Finding Fonts for Books or Covers (allowing Commercial Use)



I’ve been using the Adobe Creative Cloud for years now, which includes Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, and many other great tools for publishing books or graphic design.

One of my favorite tools is Adobe’s Typekit. It is included with my Creative Cloud subscription, but you can get Typekit even with a small subscription (you don’t need the whole Creative Cloud to get it).

What’s cool is that Adobe comes right up front and tells you that their fonts permit commercial use, and it clearly states that this includes books (with no limit on the number of sales). If you’re a graphic designer making book covers, for example, the author who purchases your finished product doesn’t need a separate license (provided that the author doesn’t need to edit your design).

With Typekit, you don’t actually install the fonts on your computer. (Note that if you did install the fonts on your computer, the same licensing would no longer apply.)

Rather, you just install the Adobe app, and the Typekit fonts automatically work with Adobe products and Microsoft Word (for other software, there may be limitations; you should look into that if using other programs). Just make sure that you’re logged into the Adobe app before you open Microsoft Word (if that’s what you’re using); otherwise, Word will automatically substitute another font without even telling you. You don’t need to remain online while you work, once you’ve successfully logged into the Adobe app.

There are several great fonts at Typekit.

For the body text of most books, including novels as well as nonfiction, you want a font that reads well. Adobe has some Garamond fonts, including Garamond Premier, and Garamond is one of the popular fonts for novels. You can get an entire family of Garamond fonts, so if you normally feel that Garamond is a bit light, you can find a darker version.

Another good font for body text is Minion, which I was excited to discover was included with Typekit.

If you’re designing an educational book for K-12, you might consider SchoolBook. There are a few other fonts similar to SchoolBook, too.

But there are numerous fonts that would work for body text paragraphs. I have a few tips for searching for fonts for body text:

  • Serif fonts are commonly recommended for body text.
  • Think of letters and punctuation marks that are important to you. I’ve encountered fonts where I didn’t like the lowercase r, the lowercase a, the lowercase f, the uppercase R, the colon, or the curly apostrophe (don’t type a straight apostrophe from your keyboard, that’s different; first get one in Word and then copy/paste), for example. If you may be typing digits, remember to check the numbers, too. Type these in the sample text.
  • Once you narrow it down to a few fonts, add them all. Open a file with plenty of sample text and test each font out. It just takes one letter or punctuation to spoil a font, and you want to catch that before you format an entire book that way.

(For fonts inside of the book, my recommendations are for paperback books. For ebooks, I recommend not trying to embed fonts. But for ebook covers, see below.)

For headings, you might go with a sans serif font. Myriad is a good simple sans serif font, but there are plenty of others to choose from.

For book covers, you might want a very bold font for keywords, such as Azo Sans or Jubilat, to really help the two or three most important words to stand out, especially for a nonfiction book where it’s really important for the cover to spell out the most important words.

For novels, you want to find a font for the book cover that spells out a particular genre, like Lust or one of the script-like fonts for romance. But remember that it’s more important that the font can be read easily on the small thumbnail. If you get carried away, you can wind up sacrificing the readability. Try to avoid having more than three different fonts included on the front cover.

Another option is to search through websites dedicated to free fonts.

Good luck and happy font searching.

Write Happy, Be Happy

Chris McMullen

Author of the Improve Your Math Fluency series of math workbooks and self-publishing guides

Which Fonts Can You Use?

Font Pic

When you purchase a new computer and install Microsoft Word, most (if not all) of the preinstalled fonts may be used to publish a book in print. This extends to many symbols and icons that you can find in preinstalled fonts such as Webdings and Wingdings.

You don’t have to guess, though. There is a simple way to tell.

If you download free fonts or even purchase fonts, you may or may not be able to use them for commercial purposes (e.g. publishing a book).

Two issues include:

  • Can the font be embedded in a PDF file? You need to be able to embed the font in the PDF in order for the printer (e.g. CreateSpace) to be able to print the font.
  • Does the license agreement permit commercial use?

Let’s first address whether or not the font can be embedded in a PDF.

Obviously, you need a PDF converter that can embed fonts in the PDF file when the Word document is converted to PDF. That’s a separate issue, and there are many free PDF converters available, such as DoPDF. Note that it’s better to print to PDF than to use the Save As option in Word if you have images (otherwise, the resolution may be diminished).

Even if you have a PDF converter with the option to embed fonts, you still might not be able to embed the font in the file.

How can you tell?

Find the font file. In Windows, most of the fonts are by default stored in a Fonts folder in the Control Panel. Click the start button, then Control Panel, then search for the Fonts folder. Open this folder. If the font file isn’t there (it may have been placed somewhere else when it was installed), if you know the name of the font, try searching for it on your computer.

Once you find the font file, right-click the font file. Then click Properties and Details. See what it says under Embeddability:

  • Editable. This allows the font to be embedded in such a way that the user can edit the content afterward.
  • Installable. This allows the font to be embedded in such a way that the user can permanently install the fonts.
  • Print and preview. This allows the font to be embedded, but only if the user is not permitted to edit the content.
  • No embedding permissions. This prevents the font from being embedded. These are personal use fonts that will function on your computer, but not when the file is converted to PDF.

The main point here is this:

The fonts can be embedded in the PDF and the printer (e.g. CreateSpace) will be able to print the PDF unless the Embeddability is set to “No embedding permissions.”

Note that Word can embed TrueType fonts (.ttf), but not OpenType fonts (.otf). You can view .otf fonts in Word, but not embed them by clicking Save As. You need to use a non-Word PDF converter in order to embed .otf fonts. Adobe fonts are .otf. (If you want to get technical, you can subdivide OpenType fonts into various types and complicate matters.) You can check the font extension by right-clicking on the font file.

When fonts are not properly embedded, a program may attempt to substitute another font with similar typeface. If this is successful, this may cause just a minor change in appearance in the final result. However, if the substitution is poor or unsuccessful, it can result in major problems.

Checking the Embeddability option only tells you from a practical perspective whether or not the font can be embedded.

You must still check on the licensing.

  • If the font is only licensed for personal use, you’re not permitted to use it to publish a book that will be for sale.
  • If the font permits commercial use, you may use it to publish a book. However, you must read the license agreement carefully, as it may have restrictions.
  • Some fonts require payment or a donation in order to use them for commercial purposes.
  • Some paid fonts do not permit commercial use. Paying money for the font does not guarantee that it can be used commercially.
  • Sometimes, you must contact the font owner, make a formal request to use the font, answer questions about your intended use, and also pay a fee in order to use the font for commercial purposes.
  • Some fonts simply do not permit commercial use at all.

Note that I’m not an attorney. I’m not providing legal advice. If you would like legal advice, you should consult an attorney. You should also read your license agreements carefully.

When commercial use is permitted, the font license will make this clear. This statement is often easy to find when commercial use is permitted, as it’s a nice selling feature. When commercial use is prohibited, sometimes such notice is not easy to find.

If the Embeddability option is set to “No embedding permissions,” the font designer is preventing you from using the font commercially.

However, if Embeddability is allowed by the file, the commercial use of the font may still be prohibited by the font license. Just checking Embeddability doesn’t guarantee that commercial use is allowed.

As stated in the beginning, when you purchase a new computer and install Microsoft Word, most (if not all) of the preinstalled fonts may be used to publish a book in print. You can read more about Microsoft typography here:

Some icons and symbols that appear in symbolic fonts or extended symbols (i.e. you find them by clicking Insert > Symbol) are in the public domain. Research a specific symbol to learn whether or not it is in the public domain.

Note that if you’re using a font to create a logo, there may be additional restrictions (e.g. you may not be allowed to sell the logo using the fonts). Also, some fonts may restrict you from altering them.

At CreateSpace, you can always make a test file in Word. It can be your actual book, or if you haven’t started yet, type some text with fonts (you will need to reach 24 pages and satisfy the minimum publishing criteria to do this test). Convert the Word document to PDF. Upload the file (you can also make a free test book and delete it from your dashboard later, without ever approving the book). If the fonts aren’t embedded and you need to embed them, CreateSpace will let you know this during file review. (It could be the problem is that you didn’t select the option to embed the font when you printed the Word file to PDF, so you also have to understand your PDF converter.)

Fortunately, there are very, very many free fonts out there that allow for commercial use where the fonts will embed without problem. If you look for “commercial use allowed” before downloading fonts, that should help minimize possible problems. (Unfortunately, there is also an occasional commercial use font where the font doesn’t embed, even though the terms of use said that commercial use was okay.)

Fonts are important. Most importantly, the font should be a good fit for the content, be easy to read, and not seem boring.

Fonts are also important for cover design. Here, the font should create interest, fit the content, and still be easy to read.

When designing a cover, it’s possible to draw shapes to make letters (you can make your own custom cover font this way). You need to have some artistic skills and a good idea of font use in cover design to pull this off. Probably, you would only do this for a couple of key words in the title in very large letters.

One potential problem is the temptation to use a really cool-looking font that’s not easy to read, doesn’t fit the content, or doesn’t match the color scheme of the cover. It’s easy to go overboard.

However, if you want to design your own font to use in the interior of the book so that when you type the letter, that image comes up, that’s much more involved.

Note that publishing an e-book is different. In this case, it is generally desirable to use a default font like Times New Roman and allow the user the option to select the font on the e-reader.

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing