Fonts - A Basic Guide to Licensing and Where to Buy

A previous client of mine, a marketeer working on a client’s website, asked me for some advice about fonts. She wanted to use some creative/fun fonts but was unsure where to get them from and what was involved with regard to licensing.

There are so many font websites out there, it can be pretty confusing. So I thought I’d share the advice I gave her in case it could be useful for anyone else.

These pointers are intended for people who want to have a basic understanding of font use and licensing, particularly for websites. If you’re working with a web developer, they will be able to further advise and may have access to a subscription font service such as Typekit.


First off, if you are going to use any non-system font on a commercial website, or for any other project for that matter, you should make sure you are permitted to use it. This just keeps everything above board, and is respectful to the type designers who created the font. (working partly as an illustrator, the subject of copyright and usage of someone else’s creative work is a pretty hot topic for me)

Either the font should be available as ‘free for commercial use’ or you should buy it. If it’s for web use, then you’ll need to buy a webfont (which will include a licence to use it) as opposed to the desktop version.

Desktop font - for use in applications on your computer

Web font - allows you to use a custom font on a website using @font-face. This means you can add/edit code in the CSS on platforms such as Wordpress and Squarespace, so that your preferred fonts can be used rather than the standard system fonts.

If you have bought a particular font or web font then you are fine to use it for that purpose. For website use, you may need to specify expected traffic to the site when buying, but usually the lowest threshold is pretty high.

You just need to cover yourself from using any font that you may have just 'acquired' from somewhere, so if for any reason the 'Font Police' track you down, you have proof that you have the right to use it.

Where to find fonts

These 2 sites are pretty extensive for quality fonts:  MyFonts  |  Fontspring
Both have different ways of searching for fonts - ie by style, latest releases and best sellers etc. If you find something you like though, Google it as there are lots of online places to buy fonts, and sometimes prices can vary.

Also, for the typophiles: Check out the Lost Type Co-op
A great source, and curated collection of characterful fonts, direct from individual type designers with a ‘Pay-what-you-want’ pricing policy. (Not all the fonts are available as web fonts though)

For free options:  Font Squirrel have fonts that are free for commercial use.
You just need to be wary of downloading free fonts that are just intended for personal use only, ie not commercial.

Google fonts are also free, and can be searched by style. A great selection, particularly of more standard styles, I tend to struggle here when looking for something a bit more individual.

How to use your chosen fonts

Once you have found and bought your chosen font how do you actually use it on your website?

Now, I’m no techno-whizz, and not really the best person to advise on coding. I have always worked with a developer who has taken care of this side of things for me. However, here are a couple of suggestions & links to online guidance...

1. A guide to using @font-face

2. Search Google to find out how to add a custom font to your particular platform, for example Wordpress or Squarespace. This sort of thing would have been done by others so shouldn't be too hard to find ?

3. To use Google fonts on your webpages

4. Try to find a friendly web developer/coder to help you

I do hope this guide has been useful, and hasn't put you off the idea of using custom fonts. I really think the time and effort put into selecting fonts that are right for your project can make all the difference - to the appearance, usability and overall feel of whatever you are creating.

Good Luck!