Pay Royalties for Fonts in your PDFs?

The font industry is starting to charge additional fees when you distribute PDFs and EPUBs with their copyrighted fonts embedded into the files.

Here are some strategies to protect your materials…and your wallet!

[updated August, 2020)

Fact: fonts must be embedded into a PDF or EPUB in order to meet accessibility requirements, such as Sec. 508 and PDF/UA.

And if you’re making a printable PDF to send to a print shop, GPO (the US Government Publishing Office), or a copy shop, the fonts should be embedded into that file, too. Otherwise the printer will need to install copies of the fonts you used — and possibly purchase them — adding to the cost of your print run. Additionally, text reflow problems crop up in this type of workflow because there’s a chance that the fonts won’t be an identical match to yours.

So assume that whenever you make a PDF, whether it's for printing or posting on your website, you must embed the document's fonts into the PDF.

Don't pay twice

Some font manufacturers and foundries are tacking on additional licensing fees to embed their fonts into EPUBs, PDFs, and other digital media.

You pay twice:

  • Once to download the desktop font and use it on your computer, and
  • A second fee to purchase the rights to embed the font into the media file and distribute the file.

It doesn't matter whether the document is used for commercial or educational purposes. Fonts are copyrighted software and covered by intellectual property laws. Many font manufacturers are now "monetizing their intellectual property," as I was told by a font designer.

They are tightening up control of their intellectual property.

This policy change started a couple of years ago and appears to be spreading throughout the font industry. It's fairly easy today for a font manufacturer to search websites, locate the sites' PDFs and EPUBs, and identify who manufactured the fonts in the files…and then send you an invoice for the additional licensing fees that allow you to continue to publish the document with those specific fonts.

Although Adobe's Fonts are, at this time, free for subscribers to its Creative Suite subscription program (which includes InDesign), Adobe does have the right to change its policy at any time in the future. So does any other font manufacturer. Fonts are their property, not ours (we've never "owned" any software, including fonts). It's their game and they set the rules.

The industry policy has changed

Many designers and publishers got used to getting a stash of free fonts with their software purchases. 20 years ago they came on the CD in the "free goodies" folder from Adobe and other software companies.

But now we face the additional cost of licensing fonts that will be embedded into PDFs, EPUBs, and digital media that are distributed through websites or other methods.

Every font manufacturer sets their EULA (end user licensing agreement) and licensing restrictions, so it's your responsibility to read the fine print of the manufacturers of your fonts.

  • Don't assume that the EULA of the same or similar font will be the same across different manufacturers.
  • And don't assume that each font from the same manufacturer will have the same EULA.

We’ve seen font manufacturers add extra fees for:

  • The publisher’s status, that is whether it’s a nonprofit, government agency, or commercial publisher.
  • The number of pages in the document.
  • The estimated number of page views or downloads of the document.
  • The ability to alter the shape of the glyphs (characters) from their original copyrighted font design, or convert them to outlines. Designers are especially hurt by this; it's a common way to create logos and custom heading treatments.
  • Both the graphic designer (contractor) and the client can be required to purchase the fonts and additional licensing for the fonts used in the contractor's work for the client.

Some sample EULA's from well-known font manufacturers are listed below. Note the different usage categories of fonts:

  • desktop fonts
  • web fonts
  • fonts for mobile apps, and
  • fonts for EPUBs, PDFs, and other eBooks / digital publications.

screen capture of Linotype's EULA webpage.

Sample of an EULA webpage from

Many font manufacturers require a separate license for each usage category for each edition of each document. For example, if a designer uses the same font for each monthly edition of a magazine for client A, as well as for a book for client B, there could be licensing fees each month for the magazine as well as for the one-time book. And for each file type, such as EPUB and PDF.

Disappearing fonts

Now you have them. Now you don't.

Both Adobe and Microsoft have had to remove fonts from their libraries and operating systems because the font foundaries (manufacturers) revoked their license to sell or give the fonts to us. Two recent shockers:

  • In Fall 2015, Microsoft discontinued its licensing of Arial Unicode MS from Monotype Corp. and removed it from computers worldwide when the Windows OS was updated. Similar to the regular Arial font family common on most computers, this is a special version that contains the alphabets of most of the world's languages, so it's invaluable to those who publish materials in different languages.

