Can I use type in an image?

Mary Iannotti gave a good overview of the seemingly simple task of putting images on your website this week at the Boulder WordPress Meetup. It can be hard for someone who hasn’t gotten used to it, to understand the relationships between image dimensions, file size, web page loading speed, and so on.

It can also be hard to understand how not to run afoul of the law when posting an image, particularly since there IS so much image-sharing on the web. There is, in fact, an astounding glut of images that were swiped and reused, and the Internet is pretty good at enabling such behavior.

Mary talked about using stock images (paid for, of course) and pointed out some good inexpensive resources for them. She also talked about ways to customize a stock image, and mentioned putting type on an image. Something like this:

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit. —Edward Abbey
While we’re talking attribution, quote found @ The typeface is Mrs. Eaves; we’re using Mrs. Eaves Italic for the quote, Roman (small caps) for Abbey’s name. I took the photo while camping at Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve earlier this month.

And here, an interesting question cropped up—

Is it legal, assuming you have the rights to the image, and the rights to use the font, to post this image on the web?

This is asked because using fonts on your desktop is different from serving fonts on the web, and you can have licenses for each. And it’s different for each font foundry—some will let you purchase web fonts, and some won’t. And clearly, putting an image on the web IS publishing it.

But the answer is fairly straightforward, and it makes sense, too. The questions of distribution all relate to the fact that a font is software—it is the software that enables you to make lots of nice-looking letters. (Okay, I’m assuming we are not talking about an ugly font). When you produce an image like my little example, those pixels can’t be converted back into the software used to produce them. It’s an image. If you couldn’t produce one of these, then you probably couldn’t produce a poster, or a book, or anything using type at all, legally.

So yes, it is legal to post such an image.

Don’t believe me?

Here is Clause III from Monotype’s basic font license—keep in mind this is a desktop font license:

Embedding Font Software and Representations of Typeface and Typographic Designs and Ornaments. You may embed the Font Software only into an electronic document that (i) is not a Commercial Product, (ii) is distributed in a secure format that does not permit the extraction of the embedded Font Software, and (iii) in the case where a recipient of an electronic document is able to Use the Font Software for editing, only if the recipient of such document is within your Licensed Unit.

You may embed static graphic images into an electronic document, including a Commercial Product, (for example, a “gif”) with a representation of a typeface and typographic design or ornament created with the Font Software as long as such images are not used as a replacement for Font Software, i.e. as long as the representations do not correspond to individual glyphs of the Font Software and may not be individually addressed by the document to render such designs and ornaments.

(Emphasis mine)

Now serving up a web page with a font that you kinda sorta got from your cousin and then rolled your own on FontSquirrel? Maybe that’s not such a good idea.

Join the Conversation


  1. Thanks for clarifying this question Jeremy. The repercussions of not paying attention to usage rights for fonts can be serious, so it’s best to stay on top of this.

    Nice photo by the way. I like how you turned to your own collection to find a unique image for this post!

  2. Thanks Mary! That point of contention did not seem worth pursuing further during the meetup, but it stuck with me, and I wanted to look this up, to assure myself that a long-held understanding of mine wasn’t wrong. Note: Edited the post slightly to actually answer the question.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *