Under what conditions can I modify a font for commercial use?

Hi all

I have been reading up on licensing, but I am just not sure of my case. 

For a start-up company I am creating the logo, product and packaging design. For this I would like to make small adjustments to the Today SH font; I would then use it for the logo, and for some text on the product and packaging.

The adjustments would be minor and not necessarily all letters will be affected (though all letters that appear in the logo will); a bit like this David Rudnick remix of the Poplar font:

My questions are:

- If I do my adjustments directly onto the font file: is a license needed at all? Is a special license needed?
- If I work from a jpeg, tracing it to vectors myself, and then do my adjustments: is a license needed?
(- How does Rudnick deal with the licensing for the above example?)
- Any other things I need to know?

Thanks in advance for any reply.


  • André G. IsaakAndré G. Isaak Posts: 624
    edited July 2020
    Well, anytime you use a commercial font you would need a license.

    The relevant section of the E+F license would be:

    2.4 Modifying the Font Software is prohibited, even in the event that it is necessary for fulfilling personal design requirements. Specifically, it is prohibited to change or modify the Font/Trademark Names used as identifying tags in the Font Software in any form or manner. If such changes or modifications become necessary, prior written consent has to be obtained from Elsner+Flake.

    So you would need permission before modifying the font file.
  • JoannesMathieuJoannesMathieu Posts: 9
    edited July 2020
    Thank you. I thought that's what that section meant, but it just seemed so strange that I would need written permission for this...

    Don't designers adjust fonts all the time in their work? 

    Let's say I do all my adjustments in Illustrator and never use them as a font (i.e. never with the Text Tool)? Would that change anything?


    Also, let's say Rudnick decides he wants to sell his Poptimo Blast, or place it on a server. Would he really go to the license seller of Poplar first to get a server license? Does his adjusted font never become his own?
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 273
    edited July 2020
    You would be better off using a font licensed under the SIL Open Font License or one licensed under GPL or LGPL.
    There are plenty of them about so I'm sure you will be able to find something suitable if you look.
    If you want something exclusive and unique you will have to pay for it.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 294
    edited July 2020
    @JoannesMathieu, what you can do completely depends upon the license and the jurisdiction. I'll answer your questions in the context of Today SH that uses the Elsner+Flake End User License Agreement for Font Software (EULA) on MyFonts.

    If I do my adjustments directly onto the font file: is a license needed at all? Is a special license needed?
    At a minimum, a basic desktop license is required for use in desktop software. Modifying the Font Software is prohibited (section 2.4). What can you do to modify forms? You could write out your text in a vector program, e.g. Illustrator, outline the font and then edit that vector graphic.

    If you find that type design software is best for editing vector graphics, then nothing in this license prevents you from doing that, providing you do not edit the font file itself. 

    If you want to modify the font and use it to style text (e.g. by installing your modified version and opening it up in InDesign), then I'd advise contacting the foundry directly to discuss pricing and options.
    If I work from a jpeg, tracing it to vectors myself, and then do my adjustments: is a license needed? (How does Rudnick deal with the licensing for the above example?)
    It depends upon several facets, including the jurisdiction of the license and the laws governing that jurisdiction. Is the final vector noticeably dissimilar? 
    Any other things I need to know?
    Font licensing is a can of worms. I'd be happy to discuss further as a consultant. 
  • Nick CurtisNick Curtis Posts: 118
    Poplar is based on a old woodtype font. I made a freeware font called Copper Canyon from original source material, and it's available from the usual suspects. You can modify to your heart's content, as long as the modified font is not resold as a font.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 294
    fine and permitted by pretty much any font license
    If it's ok for us to generalise font licensing on a font forum, how come everybody pays out to have their own individual license? It's really tough on licensees and plays a huge role in a lot of the confusion. The primary reason that I'm such a fan of the Open Font License is that it's so consistent and widespread. You know exactly what's permitted without going back and rereading the license each time.
  • I make fonts and I also buy fonts. Because I work in books, I almost always have the opportunity to credit type designers for their contribution. I like to think my work has been of benefit—or, at least, never a detriment—to the type designers whose fonts I use. 

