There has been a long train of very visible companies over the past few years who have been including a “bespoke typeface” as part of their rebranding efforts. There are usually a few reasons for this but the main one is generally, “because they can”. It’s just one more piece of the visual puzzle that can be loaded with the brand’s DNA and placed in front of the eyeballs of their customers and consumers (see Why Custom Fonts Became The Ultimate Corporate Flex for some sassy commentary on the subject).
Many of these bespoke typefaces don’t look much different than their retail font cousins but they exist for a very practical reason: They are an asset that can be owned by the company. This can reduce a certain amount of headache associated with licensing fees or licensing missteps, which is an appealing enough reason for many organizations.
But trading “reduced licensing costs” for “font development costs” generally only benefits large companies with large budgets; for a lot of smaller companies, it’s likely going to be more cost effective to license a retail font. But that doesn’t mean that there is no place for custom fonts in smaller organizations or projects. We just need to get more creative with what a custom font can do for you.
Case study time: Brandmark.io needs more ligatures
I was approached by the founder at brandmark.io, a website that takes in business information and produces a computer-generated logo and brand assets. The founder wanted to expand their font options beyond Google fonts. As they explored ways to make the computer generated logos more unique, they realized they could accomplish this with more fonts that contained interesting ligatures, initial strokes, and end strokes. They hired a few different designers to each come up with a unique design and our collaboration resulted in Sahlia.
While there was more up front cost associated with commissioning this custom font, we agreed on a non-exclusive license to keep licensing fees to a minimum. This meant that I could add Sahlia to my catalogue and make it available to other customers for licensing.
Having this font custom-made also meant that we could address some specific technical issues. The software they were using to generate the logos could not use certain opentype features so we programmed the ligatures in a way that would allow them to appear if a certain string of text were typed out.
Case study time: a manuscript filled with emojis
Page Two Books approached me for a project involving a manuscript that relied heavily on emojis—they were in need of a set of emojis that would not distract from reading when set within book text. They needed the emojis to sit well within blocks of one of my favourite text faces, Lyon Text by Kai Bernau. We examined the intended weight of the text face and designed a set of emojis that would match shape thicknesses and style of the font.
You might be thinking, “but Alanna, can’t you just make these emojis as image files and paste them into the text?” You could do that, but having the emojis in a font format makes setting them within the text super easy. All the typographer had to do was change the font where they needed an emoji and voilà, the spacing and vertical metrics were already matched with the text.
In this case, even though we weren’t designing letters, it made more sense to have them in the format of a font.
Case study time: almost-supported Indigenous languages
Many of the Indigenous languages of North America are written in a Latin-based script that differ from the English alphabet only by a few diacritic marks and symbols. But language support for these under-served languages are super difficult to find in a retail typeface.
With permission from the typeface designer and foundry, I modified a copy of Dinamo’s Ginto Nord Light to include support for the Nisga’a language. I have also added support for Nuu-chah-nulth to my own Tofino Typeface for the city of Tofino.
*a note about language support: if you want to add more language support to an existing font, check the license doc, you may need to get in touch with the original designer to request the change or get permission for another designer to add the characters. This is also important because letting them know that the support is needed and wanted will help us collectively achieve better language support options across foundries.
I always suggest trying to find a font that fits your needs first, but if you can’t, then reach out to a type designer! There are lots of reasons you may need something custom:
- You might need special characters like swashes or emojis
- You may need support for languages not commonly supported
- Maybe you just need a set of cool numerals that are easy to typeset
- You have a very unique word mark that you want expanded into a display font
- You have graphics or letters in a format that is not a font and it would save you time to be able to typeset them