Finding just the right typeface for a book is tricky. It’s a little like adding a spice during food preparation. You want enough to give things the proper flavor, but you don’t want to add so much of the spice that it draws attention to itself.

Typefaces are like that. Beginning designers, like green cooks, tend to bombard the palette rather than gently tickling it. Rule of thumb: If the first thing a viewer notices is the font you’ve chosen, it’s too heavy handed to be suitable.

There are also legal considerations when selecting typefaces for a publication. Up front: I’m no lawyer. But as I understanding things here in the US, while in theory typefaces can’t be copyrighted, in practice (due to one or more legal decisions over the last decade) fonts are protected as software. While one might argue this is a rather shaky concept and goes against the idea of typefaces being free of copyright, it never-the-less is the rule everyone is operating under at the present time. Unless you want to be the test case to see if the law is valid or not, it’s wise to have all the legal rights secure before using this or that font in a new book design or other publication. (The is doubly true outside the US where typefaces can be protected by copyright.)

That said, downloading fonts from dubious sources can be a dangerous practice. Inadvertently using a font that appears to be free but, in fact, has limited rights, might cause legal snags should the owner of the font challenge your use.

There are sites on the Internet that offer fonts that are free to use as you wish without legal restrictions. Two good sites for discovering such fonts are Abstract Fonts and DaFont. If you search around and pay attention, you can find fonts with the rights spelled out. If the rights are limited or unknown, play it safe and don’t use them in print projects.

Another route to quickly build a font collection that can be used for publications is to buy older versions of programs that have fonts bundled in with them. Corel Draw, Word, and other programs have extensive font collections and you can pick up an old version of these programs for a song (just be sure you buy them new and register them so that the rights are associated with you). Once you own most of these programs, you also own the right to the fonts that come with them.

A typeface can become not only an artistic quagmire but also a legal trap. Be careful which fonts you use and you can save yourself a lot of headaches.

Duncan Long is a freelance book designer and cover illustrator for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books, Solomon Press, Fort Ross, and many other publishers and self-publishing authors. See his cover illustrations at: