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Font Licenses: A really simple guide for small businesses

In branding, every element matters – from the colour palette to the logo design. But there’s one often-overlooked aspect that can be generally confusing to anyone other than a brand designer and have significant legal implications: font licences.

This guide is here to walk you through the who, what, why and how to budget for font licensing within your next brand project.

Understanding font licenses

Fonts, like any other creative work, are protected by copyright law. A font license grants permission to use a particular font in a specified manner, outlining the rights and restrictions associated with its usage.

Whilst the world of font licensing can be overwhelming, for small businesses there are likely only two types you need to focus on:

Desktop Licenses
These licenses allow the use of fonts on a specified number of computers within a single organisation. They are suitable for projects like branding, print materials and brand stationery.

Webfont Licenses
Webfonts are used in online content and require a different type of license. Web licenses often specify parameters such as the number of monthly page views or unique visitors allowed. You’ll usually only need this for your website but for use on some CRM systems, you may need to purchase a license for use on these platforms too.

Why your designer might not share font files with you

You may have wondered why your designer doesn’t just share the font files used in your branding project with you. It seems like a simple request, right? You’ve paid for the logo haven’t you? Ugh, I wish it was that simple. These days, it’s standard practice for designers who work with small business to not share font files. It’s not because we’re being mean, there are important reasons why designers typically refrain from sharing font files with their clients. Let’s dive into why:

Licensing limitations
Font licenses are specific agreements between the designer and the font foundry/creator. The licenses we buy often restrict the use of fonts to a single user or organisation. Meaning sharing font files with you would likely violate these licensing terms, putting both you and the designer at risk of legal consequences.

Protecting IP
Font files are considered intellectual property, and sharing them without proper authorisation infringes on the rights of the font creator. By not sharing font files, your designer is respecting the intellectual property rights of the font foundry and ensuring legal compliance.

Professional responsibility
Your designer’s commitment to professionalism and ethical conduct extends to respecting font licensing agreements. By not sharing font files with you, they are upholding industry standards and protecting your brand from legal risks.

Instead of sharing font files, your designer may:

Loop you in on the facts
Your designer will explain the importance of font licensing and why sharing font files is not feasible or advisable. They will help you understand your responsibilities in maintaining legal compliance and protecting your brand reputation.

Recommend licensing options
Your designer should guide you through the process of obtaining the necessary font licenses for your usage needs. They will be able to recommend appropriate licensing options and if you find a designer like me, point you in the direction of sales & promos for your brand fonts.

Deliver final designs
Your designer will provide you with finalised design assets that incorporate licensed fonts in a format that does not require the distribution of font files – so don’t worry, the font police won’t be coming for you if you use the design.

This also means you don’t need a font license for use of your final brand identity. However, you do need a font license if you wish to use the fonts yourself to design stationery, marketing or even to upload on to Canva.

Budgeting for font licensing

For small businesses, budgeting for your brand project plays a huge part in who you choose as a Designer, but one ‘hidden’ cost your Designer may not make you aware about is the cost of font licensing and whether or not it’s included within your project fees.

Before signing on the dotted line, if your design contract does not make font licensing clear, always ask your Designer about any potential extra costs. There will be nothing more disheartening than receiving your new, wonderful brand identity only to discover you have another £2000 to pay if you want to upload your brand fonts to Canva.

Some Designers incorporate the cost and admin or font licensing for your use, others do not.

I don’t (you can read more info on why here) but I do ensure expected costs and licensing is transparent within my contracts, so you’re never left wondering!

Here’s how to budget effectively for font licensing:

Allocate Funds
When planning a branding project, allocate a portion of the budget specifically for font licensing. Consider it an investment in the integrity and legal compliance of the brand.

Request a top end budget
Prices can vary depending on factors such as usage scope, number of users, and whether it’s for desktop or web use. Some fonts are free, others can cost hundreds, even thousands of pounds depending on the use. If you need your Designer to stick to a specific budget for your brand typography, just ask!

Prioritise essential fonts
Identify the fonts that are essential to the brand’s identity and allocate a larger portion of the budget for their licensing.

Explore Alternatives
If the budget is tight, ask your Designer to explore use of open source (AKA free) fonts for any supporting brand fonts. There are often great free alternative for body fonts.

Factor in future needs
Consider future scalability when budgeting for font licensing. If the brand is likely to grow or diversify its digital presence, opt for licensing options that accommodate future needs without requiring additional purchases.

Remember, investing in legitimate font licenses upfront can save significant costs and legal headaches in the long run.

To wrap up: fonts and legal fun-damentals

I know, I know. Talking about font licenses isn’t the most glamorous part of branding. But it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle that keeps your brand looking sharp and legally sound. By understanding the ins and outs of font licensing, you can avoid any unwelcome surprises, particularly when it comes to budgeting for your rebrand.

Whilst your designer may not hand over those coveted font files, they’re not leaving you high and dry. They’re here to guide you through the maze of licensing, recommend the best options, and ensure your brand shines brightly without any legal clouds overhead. And that’s always a win in my book.

Becky x
Welcome to the BLD Blog

Hello! I’m Becky. A brand identity & website designer for passionate & ambitious small businesses. This little corner of my website is dedicated to sharing the 15 years of experience I have with brands, websites and of course running a small business.

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