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The Basics of Font Licensing

I often run into this question with my clients, so I wanted to write a blog post for everyone to reference moving forward. Font licensing is generally a minor element in terms of running a business, but it’s nevertheless important and relatively easy to find a solution.

If you use fonts in your business, you should review whether you need licenses for them.

Basics of Font Licensing

Font Licensing (ie. the license that comes with the font) gives you permission to use the font, dictates how and where you can use it, and sometimes how many people can use it in an office environment.

Fonts are intellectual property, just like artwork, design or photography. Someone created them, so if you want to use them, you may have to pay a fee.

Some fonts are free to use. These are often called Open Source fonts, like Google Fonts or the fonts that came bundled with Microsoft Windows, MS Word, and macOS. You can generally use these for anything.

Some fonts are free for personal use only, such as many found on Dafont and FontSquirrel. That means you can use them at home for your kids birthday invitations or personal letters, but you can’t use them to design an ad for your business (that would need a commercial license). If you want to use your free font for businesses purposes, you can purchase a commercial license by contacting the type designer directly.

If you purchase a commercial license, the legal fine print for the license will often be provided as a text or PDF file for you to keep on record.

How Font Licensing works for Business

  1. Find a typeface/font online (ie. on or that you want to use for your business. You can test it out with your own text using the live preview feature and decide if you really want to invest.
  2. If yes, the next step is to select the typeface family or fonts that you want (perhaps you only want the BOLD option, so you’ll only need to buy that one font style).
  3. Select what you’ll use the font for, and any extra selections (ie. how many users, titles or impressions you want – see below for breakdown).
  4. Pay and download your fonts! Then you can install or embed them wherever they’re needed.

Screenshot from

Breakdown of Common Font Licenses

  • Desktop: You can install the font on your computer for use with design tools like Adobe or Word
  • Webfont: You can embed the font on a website or email
  • App: You can embed the font on a mobile or tablet app
  • ePub: You can use the font in commercial publications, like an eBook or eMagazine
  • Server: Your customers can use the font on your server to customize your products
  • Digital Ads: You can use the font in banners or ads that will be viewed online or on mobile


Do I need to purchase a font if my designer or supplier already has a copy?

If it’s a Free or Open Source font, NO. Everyone can use those. However, if it’s a special font that you’re using for your business, then YES. You should have your own copy of the font and license if your business is using it for commercial purposes.

Why should I look for paid fonts when there’s so many free fonts out there?

Good question! It’s entirely up to you. Free fonts are wonderful, but they’re highly overused. If you want your brand or product to stand out in a saturated market, a paid font can make all the difference. Brands will often use a paid font in their logo or for larger titles on their print materials or website, but will use something from Google Fonts for the body copy. If you’re strapped for cash, speak to your designer and plan to invest in just one at most.

I’m just a small business. Do I really need to purchase the commercial license when I can use a “free” version?

Some licensed fonts can be found around the internet for “free”, and many people use those bootleg copies instead of paying for a real license. Or perhaps you’ve found a free “Personal Use Only” font that you love, but don’t want to pay the creator for the Commercial License. Ultimately, buying the license is up to you. Even if you’re too small a fish for any type designer’s lawyers to come find you, remember that you’re using something for free that someone else created (and should rightfully be compensated for). How would you feel if someone did that with your products?

As a professional designer, I highly recommend having the correct license for the font you’re using and the way that you’re using it. You’ll sleep better at night 😉

Will my font license ever expire?

Generally no, but it depends on the license and intended usage. Always best to check directly with the company that you licensed the font from (it’s easier and faster than reading all that fine print)!


If you have any questions, you’re always welcome to contact me.

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