I work for a printing company. Clients design something they need printed. We receive their files along with the fonts needed for printing.

As a printer, what is our responsibility for using their fonts?

we don't do any design work, just printing.

3 Answers 3


Each and every foundry has an End User license Agreement (EULA) for their fonts. They all vary to some degree. Some EULAs may forbid the client from ever sending you files to begin. Some EULAs state (paraphrasing) that sharing in order to "facilitate reproduction" is acceptable, but nothing is to be retained after reproduction. Really, only reading the license will definitively explain what you may or may not do with that foundries fonts.

In most cases, requiring a PDF/X-1a from clients really makes the whole font licensing issue a non-starter since fonts are embedded in the PDF. It certainly removes all liability for you (or your company) because no font software is ever transferred. But I also realize that some production methods kind of need live editable type for proper set up and PDFs won't always work.

Some general guidelines to try and remain ethical, if not legal, without reading everything under the sun (bullets are far more opinion based upon experience than outright fact - only the EULAs will have facts):

  • Do use the fonts to facilitate production, then trash all font files when production is complete.
  • Do store the fonts in a client specific folder / job jacket / etc. so they are available should that client ever send more work and forget a font file. But the fonts should not always be "active" and available on any system. And the fonts should only be used for that client's work.
  • Do limit the use of the fonts to one seat at a time. Don't just install them across all systems.
  • Do archive the fonts with the rest of the job if archiving (so they will be available if that job needs reprinting)
  • Do not further share the files with anyone
  • Do not utilize the fonts for any other client
  • Do not use the fonts to create new projects (which you state you don't do anyway)

in most cases, my experience has been that as long as you aren't further sharing files and aren't creating new projects with the files, you're probably fine.

The biggest issue I've run into in terms of production is the sharing of the files beyond the production house. An employee or someone takes the font home and the sharing begins... I've gotten to the point where I actually question print houses when they request a font and state my PDF/X file wasn't sufficient - Why do you need a font when they are embedded? - Unlike 20 years ago, I never just blindly pass on font files today merely because I've been asked to. Some font packages actually contain internal identifiers that allow a foundry to track which customer purchased the file.... and then they see it all over the internet. This opens me up to liability and in turn the production house, because if I didn't share the font with anyone except my production house... then the production house must have violated my trust with them.

All the above assumes the font is not "free". Most free fonts don't have many usage or "seat" restrictions to them.

  • Good answer, though I think the statement that “requiring a PDF/X-1a from clients really makes the whole font licensing issue a non-starter since fonts are embedded in the PDF” ought to be hedged a bit more than just starting off with “in most cases”. There are a fair number of fonts whose EULAs do not allow embedding in PDF files, so the designer would be breaking the EULA just by sending a regular PDF/X-1a file to the printer. Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 11:18
  • Possibly @JanusBahsJacquet However, I've been a designer for more than three decades and have yet to come across a font which did not permit embedding within PDFs. (I do avoid "free' fonts though) And the ability to create the PDF/X file falls on the client, not the printer.
    – Scott
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 16:02

I've been doing printing for over 20 years... And while some printers use PDF's personally I hate them. More than 50% of the time the clients PDF's are created wrong so I typically don't request PDF's... thus using the illustrator file, or the tool of choice and using the actual fonts allows me to do the job properly and will print correctly. I've never had an issue with clients sending fonts, and most programs will even collect the fonts for you to transfer. And of course, we only use the font generating the print files for press...

  • For an opposing view on this, if the client doesn’t know how to properly create a PDF, they simply need to learn. You can’t be expected to print from an improper file; that’s their responsibility. As a designer, I would flat-out refuse to use a printer that required my InDesign files to print—I do not want to risk things moving and looking completely wrong because the printer’s setup is ever-so-slightly different than mine and messes up something I could not predict. A correctly made PDF/X-1a file is the only way to ensure the required immutability. Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 11:23
  • Personally, I like flat raster files.. nothing to go wacky with print, color profiles, fonts, crop marks, scaling, bleeds etc... its right 99% (& the 1 percent them just forgetting bleeds or wrong color mode perhaps)
    – Steve Ross
    Commented Apr 22, 2017 at 17:04
  • Flat raster files can't be properly trapped though... or adjusted for overprints...
    – Scott
    Commented Apr 23, 2017 at 4:21

This is a legal question and as such is rather off topic. Also, I'm not a lawyer, but...

The general consensus in the print trade is that it is legally acceptable within the limits of a font license to install the supplied fonts solely for the purpose of processing your client's job as long as you uninstall and delete them immediately afterwards.

The logic is that, in theory, the client could bring their computer (with the legally installed font) to your place of work and output the job from their own machine and the result is the same so your computers are merely acting as a conduit for the clients data. I suspect that it is a legal grey area, but it's extremely common practice.

The other option, if you want to be on a solid legal footing, is to never accept jobs with live fonts, never install any supplied fonts and always insist that your customers supply all jobs with the text converted to paths. No fonts required. This is 100% legal, but it's a little customer unfriendly and takes away the flexibility to action last minute text changes.

The rights of your customer to use the font(s) in their designs is their concern and doesn't have any bearing on the above options. If you want to cover yourself then you could put something in your terms and conditions that customers are responsible for acquiring font licenses. Same goes for images.

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