Charlotte: Dear Céline, welcome to this Google Doc! You are an iconic graphic and type designer from Karlsruhe, Germany and you live in the Hague, NL now, where you studied in the Type and Media Department (Graduated 2020). Recently, you launched your own type foundry and had to come up with a pricing system.
And another very warm welcome to Margot Lévêque, iconic French Type Designer and Type Strategist currently based in New York, and Jacob Wise, iconic English-Dutch graphic designer specialised in type design. You both run your own independent type foundries as well and were invited to comment on Céline's and my conversation and add your perspectives. First of all, what made you decide for self publishing and against a larger Type foundry or Platform?
Céline: Hi Charlotte, thanks for inviting me to this chat and for the introduction! There were several reasons why I decided to launch my own foundry. First and foremost, I wanted to have full creative freedom and control over my work. My type design projects are very personal, and I use typefaces as a medium for storytelling. Typefaces always exist in other contexts, and those contexts shape the way they are perceived. Due to the personal approach to most of my typefaces, I don't see them fitting into any other catalog.
Secondly, I wanted to have full control over the distribution, accessibility, and pricing. It’s important for me to develop an ethical design practice. By having my own foundry I am able to support political projects and can choose freely who gets to use my typefaces or what projects I want to sponsor (by giving discounts or free licenses). In a way, I was very inspired by you offering free licenses for feminist projects or by your initiative, Solitype. I believe this is a great way to demonstrate the political potential of selling typefaces.
Lastly, there are not too many female-led type foundries out there. Most of the industry is still dominated by men who decide who gets the jobs and money, etc. I believe starting my own foundry supports the visibility of women in the field and also allows me to decide for myself with whom to collaborate.
I believe some of these reasons were also your motivations for starting to sell your own typefaces. Do you have any additional points to add?
Charlotte: That’s all really good reasons! Big type foundries might adjust your typeface to fit their catalogue and make them more commercial. I guess it depends what you want from your typefaces.
Story Time: I actually once signed a contract with Monotype to have them distribute Marguerite Grotesk. I never started type design with the intention of actually living off of it (the benefits of starting during your studies I guess). After my graduation, I just wanted to hand it over to someone who would handle the distribution for me. I dissolved the contract before it came out because I was approached by Martin Gropius Bau and I needed to speed up the process and work within their Budget. Afterwards it just happened that my sales increased steadily, so I decided to stay with self-publishing. Talking about Monotype probably having been too expensive for a cultural institution, self publishing also allows us to set our own prices. Could you explain your retail pricing model?
Céline: Yes, being able to decide the value of pricing of my typefaces is one of my favorite but also one of the most difficult parts. I’m still figuring out how much to charge. Initially, I was comparing different pricing and licensing models from various foundries. I noticed that there are huge differences between the foundries and that the pricing and licensing conditions profoundly shape the image of a foundry.
After my research I decided to sell each typeface at a different price. My first release, “Tonka,” (drawn in collaboration with Huw Williams) is a large variable sans-serif superfamily with two axes and an extensive character set. I wanted the project to be understood and perceived as a serious endeavor. Therefore, I wanted the pricing to reflect the quality of the work. It is also a very versatile typeface. I assume a client can use it for a variety of applications. So there is a lot of value that can potentially come out of buying it. Therefore I currently price it starting at 70 euros per single license.
Another project I recently released, called “Sweet Lily,” is a variable experimental display typeface with flower initials. It only contains 26 letters and a set of figures. This started as a fun project for myself. It is a very specific typeface so I don't have high revenue expectations for it; my main goal was to make it accessible for people to experiment with. Therefore, the single style is priced at 7 euros, and the variable font starts at 13 euros.
My licensing model is based on the number of employees a client has. As a graphic designer, you don't purchase a license for your studio but for each client project. This model was first implemented by Dinamo and Mass-Driver, I believe, and it made sense to me. My foundry operates on a platform called Fontdue, which includes a tool called the multiplier scale. I can add values by which I want the price to be multiplied, depending on factors such as the number of employees. Any company with more than 300 employees is required to reach out and discuss the options directly with me. This model favours smaller independent companies. I'm not entirely sure yet if my multiplier values make complete sense, but it’s just a starting point, and I might adjust the prices in a few months.
Furthermore, there are discounts available for activist projects that I support and for students. What is your pricing model?
Charlotte: Interesting! So you consider fun to make your work less valuable? I mean I get that you probably also think that it’s a highly specific typeface which not a lot of people will have a use for, but it’s not that it was less hours no? So the value of your product is not in relation to its genesis, but to the market.
