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Lesson Learned : Font Licensing

Hey guys. It’s been a little while since we’ve talked freelance around here, so I thought I’d share my most recent hiccup. I was recently designing something at the advertising agency I work at, and the piece I was designing used a font I had downloaded off the internet. To be exact, I downloaded the font from Font Squirrel specifically because it said that all their fonts were 100% FREE for commercial use. Since there was a chance the piece I was designing was going to be used for commercial purposes, I thought it was a perfect choice (and the piece would have a unique font).

This is when I learned my lesson. Not all things that say they are FREE are actually FREE. Whaaa??? (Then don’t tell me they are 100% free!). Apparently the larger agencies out there choose to buy FREE fonts just to cover their butt legally. I was blown away by this idea and had never heard of this happening. Free means free, right? Nope! So my seemingly free, really awesome font actually cost my project $200 dollars in the end. Fortunately it was no big deal for the client, but it got me thinking about font licensing and what “Free” actually means.

I’m curious what all of you designers/freelancers out there do when the font licensing issue comes along. Do you have your go-to font sites? Please do share 🙂


14 comments on “Lesson Learned : Font Licensing

  1. Wow – I absolutely thought anything on Font Squirrel was up for grabs for any use. I’m going to have to really read font licenses from now on. I don’t do any freelance work, but I do try to be aware of such things for use in my own blog. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Ugh, font licenses are the bane of my existence. I don’t have any go-to sites, but I’m partial to certain foundries with lower priced (yet still impecable) typefaces.

  3. I use because I can buy a single font and not the whole family. Also have found and to be useful and affordable. I try not to use free fonts for my clients whenever possible.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Linh. I love the two font sites you’ve suggested and agree with you when you say that you try to avoid free fonts for clients. 🙂

  4. That’s so cheeky of them!

    I would have changed to a different font out of principle – even if I had to pay for that one too!

    I only download fonts for personal use (and I’m sure you’ll have heard of this site) but I use

  5. since I design for the web and have to also cover my butt, I use google fonts and typekit, I should probably look into font licensing more carefully though. thanks for this post. xo

  6. i design posters for my shop to sell and also do some graphic and web-design work, and i read the licensing all the time. i haven’t been buying fonts lately, because i’ve been exploring a lot of some free, but really cool fonts. nevertheless such issue never happened to me, but all the sites covered here are the ones i use as well!

    1. You should be good to go. The company I work for is massive in size and I’m sure they just take some extra precautions to cover themselves just in case.

  7. I’ve only just seen this so I’m not sure if it’s still active. I’m a graphic designer for a company, but I’ve done a bit if freelance for family and friends. I’m not really up on font licensing but I tend to use free fonts in any work for them. Can I ask why so many people avoid using free fonts?
    Also, what about the licensing of fonts that come with your software/computer?

    1. Hi Alexandra!

      My understanding is that the fonts that come installed with Word are free to use without any needed to protect yourself. I could be wrong and might look into that a bit more. Free fonts are only “FREE” under certain circumstances. You’ll need to read the usage rules before officially using them. When I worked at a larger company, we’d buy the “Free” fonts before using them, just to protect the company in any situation. Hope that helps a little. Basically it boils down to needing to do a little research before you profit from someone else’s work 🙂

  8. Thanks for getting back to me about this! That makes a lot of sense. I will definitely be making sure I read the small print before I use any free fonts from now on.

    Thanks for the advice, and I love the blog!

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