Pros and Perils of Personal Fonts In Team Projects

Tara Storozynsky
April 16, 2024

Graphic designers glean inspiration and even comfort from their personal font collections. But when a designer brings their own fonts into a team environment, things get complicated.

Do those personal fonts provide inspiration? Speed things up? Cause workflow issues? Introduce licensing risk to the larger business concern?  

The truth is there are clear benefits, but also downsides—including serious risk.

A creative process with font freedom can be faster, fun, and provide a significant competitive advantage. But choice without constraint introduces serious problems that can wreak havoc on any bottom line. In our recent State of Risk In Creative Operations Report, we learned that roughly two thirds of creative organizations allow designers to bring their own fonts into projects. (You can grab the report here.) We were genuinely surprised because this pathway represents the most significant way unlicensed and under-licensed fonts enter creative environments, leading to serious consequences for businesses.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of designers bringing in fonts from their personal collections, and how you can safeguard your own organization.

Key Takeaways

Short on time? Jump ahead for more detail as needed.

The Benefits

In a word, vibes.

  • Designer happiness 
    The freedom to bring in and use preferred fonts can boost morale and motivation. Boosting designer happiness can improve talent retention, which is a serious challenge in the creative industry given its annual turnover rate of roughly 30%.  

    What’s more, designers often have favorite fonts which, even if not used in the final launch, they feel more comfortable and productive using in ideation.  
  • Increased productivity
    By being able to freely access fonts in their own collection rather than hunting down and adapting to new fonts, designers can significantly speed up turnaround time. When deadlines are tight, it’s reasonable to cut busy work wherever you can. Some businesses choose to implement a liberal font sourcing policy, and clean up the mess after production. 
  • More font variety leads to more unique work
    Over the past several years, we have collectively seen a wave of homogenization in branding. This can serve to make well established brands look current, but it also presents challenges for newer brands yearning to make impressions with customers. It has become very hard to stand out, and a larger group of fonts to choose from can encourage more unique designs.

The Perils

At the risk of sounding dramatic, the cons are better described as perils.  

  • Licensing Issues  
    Licensing discrepancies are almost unavoidable when designers bring in fonts from their private collection, for several reasons. In fact, in our recent State of Risk In Creative Operations Report, we found that 39.2% of surveyed professionals had experienced issues resulting from font misuse.   

    Some font licenses only allow for their use in personal projects, and therefore the font being used in a professional project will violate the terms of use. However, licenses also have nuanced specifications regarding usage across print, web, and social media. So, for example, even if this font was licensed for commercial use, it could be restricted to print-only.  Some fonts even have different licenses available depending on the web traffic volume of the site where they will be featured.  

    While many designers do read EULAs at the time of purchase (although they may not fully understand them), the details are often forgotten after initial procurement (shudder). 

    For in-house creative teams, this risk is significant. For agencies, the risk is essentially doubled; you’re exposing yourself to licensing and legal issues, but you’re also exposing your clients. This can lead to serious problems with client relations and lasting damage to your reputation.  

    Laissez-faire font policies were sufficient in the past because the risk of getting caught was so slim. However, compliance-checkers are cracking down. Font foundries now have more advanced detection tools, processes, and even entire roles dedicated to locating where their fonts are being used without a license or in breach of license terms. 
  • Reputation Risk  
    When licensing issues are not quickly resolved, they can evolve into full-on legal problems—and litigation is terribly unkind to your reputation as a business. 

    In the case of a cease-and-desist letter, an entire plan for font substitution must be strategized and implemented for the assets in question to meet the foundry’s demand. In the case of a full-fledged lawsuit, at least one of your team members will need to pause their projects to actively work with legal counsel (and legal counsel is not cheap). That effort and financial burden is all on top of the hit your company will likely take when it comes to securing new business, as lawsuits have the tendency to drive clients away due to the fear of being caught up in similar legal action. 

    Read about high profile font lawsuits here.  
  • Font Incompatibility  
    Not all font formats are the same. Using fonts from a personal collection can lead to inconsistencies across different devices and design tools, therefore pumping the brakes on creative operations at multiple stages.
  • Inefficiency and Disorganization   
    What happens when everyone just brings “whatever” to a potluck? It’s usually a lot of potato salad fighting for space on the table. Or in this case, countless rogue fonts, many of which may be duplicates.

    Supporting everyone’s selected fonts can prove burdensome to whatever system you’re using, and even lead to illegal font sharing during creative operations (which can then lead to legal issues and put your company’s reputation at risk).

A Path Forward 

How can you protect against font risk while keeping your team inspired and comfortable? Here are the two best ways to go about it.  

Don’t Allow Personal Fonts In The Workflow At All

A designer can use fonts supplied to them by management, then utilize a font management tool like Connect that supports collaboration, consistency, and locks out fonts from personal collections
If a designer wants to use a font that is not accounted for, they can make a request for management to purchase licensing for that font, and management will then add it to the appropriate shared libraries for projects in question. In other words, all fonts in use are sourced through the organization. 

Allow Personal Fonts With Safeguards

If a designer is allowed to use personal fonts in a project, there needs to be a system in place to prevent licensing issues and clarify which font types are allowed to be introduced. Personal fonts in use will need to be proactively tagged by each designer, with a clear process in place for submitting those fonts for license examination and repurchasing when necessary.   

Finally, auditing projects at multiple stages will ensure that no under-licensed fonts sneak in during design refinement. If you choose to go this route, Connect is an excellent option for scanning Adobe files throughout creative operations to identify font errors.

You’ve Got This

A wise man once said that “knowing is half the battle.” Okay, you caught us, GI Joe said that in a public service announcement at the end of that same cartoon, but it’s still true.  
When you optimize your creative operations to safeguard against major font issues, your business is more secure from top to bottom. Doing what you love and having peace of mind… we consider that to be truly inspiring. 

Want To Learn More About Personal Fonts In Creative Environments?

Our 2024 State of Risk In Creative Operations Report highlights key findings in the industry—ranging from how often personal fonts are permitted, to how different creative teams tackle licensing audits. 

Grab the report today to get the lay of the land and reflect on how you can refine your own processes to help mitigate risk.