    I often make small alterations to fonts. These include the addition of glyphs I need (such as h-underdot, U+1E25) that few fontmakers include, which also means adding them to the kerning table. I make changes to the standard ligature set (such as removing the Th) and occasional kerning adjustments, to suit my needs and taste. These are things that can be done by other means, within the applications I use, but only with some extra effort and potential problems in very long texts that go through extensive correction passes. (Constructing an underdot h in, say, InDesign makes it difficult to search text.) I used to ask for permission, and still do from designers I know, but I once ran into difficulty with someone who became very surly about it. In the end, I told him I would proceed according to plan and advised him to “lawyer up” if he wanted to address the issue further. I never heard from him again. And I never again approached a designer I didn’t know about this kind of thing. 

    I fully understand the need for the protection of intellectual and work property (it’s an issue for me, too), but there are reasonable limitations and unreasonable limitations, especially as applied to what is, in key respects, an industrial component that is used as part of a larger whole. I say this as a matter of fact, not to denigrate the importance of type design, which I will defend to the end. After all, people can “ruin” and even “defame” fonts perfectly well in design applications without ever violating a license agreement. I have yet to see a EULA that threatens to punish the slovenly use of fonts.

  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 273
    edited July 2020
    Some of my fonts are available on the Local Fonts website, if there is anything suitable for your needs.
    They are all under the SIL Open Font license which means you can modify them as much as you like, the only thing you can't do is sell them.
    Or there's always Font Squirrel.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 992
    edited July 2020
    André and Katy are correct from a legal perspective. It depends entirely on the foundry’s license. In the case of Poplar, which is an Adobe font, the license is very permissive and permits font modification, but not distribution of the modified font. E+F’s license does not.

    let's say Rudnick decides he wants to sell his Poptimo Blast … Does his adjusted font never become his own?

    This question is a little puzzling to me. Why would Rudnick’s modification of an existing font outline become something he has a right to sell? If he wants to sell a font as his own he would surely want to create something new, (even if based on the original wood type as Nick says), not modify a few outlines and resell it.
  • Thank you to all of you who were so kind to help out. This has been very enlightening already.

    I will be meeting with the startup at the end of the week; it will be interesting to hear what they have to say. Money shouldn't be the issue, but I guess there is sort of a dependence on E+F that, I myself at least, don't like (and had never really considered before!).

    I have emailed E+F to see if they would allow for modification and under what conditions. I have also started to think of new design ideas, this time taking the above advice to go for open license fonts.
  • KP MawhoodKP Mawhood Posts: 294
    @John Hudson You're spot on with your answer, and it's always helpful to have this elegantly phrased. My post was in direct response to your generalisation of font licensing. I was surprised, and that reignited the question for me. 

    There are clear subsets of font licenses that reflect overlapping business models, and there have been various attempts to capture these subsets. The big question I ponder is this: how many sales are lost as a result of font licensing complexity, misunderstanding and/or being deterred by that complexity?

    Anecdotally this thread is very positive because it confirms an example where "money shouldn't be the issue". A licensee feels encouraged towards the libre licensing on grounds of license comprehension/reassurance, not the cost of the license or value of risk. 
    John Hudson said:

    Frankly, having a single EULA per foundry seems to me remarkable—Tiro fonts are released under three different license models, and that’s without taking into account whatever we eventually settle on for indigenous language use—, let alone a single EULA shared by multiple foundries.
    If you take into account older licenses (without a superseding clause), then there are so many different licenses under each foundry, before even considering specific decisions to adopt several license models. 
  • k.l.k.l. Posts: 94
    edited July 2020
    @JoannesMathieu, when it comes to a question like this, it is more effective to ask the respective foundry first, they can give you a definitive answer.

    (Asking on some forum may get you an interesting discussion which however does not answer your question. This is something that only the foundry can do. Also, reading this thread again, I notice that your initial post is quite precise, technically, but it does not provide context. Your latest post, finally, does. It makes quite a difference.)
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