Top 5 Ways Designers Get Themselves in Trouble with Fonts

If you’re using text in your work, you already rely upon fonts to communicate your message with a certain style.

Fonts are powerful pieces of software that we call upon daily, but don’t always give much thought about. This is where the trouble can start. You might be causing unnecessary risk to yourself and your employer and not even know it.

Are you putting your company at risk with your font use?

Extensis recently conducted a global survey to uncover how fonts are used, and where hidden font compliance risks reside.

According to survey results, the top 5 areas of trouble for designers are:

  1. Not understanding font EULAs
  2. Using fonts for an unlicensed purpose
  3. Transferring fonts improperly
  4. Creating comps with unlicensed fonts
  5. Improperly tracking usage

Reading and Understanding EULAs

Fonts are licensed just like any other piece of software. When you install most software, you get a window that displays the End User License Agreement (EULA) that you must agree to that covers the software.

Installing new fonts is a much simpler process, but is still covered by EULAs. The challenge here is that font EULAs are not standardized. They vary by foundry, and can even vary based on types of use that you’ve selected during the licensing process. Do you want to use the fonts in a logo? In packaging? As web fonts? Embedded into a mobile application? All of these uses can incur extra costs that vary by foundry.

font licenses

According to survey results, 80% of designers don’t regularly read EULAs. So the first step might just be digging in and reading the legalese. Unfortunately, even after reading EULAs, 78% of designers were still confused about the EULA terms. In cases of confusion, I highly recommend contacting the foundry directly for clarification.

Font Usage Troubles

Do you have a team of 20, but have only purchased 5 licenses of a font? Have you licensed the rights to use this font on the web? Is that “free” font actually OK to use in non-personal projects? The under-licensing of fonts is probably the most common way that designers get themselves into trouble. In fact, this situation has ensnared several major corporations in multi-million dollar lawsuits in recent years.

A font server can definitely help you track usage, manage your font licenses and keep everyone in sync. Yet, it’s crucial that your company implement and follow font purchase policies that keep everyone safe.

Font Transfers

Despite your font obsession, you really should not bring your collection into the office.

50% of those in our survey admitted to bringing fonts from their personal collection into the office at one time or another. In addition, 59% of those surveyed also admitted to trading fonts with others.

font mishaps

Even if appropriately licensed for use at home, once fonts are brought into the office, they must be licensed for the office. If not, they are in a sense pirated, and a potential source of trouble for you and your team.


Creating new work before client approval is a tough area to navigate. 32% of designers surveyed admitted to “locating” a copy of a font online for use in the comping process.

Admittedly it can be a tough pill to swallow if you need to purchase new fonts before the client even approves their use in a project, having a licensing strategy is critical.

You can use publicly available tools for comping, such as the Web Font Plug-in for Photoshop to create website comps, short-term font rental tools, or even implement a restrictive font purchase plan that covers those who are creating the comps. Whatever works for your team, it’s important that you have a plan and follow it.

Font license tracking

Once you’ve got licensing under control, now you need to track your purchases.

Over half of the designers surveyed had problems tracking what they were licensed to do with each of their fonts. Again, this is where an effective font management strategy that includes a font server can help keep your licensed terms paired with the fonts themselves.

All designers on your team must know your policy for font licensing. 57% of those surveyed said that their employer didn’t have a clear policy for licensing fonts and integrating them into the workflow. So, when you develop your internal policies, be sure that everyone on the creative team understands them, and that you train new team members quickly.

Font License Policy

Keeping yourself and your team safe from font misuse need not be a monumental task; it just requires a little time, some planning and follow-through.

Helpful tips to steer clear of font fuss:

  1. Understand your company’s font licensing policy. If they don’t have one, help create one.
  2. Assess the licensing rights and restrictions of your current collection.
  3. Train everyone to follow your policies and procedures.
  4. Track your font usage, and update licensing as necessary.






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