How to Design & Sell Fonts – An interview with Adam Ladd

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Typography is a fundamental part of logo design, but what does it take to design a font from scratch? What software do you use? How do you sell and licence the font once complete, where can you seek advice when you get stuck? In this weeks episode Ian interviews type designer Adam Ladd to answer these questions and more.

Adam Ladd is a type designer and graphic designer based in Cincinnati, Ohio with experience in fonts, branding, and art direction. He worked as art director and designer for HOW and PRINT magazines before building his own full-time, independent font foundry.

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Adam Ladd Interview Transcription


Ian Paget: I think the last time we spoke properly was when you was working at How Magazine as the Creative Director. But recently I noticed that you’ve been working a lot more on type design. That’s quite the transition in that time, how did you get into focusing on type design?


Adam Ladd: Yeah. So, you’re correct, last time we kind of talked was as the art director for HOW. So I was art director for HOW magazine, and also that morphed into Print Magazine as well. So I was art director/designer, meaning I helped kind of work with contributors meet design and illustration side and photography side. But then I also did the layout and prepping for production on the magazines, as well as the standard brand materials that come along with supporting the brand. So, it was an art director and designer position and during that time, as the case with most graphic designers, you’re working a ton with type all the time. Especially being involved in magazines and publications. I had to get more interested and more involved. So the time I spent there was about four years, I think, and it took me deeper than I had been into type in previous years, in previous positions.

I started as a professional around 2003, had different jobs on and off, some contracting, some freelance, some full-time employee spots, and then this was the most recent full-time position at the magazines. And it was pretty much InDesign all of the time, I used a little bit of Illustrator and Photoshop, but I was just doing layouts continually and so I needed to learn templates. I needed to learn paragraph and character styles, and then as far as aesthetics, I needed to go deeper in my understanding and experimenting with type and headlines versus subheads versus body copy versus call outs, and quotes, and caption text. And just all the different nuances that go into making something legible, and have the proper hierarchy. So I’d always enjoyed typefaces and fonts, and letterforms just as a designer. But that period kind of forced me to take a deeper look, and I found myself, during some free time, sketching letterforms, in particular, lower-case A. I just found myself with a pen and paper at work during some kind of gaps in the time.

Or just if I was stuck on something, I would sketch different types of lowercase A’s, and just practice it, and figure out what made it work, what didn’t work. And that kind of kicked it off, I had dabbled with a few hobby fonts, I’d call them, in 2013, and I put some of those out into the market. And they were hobbyist type of quality, I didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but they were good enough to put them out there and see with happened. But that was always on the side, and then I continued to work full-time positions, and eventually, this shifted into doing the type design more focused and more full-time, and that came through a series of events, which we can get into here shortly, too. But that’s kind of where things grew for me.


Ian Paget: Yeah, I can totally appreciate how when you’re working with typography day in, day out, you can get really interested in working with specific letters. I know even working on logo design frequently, it’s quite frequent that I heavily modify an existing typeface, and whilst the topic of this podcast is logo design because type design is closely related, I thought it would be an interesting topic to go into if you’re happy to?


Adam Ladd: Yeah.


Ian Paget: So, just for clarification, here today are you full-time working on typefaces?


Adam Ladd: Yes, I am. So that is my full-time focus and full-time income is typefaces and fonts, I’ve kind of used that interchangeably, and I think most people do. So we’ll probably call it fonts most of the time here, but yeah I’m making fonts, drawing fonts, marketing and selling fonts pretty much full-time. I’ll do the occasional graphic design freelance project, kind of in some gaps, but the bulk of time is me sitting down, thinking of something new or different and producing it and putting it out into the market, and then kind of starting over again.


Ian Paget: Can we briefly talk about the transition phase of how you went from working a full-time position at HOW to getting to a point where you could work on this on a full-time basis? Because I understand creating a typeface is a lot of work. I’ve known people to spend years on just one typeface and one font, and lots of people being involved in them. There’s a lot of work and it’s a lot of time, and financially you need to be covered, and most graphic designers that do work for a company, the primary reason is because they need an income, and working for the company, it’s a reliable income. So, how did you transition from a reliable income from a company, to be able to work exclusively on typefaces?


Adam Ladd: Yeah, I think your assessment is good with that because before I started doing this full-time, I had the same impression as far as how that all operated and what I knew about the field is that it was very involved, very time consuming, and like you said, it can take, in some cases, years for someone to actually go from start to finish and get something into the market. I tried to find a middle ground, and again, we’ll maybe go into that more when we talk about process. But for me, it actually wasn’t by choice, the transition from my last position with the magazines to this was just a change in direction. The job ended, so I was no longer with the company, no longer employed and during that time, prior to that ending, I had dabbled more beyond hobby level into creating a typeface or a font. I didn’t really know what was going to become of it, and that just for reference was Cheddar Gothic font family, it was a hand-drawn, condensed, all caps gothic typeface.

So it had that standard San Serif look that you would see, but with a hand-drawn quality, and the rough edges, and it has a Serif version, a Slab version, a Sans version, and a Stencil version. And it kind of was somewhat of a low risk for me because I really didn’t expect what was to come from it, so I wasn’t banking on this being successful or not. It was more, I was still working full-time in those positions, and I got a prompting to get started on fonts again. And I just leaned into it, and played around with some ideas and this Cheddar Gothic came forward, and I don’t know how long I spent. It was maybe a month or two working it out and it could have been a little bit longer trying to get it out into the market. And there was a lot of trial and error because it was more involved than I had done before, but when I put it out there, it actually started to sell and to be honest, it surprised me. It was a pleasant surprise for sure, but I wasn’t, again, banking on shifting into type design, or needing it to be my income.

But it opened up a new door, and it continued to sell over that next kind of introductory period over the first couple months, and I looked at it, and realised that, “Okay, there’s maybe more to this.” And all during that time while Cheddar Gothic was happening, the position that I was in was coming to a close and I actually ended up having to look for unemployment. So it was a tough time. Yeah, and we didn’t know what the next steps were as a family, I’m married, I have my wife and I have two daughters, and I was searching for unemployment, and I was applying to other places and nothing was opening. But all the while this was growing on the side, and thankfully we had family that we were able to stay with during that time. So it was just a tough stretch, but it was also an encouraging time because we knew something was kind of brewing in the background. And a few more months passed, and Cheddar Gothic continued to sell well, and I had people reaching out about it with more interest. So I started working on more typefaces, and that was slow going at first, and they didn’t sell as well as Cheddar Gothic did, and so it was kind of discouraging at the same time like, “Is this sustainable? Is this doable or not?”

So, it was a blessing in the sense that we had family to help us in that gap of income. So we were making income, but it wasn’t sustainable income, and it took six, nine months before it really started turning the corner, and the growth was at a place that the income was enough to say, “Maybe I can stop the searching for other things and just fully focus on type.” Because we were getting to where it was levelling out and we could actually live off what was coming in. That’s not the case all the time, and like you said, how sustainable that is, is tricky because if a font takes multiple months to years to produce, that’s a lot of in-between time, and you’re just kind of riding out one release at a time for quite a while, hoping it does well. I tried to fill it with a few typefaces and families during that stretch to see how they did. So, just building the library out slowly, and it got to the place where it was enough.


Ian Paget: Yeah. I’m glad to hear that it all worked out in the end, I’m sorry to hear what happened with HOW. I am aware that all of their sites have actually gone down now as well, so I know the company has been struggling. But yeah, it’s awesome news, considering that first typeface was successful in the end was fortunate, because that pretty much steered your direction. If that wasn’t the case, things would probably be quite different for you. Here today, you could be doing something completely different.


Adam Ladd: You’re right, you’re right, yeah.


Ian Paget: Since then, how many typefaces have you worked on? Because looking on your website, I know I was quite surprised because like I said, the last time we properly spoke was a couple of years back when you were working at HOW. But now you seem to have quite a few, how many have you done since that first successful font that you worked on?


Adam Ladd: Yeah, I appreciate the kind words as well. I think during this time, so that was around 2016, 2017 that I started on Cheddar Gothic, and things ended with the position. I’d have to look, but I’m guessing 20 to 30 families, maybe.


Ian Paget: Wow, and have you done all of the work on those? Is that all your work or have you involved other people?


Adam Ladd: Yeah, essentially it has all been me, and I don’t say fully me because I reached out to quite a few people in the beginning when I was trying to invest more in making this professional, to some folks that were in the type industry already. Just asking for advice and needing help with technical things, with software and production items. That was Ryan Martinson of Yellow Design Studio, and Laura Worthington of Laura Worthington Design. Both really talented designers and I connected with them a little bit and they spent a generous amount of time just helping me with, like I said, the technical questions and settings, and features, and figuring out some of the software things, and just getting stuff into the market when I would hit blocks. So I was grateful to them for that time, but as far as producing it, yeah it’s just been me as an independent foundry you could say.


Ian Paget: It’s impressive.


Adam Ladd: Thank you.


