.

I am wondering at this point if a flash file might work for submission. Would a simple bit of animation be too much? A simple fade is all I am really thinking of.

Also, as general question, should a presentation be formal? What sort of things do foundries like to see in a submission? What should one never do?


andreas's picture

Nice to see that most experienced designers distribute their design through their own channels. But the problem is how the customer find YOU - or ME?

Could it be possible to build an independent type portal site, so every independent designer can show his own stuff in a short way. The advantage for the customers is to find fontdesigns (he never would find) easy like on Fontshop and Co.. If he likes a typeface, he have to contact the designer directly or use web channels like myfonts to buy.

To reduce costs for such a site all the promotion examples should be hold on the designers webspace.
To guarantee an constant site design every designer has to build his one elements by the site guidelines.

This site should be exclusive for individual designers in person only. - Not for license resellers! -

Could this idea work?

hrant's picture

> I am wondering at this point if a flash file might work for submission.

PDF, or snailmailed tree pulp.


tamye's picture

Regarding Stuart's success with Font Diner: he does well as a small foundry with extremely low overhead. He is quite fortunate, and his timing was good. Font Diner was one of the first foundries to make use of the web. Stuart's got some marketing savvy, and his fonts serve a niche market. His case is not typical. Keep in mind that some of Stuart's typefaces are licensed by larger foundries like ITC... he doesn't distribute everything only at the Diner.

There is no one perfect way to submit fonts, or to market them yourself. I've worked for foundries and reviewed more submissions than I care to remember. My preferred method is to first look at a well-executed PDF specimen. If the PDF looks intriguing, I then want to open up a generated font file or FOG file to check out construction, see how much work needs to be done, etc. Flash files, gifs, links web showings, etc., are a real pain to review. Printed samples always seemed a waste of a good tree - I prefer digital delivery.

The one thing a reputable foundry or distributor can do for you is put your typefaces in printed catalogs, and do large mailings. Many type buyers still expect to see the goods well-presented on paper. A new designer/foundry doesn't necessarily have the means to print costly catalogs, and most certainly don't have a large targeted mailing list of eager type buyers.

Another factor to consider is that some type buyers, especially from large agencies, corporations, design firms, etc., prefer to purchase from as few sources as possible, and often become very loyal to a source that gives them good pricing and customer service. Some companies only allow their designers buy from approved sources.

However, some foundries become so large, or their marketing efforts dry up, that it's easy for a typeface to become buried. At that point, there's no reason to have your face in their library.

If you can get your typeface accepted by a reputable foundry, and you find the contract terms acceptable, and they are willing to put the time into helping perfect your fonts technically, then it's a good way to start. Being with a foundry can help build your name recognition so that you can go it on your own further down the road.

If you don't like the contract, or your fonts aren't accepted anyplace you like, try starting with your own showcase site. Go ahead and distribute through a place like myfonts where there is substantial traffic, the percentage taken is low, and you're not contractually obligated. But you need to be prepared to work your butt off and do as much marketing as you possibly can within your budget, and to have a good ecommerce solution, and to offer responsive tech support to every customer.

Make sure your fonts are technically good, and the character sets are as complete as possible, you have a suitable number of weights/variants as applicable, etc. Typophile is obviously a good way to get some constructive criticism, and to find someone willing to help you in the technical aspects of font development. It's worth it to pay someone who has technical expertise if you can't do it yourself.

sean's picture

Wow. This thread just keeps getting better.

Thanks Tamye.


pablohoney77's picture

how bout royalties? what is a fair percentage to get back from the foundry? i know that probably depends on several factors such as marketing, etc. what does one need to keep in mind when deciding what a fair percentage is. I noticed that MyFonts takes 35% commission, and all i know of their marketing is that they have a couple newsletters?? Another foundry I contacted has a 30% commission if you sell exclusively with them and 40% if you sell elsewhere. Here again all of the marketing is by means of email newsletters. I tried figgering out FontFont's royalty rates and i just got confused, maybe i'm not understanding how it all works. Any help???

union's picture


In 2002 I decided to set up a website to sell my type, the result was I decided to invite others to join the site, so that my site was more then just a couple of faces. We now sell for 25 designers... but the catch is I am not one of them!

Setting up and running a foundry takes serious time and energy, and with so many hours going in to marketing the site and site maintance I have less time for making my fonts, which was the whole point of the site in the first place.

I think that it is important to realise the amount of hard work that goes in to building a type site and a customer base. You need to ask yourself if you want to spend your time designing type, or spliting your time between designing and marketing your type?

My first typeface will hopefully make it on to Union in the next couple of months. Finally!


piccic's picture

I suspect most of the answer Sean seeked lies in what's motivating you at present time.
Considered I'm starting to learn right now how to design decent text faces, I'll give my anwers for the Ottomat release with Emigre (1994-96), but I'm not sure they can be of much value.

