Custom type design pricing and timeline

Michael Wallner's picture

A former employer of mine has asked me to design a custom typeface for them. The project really excites me, but I have never done a custom face before and really feel a little overwhelmed at the prospect of creating one. They have been using an instance of Myriad MM that the designer created and they really like it but they need to have complete rights to the typeface as they want to include it in downloadable media kits for ad campaigns. They are looking for the typeface to have, as they say "a neutral sans feeling to it" similar to Myriad. They need regular, semibold and bold weights (no italics) that include all the glyphs needed for both the English and Spanish language. Since this is my first time through this process I want to give them a single price and not by the hour because it will most likely take me longer to complete the design. I have no idea what a custom typeface should cost and am looking for some help in figuring out what to charge them. I would really appreciate to hear any ballpark figures on where to start with the cost, or any good guidelines to figure that part out.

I also need to give them some rough timeline for the completion of the design.

Any help is really appreciated,

blank's picture

The previous edition of the graphic artists guild handbook has real numbers in it; the current version does not. Typophiles can’t easily discuss the numbers without running afoul of antitrust laws in Europe, the US, and some other nations.

Michael Wallner's picture

Thanks James, I completely forgot about the book. I'll start there.

Nicole Dotin's picture

Michael, send me an email and we can chat off-list if you like.
Regards from downtown Mpls.

jselig's picture

While mentioning actual prices is frowned upon, discussing formulas to help others arrive at their own sum is not. Suggesting things to consider and what price you think they are personally worth as far as your time goes is always useful. For design it sometimes gets broken down like so:

Design, meetings, production, emailing, price of printouts, cost of media used (CD's/DVD's), cost for purchased materials (fonts, or images), kill fee, late fees, outside of project scope fees, releasing materials, the use of said materials (Logo design and branding or just a business card), and you don't really want the work, the PITA tax.

Once you have a dollar figure assigned to those, you can then look at the project, reasonably estimate your time, for each time consuming item, and work out a price accordingly. For this I'd imagine you'd want to know how many people will access it, wether you can resell it later, etc… which will all change the cost of releasing your work to the client.

.00's picture

One of the main reasons to create original, from scratch, custom fonts is to offer the client a licensing program that they can implement without running afoul of any derivative works clauses in existing fonts. Since you say they want to include it as a downloadable font for their media kit, you are proposing an worldwide enterprise license.

A place to start in pricing something like this is to look at what foundries charge for this level of licensing for their existing fonts. You will find a wide range of prices, depending on the desired font(s). It would be common to pay anywhere from $6000 to $10,000 to $15,000 per font for this type of enterprise license. If these are the prices your client will have to pay for an enterprise license for existing font then what is an original font for their world-wide use going to cost them?


.00's picture

As to time frame, One an approach is decided upon, I can create a alphabet in a day or two. How fast do you work?

How confident are your clients in their idea? Do they diddle around, or do they make decisive decisions?

The general rule of thumb is it takes 100 hours to create a complete 256 character set font. Do you feel comfortable with that or, since you say this is your first time doing this, will it take more time?


dezcom's picture

James is the Nolan Ryan of glyph Design :-)
Michael, you won't be anywhere near as fast as the Montalbano express!


aluminum's picture

"I have no idea what a custom typeface should cost and am looking for some help in figuring out what to charge them."

(Time it takes to complete * your hourly rate) + 'additional value/discounts' = that's what to charge) this the Mike from Stout? (If so, this is the Darrel from Stout...Hi!)

PPS...talking about specific pricing online is hardly price fixing. But, talking about specific pricing online is hardly useful, anyways, given the vast range of regions, talents, skills, expenses, business models, etc.

.00's picture

Do not look at custom font pricing the same way as general graphic design. (Or hanging drywall for that matter)

Always look at the licensing issue instead of just how much time it takes times the hourly rate. You could almost argue (almost!) that you can do the design for free if the licensing fees are respectable enough. And make no mistake, in the end what you are doing is not selling your client a custom font. What you are doing is licensing your client a custom solution based on their needs, and your intellectual property. A custom solution that you own and manage, and that you could reuse providing your legal counsel writes the license in the proper way.


Michael Wallner's picture

In some ways I am more confused and overwhelmed than I was when I posted this question. I was looking for an easy answer, and like life in general, there just isn't one. Several things that I did not and would not have thought of have been mentioned, so thank you. I think part of my problem is that since this is my first time through this I don't think I can price it the same way that the more experienced and knowledgable designers would. Although I can compensate for this with my hourly rate. My other issue is that they are more of a non-profit group, and not a corporation with more funds. If I overprice this, they may not go for it and I would really like to do the project.

will powers's picture

Hey, Michael: Regards from semi-downtown Saint Paul. I have absolutely no experience with this. Just thought I'd add my hello. Good luck with this.


aluminum's picture

Given all the Twin Citian's in this thread, we really should all meet for coffee/beers and talk this over...

Michael Wallner's picture

Hey Darrell, good to hear from you.

"Given all the Twin Citian’s in this thread..."
Name the place and time. I think I could use all the advice I can get.

Michael Wallner's picture

Thanks for the "Hello" Will. I have to admit I kinda figured you would have forgotten me.

.00's picture

If I overprice this, they may not go for it and I would really like to do the project.

And if you underprice it, to get the job, you do the work at slave wages and add to the overall impression that type design can be had on the cheap, thus making it more difficult for everyone doing type design for a living to be paid a fair price for their work.

aluminum's picture

I'm trapped in the Capital complex during the day, so ALWAYS up for a lunch anywhere but here. Beer/coffee after work is also good for me anytime. Will? Nicole? Up for a get together?

Nick Shinn's picture

A custom solution that you own and manage, and that you could reuse

Price can vary with the terms of exclusivity.
i.e. a short period of exclusivity would cost less than a longer one.

blank's picture

And if you underprice it, to get the job, you do the work at slave wages and add to the overall impression that type design can be had on the cheap…

Well, Michael always the option of going inexpensive but limited exclusivity to a short period and only in North America. It also lets him have a show piece that will warm the hearts of wealthy do-gooder potential clients, and that’s a big plus in some markets.

Michael Wallner's picture

It is quite apparent that I don't have enough details from the client to give them a reasonable price. They were thinking I could give them a quick ballpark price, and I guess I thought I could to, so didn't we discussed the details of the design and licensing.

So what are the details of licensing that need to get figured out?
- who owns the rights to the typeface?
- if they want the rights, for how long?
- how will they distribute the typeface?

What am I missing?

ebensorkin's picture

And add to that the fact that they want a worldwide license ( as opposed to just their in house design shop ).

The fact that you are talking Myriad has me worried for you. Myriad was made to be robust on screen and in print. It could be hard to match the level of fine tweaks and adjustments and hinting* they poured into Myriad.

Also “a neutral sans feeling to it” is a category that's hard to get right I think because you have to be quite subtle.

On the other hand you can get critiques here on typophile. : -) So you do have paddle as it were.

I agree that you should not sell yourself short. Making a typeface that is a good fit to a client is large undertaking. It's best to prepare them & yourself for that. Or else be prepared to pitch for several extensions to the project and a client who isn't sure why they are paying "so much" for a design that is taking much longer than they thought it would. Agreeing to unfair or slanted terms for time, payment or deliverables will lead to you being unhappy stressed etc and a client not trusting you. On the other hand if you can paint a realistic picture and they agree; then you won't be driven mad, and they will be happier and more respectful of you as well.

* Hinting is to help it display cleanly on screen.

aluminum's picture

Well, I'm not a pro type designer, of course, but I'll toss this suggestion out there for others to tear apart:

Go with your baseline hourly rate * estimated hours as your starting figure (estimated hours adjusted as needed based on your assumption that it'll take you a bit longer as it's the first time you've done it). You can't/don't want to make less than that I'm guessing (ie, you don't want to lose money on the deal). In return, they'd get the absolute minimum out of that deal...say one non-exclusive license for the final font files.

Then the negotiating begins...

- site license vs. individual licenses
- exclusivity (only they can use it) vs. non exclusivity (you can license it to others) vs. something in between
- breadth of family provided
- etc

But if you're just trying to feel them out, maybe ask them if they realize that at the very least, this will cost a lot more than them just purchasing and using Myriad.

.00's picture

Then the negotiating begins...- site license vs. individual licenses
- exclusivity (only they can use it) vs. non exclusivity (you can license it to others) vs. something in between
- breadth of family provided

I don't see how these items are negotiated after the price of the work is calculated. These items must be agreed upon before the price is calculated. One can offer a rundown of different pricing options and let the client determine what they can afford. Most clients balk at total exclusivity when the find out how much it usually costs.

I go back to my first post. Large-scale licensing of existing fonts is very expensive. Since the client is going to have to pay a lot for an off-the-shelf font anyway, the fact that you can give them a custom solution for a comparable price is the hammer that you have to hit them with. (over and over and over)

Can you make a custom font for the $6000, $8000. $10,000 + fee they are going to have to spend for an enterprise license for an already existing font? And can you deliver as high a quality font as the professional font makers?

Michael Wallner's picture

I found out that the timeline for the design might be faster than "the Montalbano express" could even do, so I had to turn the work down. I guess I could have saved a lot of time (everyone who read and commented on the post) if I would have known that earlier, but I do appreciate the knowledge that I have gained through this experience and can use it if another opportunity ever becomes available.

Thanks everyone.

.00's picture

I found out that the timeline for the design might be faster than “the Montalbano express” could even do, so I had to turn the work down.

Which points to the fact that most clients have no idea what is involved in custom font development, and think it can be done over the weekend for the price of a bagel and coffee,

Michael Wallner's picture

James, I don't feel like I was too far from that thought either. I knew the design itself would take time and work, but I didn't ever think of all the business aspects of the project. If there is a next time, I will be much wiser.

dezcom's picture

Gee, a whole hundred bucks! Wow! There should be huge lines of folks itching to take that on.


Jens Kutilek's picture

Hm, that looks like this guy in his effort to replace the letter K by something else:

Font Design
URGENT - sanskrit devanagari open license font
Have You Got Fontographer / Any Font Software ?

His basic mistake is that he says "alphabet" when he means "glyph", like on this interesting website.

Finally he seems to have found someone to do it, with limited results:

BBT Font Launch

And next, it seems, he is going to take on all our UI fonts:

GUI/UI Fonts: What variables put them apart from other fonts?

(edit: link corrected)

dan_reynolds's picture

Oh my.

This boggles all comprehension. Why would anyone, for any reason, want to replace the Latin letters k and K with a Devanagari ka (क)? It makes no sense! It does not make sense on any level!! How about three exclamation points, just for emphasis!!!

dan_reynolds's picture

"In vast majority of the cases both on individual and professional levels, the alphabet "K" is being wrongly shaped, it is being shaped as "three intersecting lines" (see Examples "K" Alphabet) not as "two intersecting lines" (see Examples "K" Alphabet). In handwriting people are having the "three intersecting lines" because it is much easier to write it that way.

This is risky because it is possible that people and society could be putting themselves unconsciously in a suicide mode. There has to be education and awareness of this."


So, if I just decide to end it all, it will be because of the letter k?

Look, when I'm drawing type, I often get desperate. But if there is a letter that gives me thoughts of suicide from its difficulty to design, the k isn't it ;-)

AGL's picture

Is it a premonition to what could happen to the "s" and "S", depending on the openness of the project?

dezcom's picture

For me it is W and Z. Those nasty diagonal beasts!


blank's picture

I love drawing Z. W usually has me beating my head on my desk.

dezcom's picture

The problem for me is that both are so unrewarding. When you finish, you feel as though you avoided stepping in a mud puddle--when you finish an S, you feel like you have just put icing on a cake.


Jackson's picture

Thus the impact for using the wrong shape "K" does not only symbolise tragedy for humans but also God.

Amen, crazy brother.

eeblet's picture

That's got to be a joke, k?

(I am reminded of this book [potentially unsafe for work])


cerulean's picture

Huh. If it had been clear the job was just one letter, I think I would have done it. But it's best not to work with people who can't communicate with me coherently, anyway. And, you know, nutcakes. If it's the same guy, I don't want to try to think too much about why the deadline was so urgent.

Choz Cunningham's picture

Philosophically: "G"/"g"
Technically: either "z" (tough as hell), or "n" (important as same)

C ! .~

eeblet's picture

My last name is Budwig - full of suicidal letters. (Too bad it's not Kudwig)


ebensorkin's picture

Just the w & g - surely.

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