I chose my prices (ca 70€ per license) based on a little field research, just like you, and then deducted ca 20% percent because some of my typefaces aren’t professionally mastered. Also, some of my typefaces are less elaborate so they cost a little less. I recently had to raise my prices due to inflation, and also because my typefaces are never finished and I retouch them once a year or so, so their quality increases steadily.
Céline: I think it's mostly because I want those display typefaces to be used as much as possible for non-commercial projects. I assume that designers who would use a typeface with flowers might use them maybe once or twice and not as extensively as a workhorse sans. Probably the indicator of the commercial success of typefaces is how much they are used and in which contexts they appear, right? The more affordable they are, the more they get used. Last year I released a display typeface “Dark Academia” for free on Dafont. By now it has 7k downloads and I see it being used in many contexts. In a way I don’t make any money directly off the typeface but it serves as a business card for my practice.
Ideally, I would also like to receive more commissions for custom display typefaces or logos. So I guess I also make them cheaper, in order to promote my work. Additionally, all these projects have been paid for upfront, either through funding or because they were originally part of a commission. That’s perhaps the only reason why I can afford to produce typefaces for which I take 24 hours to draw a single letter.
I think a lot about the fact that a significant part of my practice is funded upfront, thanks to the grant opportunities in the Netherlands. How do you feel about using grants to produce typefaces that can ultimately be sold?
Charlotte: Ah that’s a very important point. The fact that typefaces can get funding frees them from the dictation of the market. I think it’s a great way to operate! I’ve never really done it explicitly, but also I haven’t designed a new typeface in a while haha (*cries*)
Still, I think that the price shouldn’t necessarily be lower just because you have already been paid. Also sometimes, if something is expensive, it seems more desirable.
So let’s talk about licensing more in detail. There’s two ways of looking at a typeface, and eventually it’s good to look both ways: A typeface can be seen as software, just like indesign. With a license for indesign, it doesn’t matter what you do with it, it just matters on how many computers you install it. Then there is what Dinamo calls “value based pricing”, meaning that the price is measured by how much revenue the typeface might make for the company and how big the company is. Can you tell me your thoughts on this? Feel free to be specific: Tell me about all the categories you apply: Medium? (desktop, web, social, video?) Employees? CPU? UVPM?
Céline: For now, I've kept it relatively simple and applied the same license to every medium. The price depends on the size of the company that uses the typeface. I'm not sure if this is the optimal approach, but I wanted to keep it straightforward and intuitive in the beginning. I settled on this model after discussions with Rutherford Craze (Mass-Driver), who has been using it for a while now, and it seems to work for him. I plan to re-evaluate the model in a year to see if it meets all my needs.
This approach also made sense to me from the perspective of being a graphic designer. As a graphic designer, I prefer to charge my clients for the typefaces they use for a project rather than investing in fonts myself. That way, I have the option to use a wider variety of typefaces, compared to building up a library for myself.
What has your experience been so far? Have you tried different models, and are you satisfied with your current one?
Margot: Hi Charlotte and Céline! I’ve also been following this same model as you Céline for my licensing model for the past 2 years, after talking with Weltkern Typefaces in the past—who have been applying this licensing model since 2016 (it seems they were the pioneers at the time in implementing this method). Fortunately, many foundries have adopted this principle, and I think it's the best way to proceed at this time. Let me explain:-) Each of my licenses covers unrestricted usage for Logos, Print, Websites, Mobile Applications, Global Corporate, Electronic Publications, Social Networks, Videos, and Movies.
Our font pricing is determined by the size of the company that holds the font's license, not the number of individuals working with font files. The only number you need to calculate the price for our licenses is the size or our client's company (Thanks Dinamo:)!). No information about web traffic or app downloads is required. A font's price is based on how many people access the font files. Consider a large automobile company with numerous departments where only a small number of employees actually use computers (such as the marketing or accounting departments). Now, compare this to a small institution where a variety of tasks are often handled by the same few people on the same few computers. See the difference? The small institution ends up paying much more than the large company. We used to price this way in the past, but it never felt right.
Also, based on our experience, the cost of our licenses typically amounts to only 0.05% to 0.5% of a company's annual revenue. So, everyone's a winner! :) For the moment, I admit that I haven't created a specific logo license. However, if there's any customization involved, I currently charge an additional 15% on the total.
Furthermore, I don't ask design agencies to purchase an additional license, but only the final client (the license owner). I believe that design agencies or graphic designers who use one of my fonts for their clients should almost be entitled to a commission because it's thanks to them that my font will be used!! So, I don't think it's fair to make them pay as well :)
Jacob: Hello everyone! Font pricing has always been a tricky one for me. I set up my foundry before I really understood the type world and certain conventions within the industry such as appropriate pricing. When I initially sold licenses via email to email transaction I was only charging around €20 for Desktop / Web. That said, I was still quite young just out of school and that price seemed reasonable to me – especially since that was the amount I had paid as a student for the one or two font licenses that I actually purchased (aside from the hundreds of pirated fonts I was using for student work ). Thereafter, as I began focusing more on type design and improving my skills, this base price gradually increased as I believed the overall quality did also. I think setting my prices so low initially was not a real conscious decision as I didn’t really know better, but it allowed my fonts to be used by more people which was always the biggest motivation of doing it. However as much as it was financially more accessible, I was noticing that these low prices were being exploited by large companies on the old Desktop/Web/App pricing model I was using until quite recently. Large companies could quite easily argue that only their two in-house designers would be the only individuals needing licensing, thus they could get away paying the lowest pricing tier.
When I first heard of Dinamo’s value-based licensing, it seemed ridiculously logical. I recently decided to move to this model as it was far fairer and simpler for all. I have to give a big thanks to Dinamo and Massdriver for helping answer a lot of questions when rewriting my EULA and licensing model. One thing I’ve learned from speaking to a range of studios and agencies is that font licensing is still way too esoteric and complicated than it needs to be. The industry is fast paced and therefore the licensing terms need to be as easy to understand as possible. As Rutherford said, it should be as easy as “you buy the font, you use the font…” My updated model aims to cut away the chaff and extra bobbins to try and make it easier to understand.
So to keep things relatively concise; prices are set in tiers relative to the size of the licensed organisation. There’s no other distinction made between uses. A few uses require custom licensing but for the most part you can use the fonts willy nilly (desktop, web, app – it’s all covered). Client = “licensee”, the one who pays and benefits from the end product, Designer = “subcontractor”, the one who designs for the client.
I also include a little word for non-profits or for projects where costs are tight. I’m always happy to see if I can issue free licenses to those with a good purpose or for artists projects where they might not have as much funds available – it costs me nothing and it’s always nice to see the fonts used.
Regarding my current pricing, I have a few tiers to make things simple for users and admin for myself. These are: S, M, L, XL. Anything above 70 employees at the licensee company requires custom licensing via email. The current tiers are as follows:
S: 1–3 people €50
M: 4–10 people €139
L: 11–35 people €249
XL: 36–70 people €549
For certain typeface such as Zaft2 (designed with Céline), I set the family price far lower than in other typefaces as I really want people to be able to use the full suite + variable fonts. I’m terrible at math so Rutherford really helped me out with creating an excel price calculator to determine the prices based on no. Users and making sure the discount value increased the higher the users so it sort of has a logarithmic curve effect.
Charlotte: Yeah this is also a very important point: who pays for the typeface? In my opinion, too, it should be the client, because the client profits from it, right? Technically, both licenses have to be paid: the one of the computer program which should be paid by the Designer and then the one of the Image ™ that should be paid by the client.
So a graphic designer would pay to be able to install the typeface on their computer and then the client pays for the image license. But this is unfortunately very unrealistic, so if I have to choose, I choose for the client to pay. I also – as a lil anti-capitalist – just HATE the idea that a big corporation pays the same price as an artist that wants to publish a little booklet. That just doesn’t sit right with me.
My current model is the following:
70€ (base price) * x (volume) * y (number of media) * z (prominence ( I add 50% if they want to use it in the logo)).
I obviously have no control over the truthfulness. I cannot afford a lawyer or the time to actually check. It forces me to trust.
How do you deal with the situation of seeing your typeface unrightfully in use?
Céline: Ah, that's a smart model too. I also haven't figured out the logo options yet. So far, I haven't encountered that issue. I suppose I would email the person and try to resolve it personally. Recently, I was quite upset with a friend for whom I designed a custom typeface. He used it for a commercial project without my consent or credit, which was a hurtful experience. However, I reached out to him, and he ended up paying me a percentage and crediting me afterward. I feel like many of these smaller cases happen by accident and not out of malice.
I have used ChatGPT for some contracts and legal advice and found it very helpful, especially for getting the legal terminology right. Have you had any experiences where your work was used without your consent or credit?
