Guide to Custom Font Design for Brands

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What’s common between Airbnb, Coca-Cola, IBM, Apple and Netflix? Yes, all of them use a custom font typeface. Custom font design carries the brand’s character. It’s an incredibly powerful asset considering it retains the brand’s essence even when the logo and colours are stripped away.

A unique and distinctive font design is an integral part of brand’s personality. It becomes part of who you are and what you represent.

What does custom font design and development involve?

Custom font development can involve the creation of custom typeface and character sets.

Custom Typeface Design

Custom typeface design involves the creation of a proprietary typeface design. A brand can choose to create a new and unique design or a modify an existing typeface.

Custom Character Sets

The standard character set doesn’t fully address internationalization requirements hence brands usually customized character set. This could be in the form of Eastern European language letterforms or a host of non-Latin characters to meet multinational requirements.

What is the process involved in creating custom font design?

The creative process involved in custom font design mirrors the branding process. It starts with research and followed by conceptualisation, bringing in the key attributes of the brand along the way. The custom font design is tested to make sure that it conveys the personalization and preposition behind your brand.

How much does it cost to create custom font design?

The cost involved would be a factor of design complexity, language support and family size (weights and widths) involved. For example, for a full-featured typeface of four styles, a large type foundry like Hoefler & Co, could charge anywhere between $75,000 – $150,000. This could take them around a year considering they won’t be necessarily working full time on your typeface. Assuming that the requirement doesn’t require OpenType features and requires basic ligatures, old style figures with temporary exclusivity. For the same requirement, non-famous type designer might charge around $25,000 – 50,000, roughly.

What’s the deal with font licensing cost?

A font is similar to a piece of computer software, and you require a license before installing it. All most all fonts require licences while some are free to use. Some fonts cost money while some licences are very relaxed about their usage. Few are extremely restrictive when it comes to terms of usage.

Full licence purchase

Full license purchase involves paying a one-off fee to licence a font from font foundries (the company that makes the font). The font has to be used as per terms of the licence agreed with the foundry. Fonts purchased with fill-licence purchase are primarily used for offline use (for print, static graphics etc.).

Webfont license

Webfont license involved usage of fonts exclusively for the web. Such license usually involves either one-off, monthly, or annual charges—often based on the amount of monthly traffic you get.

Cloud font licensing

Cloud font licensing usually provides access to many typefaces for a monthly fee. For example, Typekit offers monthly access to typefaces which can be used both online and offline for a monthly fee.

Open-source licence

Open source means to ‘free to use’. For example, Google fonts allows free access to typefaces.

Exclusive Licence

Exclusive licences for typefaces can end up costing £50k plus. You can procure the license for the typeface from a foundry of your choice.

Share examples of brands that have their own custom font typeface?

TCCC Unity Coca Cola

Coca-cola unveiled its custom font typeface TCCC Unity. Coca-Cola’s in-house team jointly developed the custom font typeface along with Broady Associates. Before the custom typeface, the brand relied on a mix of fonts including Gotham, Google fonts and Proxima Nova.

The new typeface captures the brand personality is meant to work in small sizes for both digital and print.

netflix sans

Netflix created its own typeface, Netflix Sans, earlier this year. Previously the brand used Gotham for its branding efforts. The move was also a result of the increased licensing cost that brand had to incur for using Gotham font for its international campaigns. Netflix’s in-house developed the font in partnership with foundry Dalton Maag.

ibm plex sans

IBM unveiled its custom typeface IBM Plex Sans in 2017. IBM Plex is ready for use in 110 languages, in eight weights and in serif and sans serif versions. The brand has made the font freely available for anyone to download. Prior to using IBM Plex the brand relied on Helvetica. The font was developed by IBM’s in-house design team.

Most recently Airbnb launched its custom font typeface Airbnb Cereal in partnership with Dalton Maag. Airbnb wanted a typeface that would function beautifully online and offline while reflecting its brand personality. The brand functions in 191+ countries and a typeface system further unifies design and trust at the local level. The brand plans to expand the script systems also by adding  Chinese, Japanese, Devanagari, Arabic, Hebrew, Cyrillic, Greek, and Thai soon.

So that’s all you need to know about custom font design to get started. Consider custom font to be the supporting cast member in your crew which will always steal the show if done right.

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