OH no Type Company.

How Do I Publish my First Font?

This email comes Tom Soulié:

I’ve just finished a font this month and I don’t know how or where can I publish it? I’ve already got a website, should i try to get the font on this website? Also, what about the license? I want my font to be free for personal use.

Congratulations on reaching the finish line! I’ve gotten this question a few times, from all sorts of people with a wide range of experience. I have made almost every mistake you can make with releasing type, and I completely understand wanting to get your work out into the world. My first piece of advice comes via legendary stand up comedian Steve Martin: “Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

In his memoir Born Standing Up, Steve Martin talks about how the question he gets most often from amateur performers is, ”How do you get an agent?” Perplexed by this, Steve replies with another question: “Shouldn't your only goal be to get so good they can’t ignore you?” This resulted in the title of Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which is a helpful read.

Now the question becomes, “how do you get good?” There are no shortcuts here. Study, practice, fail, and learn. Also, getting so good they can’t ignore you in a really popular genre is quite difficult. But standing out in a practice that only you care to pursue is significantly more doable. That’s why Hobeaux was my first release—I knew I could make the best Hobo in the world, and didn’t have a chance at creating the best neutral sans.

So let’s just assume you’re quite good, and have been honing your skills for a while. It might be good to ask yourself some questions.

#1

Why do you want to release it?

Possible answer: To make money. You should be aware this is a bit unlikely for your first typeface. If money is the reason for you getting in the type business, you should not be in the type business.

Possible answer: To get it “out there.” There is a unique feeling that comes with seeing your work in use by other designers, and it can be really cool on occasion! Most of the time however, it’s just ok. Perhaps I'm jaded.

Possible answer: People keep emailing me about it. I see this as a great reason to release type! If you've posted your work-in-progress typeface to social media, for instance, and people often ask you if they can license it (as in Jérémy’s case), the market has spoken! Listen to what people want from you.

Possible answer: Because it’s done. Just because a typeface is done, doesn’t mean it needs to be made available. It can feel disheartening to have finished work sitting on your hard drive, but just think of all you learned while working on it. I think the primary joy of working on type is the work itself. Any profit that comes as a result of that work is icing on the cake, not the cake.

At the end of the day, you probably have multiple reasons for wanting to release something, but in any case, a thoughtful self-analysis can be useful.

#2

What do you do?

You might consider reaching out to a foundry you like, and simply asking them if they think it is ready for release. Everyone has different quality standards, so just pick a foundry that you enjoy, and are a patron of.

Beyond that, it can be a good idea to pass beta versions of the typeface to graphic designer friends you respect and see what they think. They are usually happy to get a demo, and can offer some super helpful feedback.

The friend of quality is patience. Be kind to yourself, and remember that sometimes things take 2, 5, or 10 times longer than you might think. Preparing things for interpolation? OpenType features? Deciding on weights? Kerning? Getting functional metadata? All of these things take time—and significantly more time if you’ve never done them before.

Perfection is not the goal, because perfection is impossible. Instead, just set goals for yourself and try to make it the best quality you have ever done.

#3

I’m absolutely sure I want to release. Now what?

I think the absolutely coolest thing about type design (or any kind of creative practice) is the ability to own your own work. I would suggest this to everyone. Unfortunately, not everyone really wants to be in charge of licensing, marketing, and providing customer support for your typeface. In my opinion, these things are small prices to pay for owning your own work, but whatever! You do you!

Option A: The DIY route

Setting up shop. There are tons of options for setting up a simple web store to sell your fonts. If I was starting this right now, I'd use something like Fontdue or FoundryCore. Even if you're just setting up a Shopify, Gumroad, or Big Cartel (with Pulley for sending downloads) site, that would be more than enough to start. Ohno existed as a Big Cartel site that only sold desktop licenses for years before I worked with Oof Studio on this custom store. I sold every other kind of license (web and app) through email, and it was fine!

Getting a license. It’s best to work with a lawyer on the license. Unfortunately, I can’t offer any advice here other than finding a good lawyer that you like and has an understanding of intellectual property. Fonts are annoyingly niche and specific. This will be a lot of work but 100% worth every minute you put into it.

Marketing. The best marketing is a good typeface. With that said, you have to get the word out there. The best way I’ve found to do this is to 1). Be a positive member of the online type and graphic design community, and 2). Actively self-promote. If you’re shy about self-promotion, perhaps the DIY route is not for you. If you’re not shy, that is a superpower.

Option B: Partnering with a foundry

Pre Ohno, I released the fonts I made in college with Lost Type. This was huge for me, because Lost Type allowed me to retain 100% ownership of all of my designs, and 100% of all revenue. It was a necessary first step, and I feel super lucky for Riley Cran giving me that opportunity early on, but unfortunately (and understandably) it is the only foundry that functions in that way.

A good foundry partner is one where their library compliments your contribution, and performs their marketing in a way you’re comfortable with. There is every kind of foundry under the sun, but just make sure you’re always working with good people that give you a good gut feeling.

It is rare that an established foundry will release a new designer’s first effort, so don’t be discouraged if your dream foundry rejects you.

Closing thoughts

You might have noticed the hypocrisy in this article. Most of my advice can be summed up as, “take your time, get really good, and DIY release when you’re absolutely ready.” But in the beginning of my career, this is not what I did. I wonder if I could have even considered type design a viable career path without Lost Type showing me that it was possible.

Everyone’s path is different, and there are no right or wrong answers. But I always come back to Steve Martin’s advice, first we need to get so good they can’t ignore you.

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