Charlotte: Actually ya, a record label affiliated with Sony used an early version of Seribabe for an album cover of a London-based rapper. I assume the freelance designer they hired just had an old student license or had eventually bought it themselves and then used it for this commercial project. I wrote a nice email to the record label – weirdly, no answer.
I just close my eyes honestly. We also all know how typefaces travel between computers or how easily they can be retrieved from a website backend. I just trust in enough people respecting my work.
Margot: Unfortunately, this has happened to me quite a bit. And, you know what (after discussing it with Weltkern again) - it's because I've had my fonts copied or seen my fonts used without consent that I decided to make trial versions of my fonts available, including their complete glyphset. Now, my trial versions are identical to my licensed fonts. Whether we like it or not, our fonts circulate everywhere, so it's better for me to feel that I'm the one who makes them accessible to everyone! As soon as I spot my fonts being used, I conduct a check. And for the rest, I operate on trust. Honestly, with everything on my plate during the day, I'd rather focus my energy elsewhere! And fortunately, most people are honest.
Jacob: Yes I totally agree. Font licensing is always based on trust. I just trust that those who will actually use it for commercial purposes will arrange the right license and therefore I no longer put the energy into caring about my fonts being pirated – if anything it’s free advertising! I also now issue full character-set trials so people can really test it within their layouts. I think that our generation is a lot more open and realistic regarding these matters.
Coming back to the point of the trust dynamic within font licensing, I have discovered that this is very much a cultural thing – attitudes towards intellectual property rights are intrinsically linked to location. Since the web is global, it’s difficult to really police anything so I learned to just bite the bullet; in the end, it all sort of balances itself out…
Charlotte: Let’s talk custom type design. What’s your day rate? How many days do you calculate? How do you make the License?
Céline: I am currently stating that I have a day rate of 800 euros for any art direction/design jobs. This number used to be much lower but then I discussed it with some of our male colleagues who have the same education and work experience as me and decided to adapt my prices accordingly. I find it very useful to be transparent about this and discuss my quotes with my friends. Typically, I halve that rate for simple production jobs. In reality, I rarely receive that full amount, but I believe it's essential to mention it regardless to emphasize one's value.
Yesterday, I sent out a quote for a custom job in the Netherlands. However, I haven't heard back from them, so I don't know yet if the prices are realistic. The job would be an independent client in the cultural sector.
Adjusting a current typeface by changing a few characters: 1.5-2k
Typeface for some headlines and short copy: per style 3k
Complete new typeface per style: 4-6k
Exclusive design for a period of 2 years: add 2k
My pricing als varies depending on the size and status of the client. If this was a big brand approaching me I would most likely charge a lot more. I haven't written a license for this yet, but I would use my standard license and adapt it according to the client's needs. What about you? What are your rates?
Charlotte: Usually for a buyout for 10 years i just double the amount of my price, for 5 years it’s +80%.
>>>>>>Margot: I've been told before that that anything above 5 years exclusivity is essentially a buyout for the client since typefaces have a lifespan. I didn't know anything about exclusivity when I started so it's something I think it crucial for other designers to understand! Negotiating a full buyout of the rights is something that should not be done lightly. Most custom fonts give exclusivity for max 3-5 years after which the rights for distribution revert back to the designer so you can then release it yourself if you choose to. In a case of a full buyout, the price really has to be worthwhile all your time + all the speculative cost you would miss out on from never being able to release it yourself.
I used to charge per day, ca 500€ because i wasn’t aware of what my work is worth, but now I charge per letter (also a Dinamo model btw). Often i get asked to adapt one of my retail typefaces. Per adjustment I charge 200€. Let’s say it’s 2 weights and 6 letters to adjust, it’s 2400€. Then i add my hourly rate of 70 for communication and and preparation. If i am also doing the conceptual work i also charge per hour. So let’s say i do 12 hours of calls and prep plus the changes, we have 3240€ just for the work. If they wanted the changes exclusively, I‘d here probably triple just bc the amount is so low. If my work would amount to sth around 10k, I would double for exclusive rights.
Jacob: It depends on the project but I rarely take on large custom typeface projects due to the time investment needed and I’m already spinning a fair few plates as it is. I have a few customisations of my existing typefaces for clients. In these cases it’s always started from a conversation and until recently I didn’t really have a set approach. Based on asking a few foundries, I now have a baseline cost of €600 for any modifications and then add my hourly rate for the actual work which is currently €100. I’ve found working by day / hourly rate far more fair and stress free. Again this depends on the client and I’m always happy to discuss it with them to come to an agreement. This is aside from the particular licensing costs.
