Nice Web Type

Nice Web Type is one place for web typography, following experiments, advancements, and best practices in typesetting web text. Handcrafted by Tim Brown, Type Manager for Adobe Typekit.

Type sellers, web fonts, and Typekit

You really have to feel for type sellers. Their business is changing.

Until there is a web standard for type, like .webfont or a permissions table, that ensures (or encourages) the legal use of typefaces on websites, type sellers have to simultaneously:

  1. Figure out how to get their fonts into web designers’ projects safely and easily, and
  2. Convince those same web designers that selling type for use on the web is something they actually want to do (really!)

Of course, a foundry could wait for the market to work itself out, but that foundry might forfeit profits today and risk being forgotten tomorrow, even wholly unknown to a new generation of typesetters.

Shrouded in leaden lore

“Foundries” and “the type industry” are misleading terms. Often the type that graces your heartfelt or pays-the-rent work was created by a single individual, or several people.

Sometimes a type seller will simply call their business a foundry; after all, the profession’s rich history warrants the legacy of mechanical and industrial craftsmanship that such a name connotes. Other times, a foundry is called a foundry because it’s been around for decades, and it actually used to make metal type.

As with many businesses, some type foundries are large and corporate, but most are small. Like family farms, they grow their produce and pack it by hand. Whether it reaches us web designers via the supermarket (MyFonts, et al) or a roadside fruit stand, it still has that sunny, fresh, earthen aura.

This is not a “type industry.” These are people selling fonts.

But they won’t sell me fonts!

Right, many foundries won’t yet sell you fonts for use on a website via the recently viable CSS rule, @font-face. Type sellers large and small could see the Real Fonts Revolution coming like a gathering storm cloud, but there was no impetus to collaborate or react until now, and they’re a little behind.

Now, they watch as strong winds approach their farm stands.

We web designers are jacked up, saddled in storm-chasing vans. Riding the wind. Shouting over the thunder. Looking upward for a summer evening light show. We’re kind of excited, and by “kind of” I mean lathered into a riotous frenzy. @font-face is much more straightforward than the workarounds we’ve used for years to get good looking type on our websites. We want to use type legally, but we also want to use type now.

“I’ll lead the way. Go ahead.”

Moe from the Three Stooges used this line a lot, and then pushed one of the other two stooges forward into whatever situation they were about to face. Web designers, type sellers, and browser makers are no stooges, and the situation we face is hardly slapstick comedy, but leadership has taken a little while to step forward.

Individuals like Tal Leming, Erik van Blokland, David Berlow, Jeff Veen, Bryan Mason, Jason Santa Maria, Garrick Van Buren, and many others whose names and solutions we don’t yet recognize in this context, are hurrying to please web and type pros alike.

We can hope for, and work toward, another successful web standard like XHTML. What you’re reading right now was designed with web standards because ordinary people like you and I cared enough to get involved in web design and argue for a better way.

Until there is a better way, however, there will be some way.

Ways web fonts will be licensed

Type sellers have a choice to make. They won’t all make the same choice, and that makes sense. They’re not an industry, and opportunities are everywhere to be had. Here are the ways type foundries will approach selling fonts for use with CSS @font-face:

  • Hold out for a standard like .webfont or a permissions table
  • License some typefaces (weights, styles) for web use, with the aim of selling other, related faces/weights/styles even though they wouldn’t be licensed for web use
  • License only some typefaces (weights, styles) through a service like Typekit, so as to be on web designers’ radars
  • License whole type libraries to a service like Typekit, to take full, early advantage of the market and instill loyalty in web designers using real type for the first time
  • Create their own service like Typekit, or use a white label version of a service like Typekit

The last two options are the most intriguing, I think, and afford the most room for discussion about the options web designers will have for using real fonts in their web projects before a standard for web type is realistically available.

