Why a leading London foundry is letting users trial fonts for free

Late last year, leading type foundry Dalton Maag launched a new website that enables registered users to download full font files for pitches, non-commercial work and student projects, for free.

The trial font and new licensing options were influenced by digital music services like iTunes and Spotify. But, with no guarantee that uses will pay for downloaded fonts before using them commercially, it's a risky move.

Here, Dalton Maag chairman Bruno Maag explains why the foundry made the decision - and why he believes it's the future for the typography design industry…

Here at Dalton Maag, we're best known for our bespoke font suites for large multinational technology companies like Intel and HP, but we also license fonts from our library. Limited budgets and tight deadlines will often mean that an existing typeface is the only choice for a designer.

But despite being much cheaper and quicker, it can still be difficult to persuade clients to invest properly in typography, with some struggling to understand the value of equipping their brand with an appropriate type style.

Font freedom

Often, during the pitching process, it's important to be able to show the client mockups using the proposed font or fonts to help them appreciate the visual expression of the full range of a particular typeface.

But we know, because of feedback from graphic designers, that the cost of purchasing fonts for pitches and proposals is often prohibitive given the chance that they may not, in the end, be used. We also know that font users will sometimes 'borrow' fonts from their colleagues and acquaintances in order to present to their clients, following up, if successful in the pitch, by purchasing the correct licensing.

However, using borrowed fonts for pitching purposes is risky. Not only because of potential litigation, but especially because it is quite possible that the fonts may be incomplete, corrupted or not representative of the quality of the properly obtained commercial product.

Testing typography

It is for these reasons that we have introduced our new Trial Licences. These comprise the exact same data as our commercially available fonts, but just have their font names prefixed 'Trial'.

This gives graphic designers the chance to properly examine and test the font in all of the environments in which it might be used as well as giving them easy access to typography which can be held up against the look and feel of a developing brand.

Type both influences and responds to the evolution of projects, and it's a mistake to see it as a side issue. When we work on a branding project with a design agency or corporate client, we always emphasise the importance of deciding as early as possible what typeface is to be used.

Putting type first

A full understanding of the requirements of how a typeface will need to perform is essential. Fonts vary greatly, and a typical corporate font must perform in a broad range of environments, and across many different platforms.

Typographic considerations should be present from the outset, leaving no room for nasty surprises. By giving designers trial access to our library of fonts, we're encouraging typography to be part of the conversation right from the start of a project.

This provides the opportunity to test the type without prohibitive financial outlay, with a full commercial licence only required if the font is subsequently used in a live project.

Words: Bruno Maag

Bruno Maag is founder, creative director and chairman of independent font foundry Dalton Maag. He trained as a typesetter, but soon found his passion designing type. This article first appeared in Computer Arts issue 234.

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