Regarding custom licensing for large clients, this also starts from a general conversation to determine the right figure. In these situations, I’ve always aked other more experienced foundries for help to get a broader perspective – no two custom licenses are alike! Recently I negotiated a license with a large brand and offered a range of prices based on some conditions. Some of these options were based on font usage; European wide, North America, global… Another variable was the licensing period; 18 months, 2 years, 5 years, perpetual… Although my regular license permits perpetual use, with large companies the cost can sky-rocket unless some restrictions are added to bring the costs down. It’s also useful to show a range of prices to show that there’s a method to the madness and it’s not just a case of randomly throwing around numbers.
Charlotte: Where do you see possibilities to insert politicality into the distribution of typefaces? Do you believe in the clause in the EULA that protects the typeface from right wing uses? Do you believe in eulas, since we talked about trust?
Céline: Here are the paragraphs from mine. I believe it’s important to include it to take a stance as a designer. I can imagine that it also helps with self-promotion. In a way, buying a typeface is similar to buying groceries. As a consumer, you get to choose whom you want to support. When I purchase typefaces, I also try to support other small foundries that seem to share the same political views I like to support.
I have also heard from friends who have similar EULA and have actually pursued cases where their typefaces were used in the wrong contexts. I know that most people probably won't read the EULA, but it's good to have it as a reference and to highlight in presentations or while teaching. Have you ever encountered your typefaces being used in a context you didn't want them to be used in?
7.2 Restrictions against Discriminatory Usage
You may not use the font software, in whole or in part, for any purpose that promotes or incites hatred, discrimination, or violence based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected characteristic. You shall not create or distribute typographic works that contain offensive, defamatory, or discriminatory content. Céline Hurka reserves the right to determine the appropriateness of any usage and may revoke the license if the font software is used in violation of this restriction.
7.3 Political or Religious Usage
You acknowledge that any explicitly political or religious usage of the font software, including but not limited to the use of the font software in political and religious campaigns, advertisements, or propaganda, requires prior written permission from Céline Hurka. You agree to contact Céline Hurka to seek permission and provide details of the intended political and religious usage. Céline Hurka reserves the right to grant or deny permission for such usage at its sole discretion.
Jacob: Ah yes the restrictions can be a way of nice way of positioning your work. Although a lot of it is difficult to argue in a court of law I see the EULA as more of a deterrent than anything. Pursuing anything in court can be financially catastrophic so if a large company decides to misuse your fonts, it’s going to be very difficult to fight back unless it’s legally concrete and watertight. That said, I really encourage designers to tailor their licenses to their ideals and morals. Of course it does make you a sort of moral arbiter but at what cost? I think it’s nicer to have some level of security to make sure it doesn’t end up being used in instances which you are strongly opposed to.
In my EULA, I restrict uses for any explicitly political or religious context, or any context relating to cryptocurrency or the sale of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs), without the prior consent. I also say that consent is required by use by news and media organisations or by state controlled companies. I also forbid the use of the fonts in any violent or hateful contexts or any form of discrimination based on specific characteristics like race, religion, gender, or disability. Use of the Fonts in any contexts linked to the promotion of fossil fuel use, deforestation, mistreatment of animals or by any military establishments is also prohibited.
Charlotte: Amazing insight, thank you! It’s great that you put in there that you want to be asked first. Much more specific than saying „forbidden for right wing use“, which — as you said — can feel performative.
Thanks Céline, Jacob and Margot for being so open and sharing your views on this!
Céline Hurka (DE, *1995) is a graphic and type designer from Karlsruhe, Germany. She works on freelance projects in the cultural field, where she combines an interest in editorial design with emphasis on type design and photography.
Margot Lévêque (FR, *1993) is a French Type Designer and Type Strategist currently based in New York. She has a solid knowledge in the typography field and helps brands create unique typography with a honed design aesthetic. This process includes a custom logo, bespoke typefaces and type design advisements.
Jacob Wise (NL, *1994) is an English-Dutch graphic designer specialised in type design. He splits his time between freelance work spread across cultural projects, music and branding as well as designing and publishing typefaces on his own foundry WiseType®.
Charlotte Rohde (DE, *1992) is an artist, (type)-designer, and writer. She lives and works in Berlin after graduating from the Sandberg Instituut in 2020. She is currently the Guest Professor for Typography and Type Design at Bauhaus Universität Weimar, Germany.