Typekit and the generic brand

I was invited to preview Typekit, and the service is every bit as simple, quick, intuitive, and beautiful as Andy Clarke says it is. Knowing the folks behind the project, and having already used Typekit myself on an upcoming Nice Web Type likes review, I can’t imagine that Typekit will do anything less than set the standard for all web font selection and hosting experiences.

Recently, Peter Bilak of Typotheque explained their upcoming web font service to me, saying that it, “is probably very similar to Typekit,” and suggesting that it would simplify print/web combination licensing. I look forward to learning more about the Typotheque system, and any comparable efforts from other type foundries and distributors.

I hope to be impressed by Typekit competitors, be they similarly independent services or in-house foundry systems, but the bar is set very high. The average web designer’s decision to use the typeface she wants will be weighed against the cost of deviating from Typekit’s polished experience (she will know the Typekit interface even if she isn’t yet a Typekit subscriber).

Also, participating in several foundry-based services, even if they work well, could be like online banking with its various passwords and paths of action; here, Typekit poses another significant advantage, especially for smaller type vendors, in that it will offer a single experience for typeface browsing and licensing.

Wow, real fonts in our web projects. This is fun.

But then, I’m not selling type.

  • mcloki

    You need to write more articles on this subject. We need more info, desperately. I’ve been trying to write a response to this for the last hour and have destroyed 4, now 5 drafts. Keep the info coming.
    Designers aren’t going to wait for permission.

  • Phil Nelson

    Don’t forget the option some younger type makers will take: freely licensing their fonts for all. It worked for joco.

  • Peter Bain

    The .webfont or similar proposal, as opposed to Typekit, makes sense for individual typeface designers who may not want, or be able to sustain, an intermediary between their work and a paying client.

  • k.l.

    Regarding “License some typefaces (weights, styles) for web use, with the aim of selling other [...]“: Type is always licensed and not sold. Even if you get a font file to be installed on your system.

  • Toby

    I feel marginally less sympathy for the ‘type industry’ than I did for the movie industry when it failed to act to meet the demands of it’s consumers in the 21st century, and substantially less sympathy than for the music industry which failed, and continues to fail to provide an online service at a reasonable price that meets the needs of it’s customers.

  • dave

    Why do you believe fonts are “special” for the web and need more DRM, vs any other licensed media such as graphics, music or video?

    I mean, other than, “My chosen profession is creating fonts and I want to be paid as much as possible for it.”

  • Peter Bain

    @Dave: My chosen profession is creating fonts

    Right (although I do other things as well). If I’m fortunate to have a client that wants to commission a typeface, then both of us have an interest in its distribution.

    This has no effect on libre fonts.

  • dave


    But why do we need to design and implement a brand new DRM system, just to use fonts on the internet? Lots of other content is being licensed for use on the internet without needing special DRM?

    I’m sure photographers, graphic artists, musicians, all the big media companies, news organizations all would love to design their own custom DRM system that browsers had to implement before their content could be used on the internet. Why do fonts need special treatment?

  • mcloki—-where-are-we/

    Here’ more information that showed up today. This is going to be resolved quickly though.

  • Peter Bain


    I’m not in any way qualified to discuss DRM. I’m making a different argument, one that you may extend into the debate about browsers and other media. I’d like to preserve, somehow, an ecosystem where typography can be privately commissioned and privately deployed. I’m sure in the future there will be even more libre typefaces.

    Consider the analogy of a private shuttle van, running between an airport and the central downtown of a large city. Without other options, this shuttle may be expensive for visitors who need cheaper travel, especially if they must fly in. But if there are multiple modes, say public intercity rail, airport buses or taxis, and this private shuttle, then a wide variety of needs can be accommodated.

    Thanks for listening.

  • Ben Kiel

    One should point out that ‘large’ does not mean large. Adobe, for instance, has a type group of not many more than ten people, one of which is a full time typeface designer. House Industries is eight people, two of which are typeface designers. Etc.

  • dave


    Sure there are a few exceptions, such as symphony orchestra’s, but most music bands are 1-4 people and not affiliated with a label. Graphic Designers and Photographers are mostly freelance or in small groups/firms.

  • DN

    @Dave, and your question: “What’s the difference between fonts and pictures?”

    One difference is that people tend to think of fonts as readily usable–not subject to the rights of their creators. We use what we use for a font (Times, Arial, Helvetica, whatever) because people have them. @font-face means we can *give* it to them, which is a distribution problem we didn’t have beforehand. I.e., the font rule uses pre-existing licenses; @font-face distributes the software (font) anew, without any regard for licensing. Quite likely, in a normal instance of this, no one has made a decision to, but the type designer(s) just had their rights pooped upon.

  • DN

    (Also, to be sure, I’m not a typography anything–expert, designer, whatever. No vested interest.)

  • @DN “but the type designer(s) just had their rights pooped upon.”

    Why have they had their rights MORE pooped on than the creator of images on a webpage, or sound, or text? Thus why are type designers more in need of DRM than photographers?

    What I don’t want to see happen is a web page I design suddenly have its fonts removed because some foundry has decided not to support typekit any more. Couldn’t happen? If it can happen with music or on the Kindle it can certainly happen with typekit.

    Type designers must adjust to the modern world. Trust the web designers to evangelise for you. Teach them that type costs to design. The only people who will infringe your copyright would never have bought the type anyway.

  • Here are the best reasons, as a type designer, why fonts are different from most other graphic media:

    1) It takes significant time to develop quality fonts. Some designers spend years developing families.

    2) Fonts are very similar to software apps, yet have no built-in DRM that most software does. We have always had to “submit” to piracy as a matter of fact. Web distribution makes it even more likely. (Though I personally consider that all par for the course.)

    3) A lot of money is at stake.

    Now typing this I see the direct comparison to the music industry. So, change or die. My business, vows to change. I have modified our license (at least for the time being) to allow @font-face linking without addition fees/hoops.

    I will be participating in TypeKit as well and hope to see it work out. These are indeed interesting times to be a type designer.

  • mcloki

    Ethan that’s great. Consider Clickbits sold. It’s going to be much easier to just use a font of an arrow or phone than to create one in photoshop. And trust me I’ve made tens of arrows. Hours of my life.

    Instead of calling it a webfont license, call it an All Media License.

  • There you go. I like that. All Media License. Thanks @mcloki.

  • mcloki

    It’s my advertising and marketing background. I hope you profit greatly from it’s use.

  • Great discussion, all.

    Phil, Dave, Scott, thanks for asking such great questions and explaining your concerns with real examples. Peter, Dan, Ethan, thanks for making good arguments on the flip side. I’ve asked Typophiles to help us with this debate, and I’ve asked that they try to consider their profession from the perspective of folks who have been severely disappointed by other creative industries.

    k.l., thanks – good distinction, I’ll be sure to always say “licensed” in the future. Ben, thanks for the clarification about what it means to be a “large” type foundry.

    Scott, regarding your excellent Typekit licensing concern, can you make that a comment on Skepticism about Typekit?

  • DN

    @scottbp, I wasn’t just laying out how this happens, but why I think an explicit license would be helpful; why it’s different than how people use images and so on. Was I unclear?

    “More than” strikes me as a red herring, here, ready to throw us off the track. If you want something more akin to an ironclad legal reason, or an a priori argument, see the software comparison, above (e.g., license vs. copyright). My (attempted) contribution has to do with the situation as it stands with people, which laws and logic are here to serve, not the other way around.

  • DN

    (I seem unable to say anything in one post on this thread.)

    Regarding my last sentence: I mean to say it’s necessarily a consequentialistic and pragmatic angle I’m coming from. There are other angles, but this is one that makes good sense to me, other things being equal.

  • You are all correct.
    I do Digital Edition Magazines. etc

    EVERY client wants specific typface and regards that as a branding aspect that must be satisfied, with even greater rigor than print, since the digital editions get 250,000 views and last forever where the print ones get maybe 50,000 printed and most end up in landfill.

