Find the perfect font for your creative project — and use it legally

July 19, 2017

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So, you found a font you love … 

Can you use that font for your e-book, your blog, or your promotional graphics — or for all three? Does the font license allow for commercial or only personal use? Or does it say you can only use it for one project per license?

How do you know if that free font you downloaded from the internet is okay to use for whatever you have in mind?

I wondered this about a font I found and used recently — at first without even checking the “Read me” file that came in the font’s zip folder. Only later did I realize the font was only free for “personal use,” so I couldn’t use it on the cover of my e-book without paying for a commercial license.

There’s a reason each font’s zip file comes with information (usually in a text file) about its license, which tells you what you can use the font for — legally. Nobody wants someone emailing them after their book is published and demanding they either change the font or buy a commercial license for it.

So, how you do make sure that doesn’t happen? Read the license agreement. It’s an implied contract between you and the font’s designer. 

And make sure you find something in there that allows you to use the font for whatever your heart desires, without limiting you to 500 copies of your e-book or one specific design project (if you want to use it for more than one). 

Personal vs. Commercial use

So, what’s the difference between personal and commercial use?

If you’re using the font in something you plan to sell — like an e-book — you need to make sure it’s licensed for commercial use. If you just want to make something for yourself or to give as a gift, you only need the font for personal use. 

If it’s free for personal use. here are some things you can do with it:

  • make personal invitations (not for profit)
  • design your own stationery
  • design your own business cards
  • decorate your free personal blog 
  • design flyers, brochures, etc. for a nonprofit organization
  • design a t-shirt, coffee mug, mouse pad, or other personal use items for yourself, to give as gifts, or for a nonprofit organization
  • create a piece of wall art for yourself or to give as a gift 

If you’re designing invitations, flyers, brochures or postcards for a paying client, on the other hand, you’ll need a commercial license – which, for many fonts, costs money. 

Also, if you’re designing promotional graphics with a view to enticing people to come to your blog/website and either click on your affiliate links or buy something from your site, that counts as commercial use — even if you’re not earning money directly as a result of your promotional art.

What if you just want to use a particular font for your new blog’s header? Your blog isn’t for sale, but you’re hoping to make money with it — though not directly. You just want it to look good enough to make your blog visitors want to stick around long enough to read and/or click on something (other than the tiny X that closes the tab).

Is that free font you found online still safe to use? Or is anything you’ve designed with the aim of making money with it (somehow) qualify as a project for which you’d need a commercial license?

According to a license agreement included in the downloaded zip file for the “Eszty” font (from 1001fonts.com), commercial use includes anything that is created for the purpose of earning an income — directly or indirectly.

So, a free, recreational blog is fine, but if you’re running a self-hosted blog and intending to earn some affiliate income with it or write sponsored blog posts, your use of the font counts as commercial use. So, it’s best to make sure your font license allows for that. I’m including some examples of free fonts with different licenses included (personal or commercial). 

Free font sites

First of all, when looking for free fonts — or free anything — pay attention to any warnings from your computer’s anti-virus software. If it tells you it doesn’t like a particular website or that it has blocked the plugins on a particular site, it’s best to just close that tab and look elsewhere. It’s not worth the risk.

List of safe (so far) sites with free fonts

  1. Creative Market’s “Free Goods of the Week” (my favorite — mostly because I love this website)
  2. Free fonts at FontBundles.com
  3. 1001freefonts.com (On this site’s listings, you can see right away whether a font is free for only personal use – or free for commercial use, too — but it’s always best to check for limitations in the license agreement included in the download)
  4. 1000fonts.com
  5. FontSpace.com (I found a font here I like called “Children of the Starlight” by CateleyaB (designer ID). It’s listed as “Freeware, Non-commercial,” and if you want a commercial license, you need to contact the designer, who provides her email address. You can also rate each font (up to 5 stars), comment on it, and share links to it on social media.
  6. UrbanFonts.com (with pages for each font, including the name of the designer and a link to purchase the commercial font license)
  7. GoogleFonts.com (open source = totally free)

Fonts listed as “demo” fonts — like the “Dandeleon” font I found at Dafont.com — typically only allow personal use, but the license agreement should include information on how to get a commercial license for it. 