A) Printed copy (but we were in 1994). (With Thirstype I always used PDFs)
B) Just letters and numerals (but we were in 1994).
C) When I finished it the family was complete except bitmaps and hinting (I'm not into hinting).
D) For Ottomat, a good redesign of the "Bold" weigth and a lot of corrections.
E) Emigre

In the end, I like the idea of doing both things (even if my few releases are with foundries). With tools like PayPal or sites with MyFonts, you can do different attempts as well.
Right now I'm discussing this with chester.
I like the idea of finding ways to sell very "sectorial" faces as well as mainstream-aimed more usable ones.

Being part of a small type community like Thirsype is different than releasing with big foundries with little or no exposure (ITC, Agfa). Maybe this is one of the most important factors to consider.

piccic's picture

Besides, it would not make sense to sell on your own your new Armenian typeface: you should team up with Hrant! :-)

grod's picture

How does one determine whether a face is of high enough quality to be commerically viable or if it is either in need of revision or simply not sale worthy? Additionally, if a face falls into that last category, does one release it for free or hide it away in shame?

dan_reynolds's picture

>How does one determine whether a face is of high enough quality to be commerically viable

Just show it to anyone within the commercial system, or better yet send it to a foundry and wait for an answer! Some foundries will talk with you and give you an objective evaluation, if you ask for one. Some don't have time, or interest, in doing such things.

Showing the face around at a design conference can also help give you an idea of where your work lies, but not everyone will be [brutally] honest with you

hrant's picture

But also note that quality isn't the only way to sell fonts...
Some of the most popular faces in use are in fact of quite poor quality.


Joe Pemberton's picture

B, C and F) The Selling Fonts thread from 2001 has some interesting morsels.

Stephen Coles's picture

It could be argued, still, that Tankard's fonts still suffer from
inadequate exposure. Most ADs looking to buy fonts haven't
heard of him, nor do they happen upon his site when
shopping. (Can you imagine your avg. joe designer typing when seeking for new fonts? Or even typing
"typography" into a search engine?)

This reminds me: i've been wanting to do an online survey
- targeted at your average designer who doesn't follow the
type industry like many of us do - and ask them if they are
familiar with certain fonts and designers. Those listed would
represent different marketing methods (online, print catalog,
massive distributor, advertising, MyFonts, etc). Would be
fascinating to see what method or mix of methods comes
out the victor.

Stephen Coles's picture

I don't know what to say. You just schooled me, royally, John.

Stephen Coles's picture

Another case: Angus R. Shamal and Pablo Medina left Plazm to go on their own.

I'm sure there are plenty from T-26 too, if I took the time to think of them.

Stephen Coles's picture


A few of my typefaces were made for very specific projects (Process Grotesque + Elderkin) and really have no contribution to make beyond that. Sure they look fine, but who cares? I

Stephen Coles's picture

Whoa! The quote formatting is a bit of a space hog here. Heh.

Stephen Coles's picture

Yes, it does. So I'm renaming it to something more appropriate. Hope you don't mind.

anonymous's picture

what the pros and cons of sending elderly to the institution for care?

Stephen Coles's picture

Stumbled upon this old discussion and thought I'd add that I've written something more current about distribution at Typographica. Hopefully it's useful to anyone else who stumbles here. A lot has changed in the last 6 years.

Bendy's picture

Really useful and illuminating article Stephen, thank you. When I'm closer to finishing the font I'm currently working on, I'll have another read and see what route might suit me.

.00's picture


fontdesigner2's picture

This is an old thread but I'll ask you all anyway:

If the foundry asks you to send them the font (the actual .otf file) before you have signed a contract with them, how can you be sure that they won't just outright steal it from you and claim they did it? You did all of (or at least most) the work for them already, after all. What if they ask for the FontLab file? I'm kind of leery about handing that over to someone, even if they are supposed to be reputable, before they've signed anything.

It doesn't have to be a contract, but is there some kind of document that I can ask them to sign first, that will protect me?

Stephen Coles's picture

If you don't trust them not to steal the font then they probably aren't the right partner anyway.

fontdesigner2's picture

That's true Stephen, but I don't trust anyone.

hrant's picture

If you can't change, go it completely alone.


Karl Stange's picture

If you are so wary of the possibly sinister motivations of major (and minor) foundries, why not just release the font(s) into the public domain or as Hrant suggests, go it alone? I am not sure what you are hoping to find from raising these doubts here, particularly if you feel that trustworthiness of these companies is a foregone conclusion.

For what it is worth, my dealings with a number of different foundries and distributors, both big and small has been rewarding, though this has always been in a commercial capacity and not with a mind to licensing or co-licensing my own work.

Syndicate content Syndicate content