    Its my belief that the Client should specify and own such license(s) that we, the digital edition layout editors, are instructed to use. It gets seen more and we all know it. It has to anti-alias cleanly and many do not. It has to kern in 72 dpi without fault ( many fonts will make the word burn read like the word bum with a badly kerned lowercase ‘r’ slammed up against the ‘n’) Basically most webfonts suck and need to be pixel scale sensitive rather than bezier 300dpi pretty.

    I want to buy and use fonts that are qualified for “xx” pixel use by experts, us that font and not have to worry about anti-aliasing, kerning, linespace, bad column justify outcomes.

    … in this way, you are right, build it and they that are like me, will come in droves … love it and see that it gets paid for.

  • ooops . should clarify AFTER coffee … anyhow
    A very posh client complained his name read Washbum rather than Washburn in a font-related incident based on bad web kerning.

    also my typo

  • I think it may be more helpful for people to not compare fonts to images or video — but to software.

  • Web fonts are really useful when it comes of designing

  • What I don’t want to see happen is a web page I design suddenly have its fonts removed because some foundry has decided not to support typekit any more.

  • Thanks to you I got this all about website information that very useful. This post is different from what I read on most blog. Thanks for sharing this good info.

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  • With so many fonts available it really must be a tough market.

  • This is a great post, thanks to you I got this information. I appreciate your work, thanks for taking this opportunity to discuss this, the post is really helpful and it have so many new valuable things to learn. Thanks for sharing this article. Pretty good post.

  • That’s quite interesting, I didn’t think about your claim that Foundries and the type industry are actually misleading terms. However, after reading the explanation and the rest of the article I would have to say that I agree with the claims mentioned here.

  • Great resource. Thanks for providing them. Question: do you know of any tool that will show when a link is coming from an image so you can count how many links come from image placement on various sites?

  • Great post Tim. It’s great to see the community’s collective knowledge webfont together in a place like this for easy reference.

    Although I know you’re trying not to delve into the minutiae here, is not true that all browsers on Mac OS X text in exactly the same. Firefox usually shows the sources a bit heavier than the Safari, for example.

  • Nice article about Web fonts, they are really useful when it comes of designing. I will check further about Typekit and then see what I can do with it

  • Longview

    what a wonderful resource on fonts. Great fonts can really change the feel and style of the website. I appreciate you sharing this information great sites like this can be very helpful.

  • Homes

    This a great resource for understanding the spot market and I saved it to my favorites. Typekit sounds like it is very useful. Thanks for the detailed article.

  • My favorite class in college was a font class. I kind of wish I would have gone into design. But, I gotta have cash, ya know? I get frustrated and start feeling the regret when I find a font I want that I just can’t have, though.

  • jakemic

    this is what i looking for..

    i wondering the best match font for my design
    reading your article bright up my mind

    thanks dude

    Car Insurance

  • @jake

    yea, I found this page on Google. I’m guessing you did too.

  • ha, love the tongue in cheek comment at the end. those who create font are certainly up for a challenge with all of the new rules & CSS codes. but long and short of it is, there will always be a demand, so maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to adapt!

  • Nice guide for me I am new web designer, I hope it will help me a lot.

  • I hope this fonts are browser friendly.

  • perra-st
  • perra-st
  • Grate post I like this site !!

  • I think that OOP and design Provillus patterns are not all that essential when you’ve got first class functions, closures and dynamic typing.
    boob job

  • jim kartek

    nice commetns there i saw about this post keep it up
    recados para orkut

  • very very nice blog..

  • My personal opinon is that the .webfont makes more sense than Typekit, especially for individual typeface designers who may not want, (or can not afford), an intermediary between their work and a paying client.

    Just my two cents.

  • Amanda Moore

    This article contains a link to Interactive Intelligence, which was purchased by Genesys in 2016. For more information on this acquisition please visit:

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