is this ever kosher?

Amado's picture

Before I go and do something like this...

Say I want to study, and perhaps alter, an existing typeface for which several different cuts are available. (Garamond is a handy example; there must be dozens of them.) Is it an acceptable practice to, say, type something in Photoshop using the font(s) in question at like 150pt size, immediately rasterize it, then pixel-edit the glyphs, then dump them back in to a fontforge or something, use the autotrace feature, and finally manually correct the outlines?

Obviously, the key question here is in using an existing font to generate a bitmap-font-jumping-off-point for a new design. Are most license agreements written to prohibit the practice I've just outlined?

Please leave aside for a minute the question of whether or not the font thus generated would probably suck.

Thanks in advance for your kind guidance.

Si_Daniels's picture

Kosher as Christmas! IMHO.

Jackson's picture

Why??? It might be "legal" but I would be too ashamed to tell anyone I designed something this way.

hrant's picture

The legality of this would be beyond doubt in any country (except maybe Netherlands, where I've heard that even looking at a font funny can get you in trouble :-). But the ethics of it depends on each individual's personal country. FWIW, in Hrantistan, it's not OK. Unless it's for internal use only, in which case much more is OK.


JanekZ's picture

"Say I want to (...) alter"
So it is the derivative work - without Author's permission it is asking for troubles (in Europe; as long as you are in USA you are, probably, safe...). In short: don't do that and, in particular, don't sell, use etc. such a font.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

The history of font design is full of stuff like this. what was the name of that machine, that I think Linotype developed in the late 1800s that allowed you to create punches by tracing other punches?

Amado's picture

@Si - movie reference. But I haven't seen the movie to know the context. Sorry.

@Jackson - my first font, dude. Some slack, pls? I expect it to suck -- unless someone else does it for me. I just read and I am sufficiently intimidated.

@hrant - Thanks. I get the ethics of it. If I did this to Ernestine and later said "look, here's my shitty re-interpretation, I call it Franken-stine," I'd expect you to have a problem with that.

In my case, I would like to synthesize things that I like from various cuts of Italian Old Styles, Golden Types, and Cloister Old Styles, and to gently torture the glyphs into different vertical proportions.

And I'd like to say that it will be for internal use only, but if I put any significant amount of work into it I know I will want to use it. If nothing else, to become the "bespoke typeface" of my personal country. That doesn't quite seem like an "internal" use though.

@Jan - you make it clear. I shouldn't do this. If I want to do anything like it, I should take out a pen and paper and get down to some real work.

So I just wanted to check this ethical grey area before I got in to it. Thanks y'all for your feedback.

hrant's picture

The history of font design is full of stuff like this.

And the best reason to study history is not with an intent to be encouraged by what people have gotten away with, but to become more aware of the darkness in the human psyche that must be kept in check, both on a personal level and in terms of society at large.

I'd expect you to have a problem with that.

Speaking almost exclusively for the Armenian part that I made - the rest is essentially Nina's and she might disagree: actually personally I would not mind as long as it stayed internal (which only means nobody else can use it, and not that nobody else can see it). In fact on some level (especially if it stays internal) I would feel flattered. But know that this attitude is not typical among type designers.


typerror's picture

Ever or even???

Wanna design type, bring something different to the table!

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

How many different ways can you make a lowercase non-serifed "l"? And how could anyone prove or disprove that it wasn't autotraced from some other font?

I find it interesting that you are completely allowed to take you easel and paints into the Louvre and copy any painting you like. Indeed you can even sell it. The only requirement is that your copy has to be either slightly larger or smaller than the original, and you can't claim it is the original work. Actually there are people who make a good amount of money copying paintings for people who own them and want to keep the originals locked up somewhere while they display the copy.

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Orson Welles' "F for Fake"

Who said Orson never did anything worthwhile in his later days?

hrant's picture

Ryan, it's never about proof.


.00's picture


Té Rowan's picture

@Ryan – How many ways can you rout a plank?

Amado's picture

@James: no matter how right you may be nor how passionate you are about it, IMHO I think you need to dial it down and find more productive ways to express yourself.

@Michael: in many ways, I don't wanna design type. I just want to set type in something different than I've found on the table. What's a boy to do?

kentlew's picture

I don't wanna design type. I just want to set type in something different than I've found on the table. What's a boy to do?

Collaborate with someone who is a type designer. This is how so many custom commissions get started. And some of the best are the result of a collaboration with a client/art director with real vision.

.00's picture


5star's picture

Go for it Amado, the process should lead you down some interesting paths.

Get 'er done!


Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Te, I dont really know what routing a plank means.

quadibloc's picture

@Ryan Maelhorn:
I find it interesting that you are completely allowed to take you easel and paints into the Louvre and copy any painting you like. Indeed you can even sell it.

I think this has to do with how long ago the artists responsible for these works passed away. There are things in other art museums by peple like Maurits C. Escher and Roy Lichtenstein, for example, of which this would not be true.

dezcom's picture

That you even have to ask the question indicates that you know it is wrong already. Legal or not, I can't say, I'm not a lawyer. Whether the results suck or not is not the question. Whether this is your "first font" or not is not the question. The question is, why in the hell would you want to do that? The question behind that is why do you want to design type to begin with? If you want to design type just because you want to "make one of those" (while pointing to a stack of existing successful typefaces), you are making a bad decision. If you want only to do revivals then at least study the type and drawings of the originals and learn from it and make your contribution of how to make it better for our time and place. If you don't want it to be better than what exists, then don't bother trying.
If you indeed want to design your own type, then just do it. You don't need to trace someone else's work to be able to do that. If you seriously want to begin a career as a type designer and want to get up to speed quickly, go to Reading or KABK for a year and learn from good teachers who know their stuff. If you can't do that, then just start designing the typeface that is within you and you would like to see in use. You can learn a lot by just taking a shot at it. Your failures will teach you well, your successes not as much.

Amado's picture

@James: It's not your word choice that bothered me. I'm a grown-up. Carlin is f@#&ing hilarious. But, more than enough has been said about that. No need to further belabor it.

@Kent: Your suggestion is excellent. I didn't know that that was a thing. I may not be sure how to proceed, but I've got some ideas, and I'll start groping in that direction.

Té Rowan's picture

@Ryan – Think of the 'l' as a plank's cross section, then look at "Router (Woodworking)". I think the profile images can add an idea or three to your idea bank.

Richard Fink's picture

If you are planning on starting a new congregation in a Jewish neighborhood, asking the local rabbis if doing so is "kosher", you will get a predictable response.

hrant's picture

A horde of squatters does not a new congregation make.


Ryan Maelhorn's picture

Obviously, the creators of these fonts are all plagiarizing eachother. Especially Avant Garde and Folio, and Arial, Bell Centennial, Akzidenz Grotesk, and Century Gothic.

Hopefully this makes my point a bit clearer.

hrant's picture

Your definition of "plagiarism" is wrong.


Ryan Maelhorn's picture

How's that?

hrant's picture

Design constraints leading to similar -or even nearly identical- solutions do not obviate the centrality of copying without attribution to any sincere definition of plagiarism.

The "el"s in certain fonts being similar does not make the production method described by Amado ethical (assuming distribution). And really, all this is moot, because even witnessing a bank robbery does not make it OK for you to steal things.


Ryan Maelhorn's picture

What's legal is what the lawyers feel like arguing that day. Nothing more, nothing less.

The point I'm trying to get at here is not that I think it's OK to deliberately copy someone's else's work, but that in the world of type design, at some point it becomes unavoidable. Really, aren't we are derivative of the original Latin? Of course we are, we have to be or else our glyphs would be unrecognizable and thus unreadable. There is a certain built in need for us to make our work about 95% similar to what came before. You can't say that of any other artform really. I'm just trying to open this pandora's box for discussion. Obviously being a (very amateur) type designer myself, I wouldn't like the idea of people copying my work and claiming it as their own, but you know what, I bet their lower case L's are going to be damn similar. Again, they have to be. So we can probably agree that autotracing another font is wrong, but what about copying by eye? What about that work you posted recently where you said you created it by starring at another font? Is that copying? Or is it merely "being inspired by?" I find this line incredibly thin in the world of type design. Again, I say, it has to be.

russellm's picture

@ Ryan,

how about a collection of noses by well known painters. :o)

Ryan Maelhorn's picture

I like it!

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