    See this post on the Microsoft forum.

    Today, Arial Unicode MS is available directly from Monotype / Linotype at The base "desktop" price is $189.00 US, plus $378 US for the license to embed the font into one PDF.
  • In June 2020, Adobe's font library (AKA, TypeKit) lost more than 700 fonts when 2 foundries, Font Bureau and Carter & Cone, dropped their licensing agreement with Adobe. These fonts are no longer available in Adobe's Creative Suite programs, such as Adobe InDesign.
  • Both foundries are available at the TypeNetwork's website, and fees vary by the font, number of designers that will install the font on their workstations, and number of digital publications created with their fonts. Example below: 1 font weight in stalled on 1 user's computer and used in 1 digital publications (EPUB, PDF, etc.).

Sample fees from Font Bureaur's website.

$120 licensing fee to embed one font weight into one PDF.

Strategy #1:

  • Always embed fonts into PDFs for press, print, and accessible tagged PDF, as well as into EPUBs.

Whether you’re exporting the PDF from MS Word, Adobe InDesign, or another program, learn how to drill down into the export options to set the conversion to embed all fonts used in the source file. (Our 508 classes cover how to set these options.)

Strategy #2:

  • Use fonts that can be embedded into PDFs without incurring additional licensing or royalty fees.
  • Don’t assume that because the fonts came with your computer or software that you have the licensing rights to embed them into digital files. By default, the “free” uses of these fonts are only when you view them on your computer or print directly to your desktop printer.
  • You’ll need to do a little bit of research about your fonts in order to know whether they are embeddable without the additional fees, but the effort is worth it: we’ve seen licensing fees as high as $40,000 per year for a family of 4 font weights in a government PDF. (We swapped the fonts for open source versions that were similar in appearance.)
  • And when you purchase fonts, read the fine print. Check the manufacturer’s user license which should be available on their website.

Here’s our guidance:

  • Generally, the fonts that come with your operating system can be embedded into PDFs without any additional licensing fees. But some weights in the Lucida family are exceptions and can’t be embedded, as well as other common fonts.
  • Use a font manager or open your fonts folder to find the information or properties about the specific font you want to use.
  • Look for these phrases that identify those that can be embedded — Embeddable, Editable embeddable, or Unprotected.
  • Adobe Fonts (formerly called TypeKit fonts) are embeddable at this time. However, these fonts are only available to subscribers of the Adobe Creative Suite (which includes InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator).
  • Open source (royalty-free) fonts have been developed by leading font designers to counter this movement. Check them out!

There are some great designs from Google Fonts, such as Noto Sans/Serif, Source Sans/Serif, Open Sans; and specimens run the gamut from traditional serif and sans serif to scripts, handwriting, and decorative fonts. See
Google's website for open source fonts. has nearly 1,000 open source fonts available at not cost, and without usage licensing fees.

See the EULA (end user license agreement) at Google Fonts:  Sections 2 and 4 specifically outline your right to embed these fonts in any form of digital media (websites, PDFs, EPUBs, Word, etc.) and grants your right to distribute “derivative works” that use their fonts.

That’s the kind of license publishers and designers need. Other brands of royalty-free fonts will have a creative commons license or a SIL open font license.

Note: open source fonts (royalty-free fonts) are not the same as OpenType fonts (a type of font technology based on Unicode.) Be careful to not confuse the 2 "open" terms.

  • On Macs, avoid using dFonts; they cause problems with printing and embedding into PDFs and EPUBs.
  • Download our fonts and Dingbats guide from The front side lists common fonts that are embeddable and don’t require additional licensing fees. The reverse side has a handy chart of the most frequently used Unicode characters. Note that Unicode is required to meet accessibility requirements in websites, PDFs, and EPUBs. Also note that OpenType fonts are based on the Unicode system, but PostScript, Apple dFonts, and some TrueType fonts aren’t, so they are not compliant.

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