Some free fonts — like “High Tide” (also at Dafont.com) — don’t even include license information with their download. But most of the fonts I downloaded did. 

An example of a free font with a license that only allows personal use

I downloaded a font named “Coffee and Tea” from Dafont.com and, when I opened the RFT file for the font’s license information, I found the following:

COFFEE+TEA

designed by Philip Trautmann

for phitradesign fonts

This font is free for personal use ONLY.

You can get a standard license for commercial use for just 12$ here: www.phitradesign-fonts.com/coffee

This is the demo version. The full version has all numbers, many symbols and language support…

An example of a free font that allows unlimited free commercial as well as personal use

The “Bromello” font — also from Dafont.com — is free for both personal and commercial use, but the designer welcomes donations and included a link to his page on CreativeMarket.com (which, of course, I had to check out).

The same designer has several fonts for sale at Creative Market. This particular one just happens to be free if you download it from Dafont.com. 

As I mentioned in another blog post, if you want to be notified when designer fonts (like the ones on CreativeMarket.com) are free or discounted, it pays to sign up for their email lists — at Deeezy.com and CreativeMarket.com. 

An example of a free font that allows limited commercial use as well as unlimited personal use

“Conthrax” — which I found at 1001freefonts.com — is listed as “free” and with no visible link for accessing a commercial license. When I opened the HTM file with the license information, I learned that the license is free for some types of commercial use but not for others. Ebooks were on the “not allowed” list, but there’s a link to a website with information on different licenses for the font. 

If you’re looking for some helpful advice on what free fonts to use for your design projects, check out this article at CreativeBloq.com: “50 Best Free Fonts for Designers.”

Derek Murphy also has some helpful blog posts on the best and worst fonts to use:

  1. “300+ Fool-Proof Fonts to use for your Book Cover Design (an epic list of best fonts per genre)”
  2. “60 fonts you should never use on your book cover design”
  3. “DIY Book Formatting (What You Need to Know)”
  4. “Everything you need to know about book cover design in one graphic”

Designer fonts

My favorite place to go shopping for fonts that make my eyes happy is CreativeMarket.com. I’ve started following some of the font designers whose designs appeal to me the most.

Plus, when I use a particular font for a book cover, a blog graphic, my blog’s header, or something else, I like to share the name of the font’s maker, with a link to the font’s sales page. Creative artists should support each other — especially if we’re hoping to earn an income with our creative work.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t use free fonts. I get free fonts all the time from CreativeMarket.com and Deeezy.com — which will often provide a free single variation from a font collection on Creative Market. If I like it well enough and want to use it for something, I’ll buy the whole font file. But if I’m not giving the designer money for the font, the least I can do is promote their work to others and maybe send some paying customers their way.

When I buy a font I love from CreativeMarket.com, I know I can use it for my blog, my book covers, and my promotional graphics. Since fonts are one of their “installable” items, their licenses don’t limit buyers to a fixed number of sales of an end-product created with the font. So, no worries. Once I’ve forked over the money for the font, I’m good to go. And I’m more than help the designer get more customers, too. 

So, what do you think? Am I pushing the designer fonts a bit too much for your taste? I am, after all, writing these posts to help writers who, like myself, need to keep an eye on the budget.

My aim, here, isn’t to become the Imelda Marcos of designer fonts — or to demonize those who use free fonts (as I often do).

I’m just saying it’s a good idea for creative folks like us to support the work of other creative folks — particularly those whose work we like well enough to use. 

Thoughts?

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Find a font you love for your creative project -- and use it legally.

By Sarah Lentz

Writing and designing book covers are two of Sarah Lentz's favorite things. She lives in Minnesota with her husband, their four kids, and two messy but adorable guinea pigs.

2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Amelia

    Very helpful info, thanks for sharing this info Sarah!
    Amelia recently posted…How To Assure that Goals and Objectives Are Met During the Instructional Design ProcessMy Profile

    1. Reply

      Sarah Lentz

      Thank you, Amelia!! I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

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