Ian Paget: And thinking about the long-term benefits of that as well, I know as graphic designers, I personally, most of what I’ve done in my career have been on-off jobs. But I think when you work on something like a font because of the way that it’s licensed, you could be making money off these for the rest of your life. It’s not guaranteed, no sales of a typeface are guaranteed, you can spend an entire year or something and it never sells. So it is a risky thing to work on, but the fact that you’ve been able to do 30 in that time is impressive.


Adam Ladd: Yeah, no you’re right about that. There is a risk for sure, and during this time I’ve hit kind of a pivot point too where my style changed a little bit, or at least what I was spending time on. And again, your assessment with it taking many months to years is accurate still, as I touched on, I tried to find a middle ground with the products that I was releasing, and with the hand-drawn style that I did fully for the maybe first half of my library, for me personally that takes, I think, less time than what I’m doing now. Which is a pivot into, I guess you call it clean vector-based drawings. Something more corporate, the hand-drawn was fun because it got me off of the computer for a while, and a little bit more playful, and back to something more hands-on and kind of raw feeling. But those, I think, can be produced a little bit quicker, and so I was just kind of on path to put one out, work on another, and just get as many out quality that I could to get the library fleshed out because this was full-time for us at that point, and we needed to make it work.


Ian Paget: Yeah, yeah. Well, I think it’d be worth going into some of the process side of things, because I’m sure everyone is listening thinking, “Oh, that sounds amazing, I’d love to do something like this.” But I know myself, I’ve read a few blogs, but I’ve never actually attempted to create an entire font, I’ve only ever worked on a couple of letters. Would you mind talking through the process that you would run through to create a typeface and some of the tools and stuff that you would need to use in order to create one?


Adam Ladd: Yeah. So going back to our shared thread with the logo side of things, like you, I did some logos that were type-based or had a symbol and a wordmark component that needed to relate to each other in some form. So it was often just taking an existing typeface and doing modifications to the current letters, just a few of them. And even doing that, I found it to be challenging to make them look right and still not look like they were hacked. So, there was a challenge to it and quite a bit of effort to just make it look somewhat natural whenever you modified a letter, and I think that in itself was a learning experience. To figure out playing with the Bézier points, and curves and everything, and that was usually done in Illustrator. When I started getting into type design, there’s dedicated software just for that, and a lot of people use the Glyphs App, or Fontlab, or Robofont. I went with Glyphs, they had a mini version, and a good trial and things that you could do and it seemed the most user-friendly to get into.

And they’re also a vector-based tool with Bézier points and control points, and pen tool, and everything else, and drawing on a grid system. But their features are a little bit more friendly towards letterforms and fitting curves, and a little bit more intuitive. So it made drawing easier than Illustrator was for me, with all the points and curves. One of the freeing things was feeling like I could do this on paper first, and just take out the pencil and draw rough, wavy lines, and kind of outline them, and get a sense of the shape and the proportions. Is it going to be wide? Is it going to be narrow? Is it going to be more pinched in the curves? Or is it going to be very round and very much like an oval? All these sorts of decisions are definitely easier for me in the pencil sketching stage, and just doing it quick and loose.

I’ll usually start with just a few letters, I like starting with the lowercase A because it has a bowl, and it has a vertical stem, and then it’s got where it hooks over into the terminal on the end of it, where it connects up towards the bowl, and you have to decide how big that space is, called the aperture, between the end of that stroke and how high the bowl is underneath. So all those things help decide what the rest of the letterforms are going to do and how they might relate. If the bowl is more short, and that space in the bowl is more narrow and tight, well then the E is probably going to have a similar, smaller opening where it closes up, and those things help tell the story pretty quick. You can pull and N from that, a bunch of different letters relate to each other, so you’re taking pieces and you’re just kind of rebuilding and massaging them until they feel right. I also try and do a quick sketch of maybe the whole lowercase set without overthinking it, but just seeing how would these naturally feel like they fit together as a complete group?

Same with the uppercase, and it’s just a lot of experiment, a lot of trial and error, and once you kind of get happy with it, some people I think scan it in, and take the scanned image into the software and then basically have a very tight drawing, and place the points over top of that and then clean up those vector points. I kind of stop before I get to that point unless I’m doing a piece of lettering that’s very tight. But typically with a font, I’ll draw a medium quality, medium finished product that I can refer to on paper, but I’m typically not scanning it in and drawing over top of it. I’m just looking back and forth at it and usually I’ll start with the O and the N in the software, and those will help, again, set the proportions and the width. And you can recycle those pieces of the stem from the N, and the curve with the Os, and you can create so many other letterforms from that. And that just takes time, I think one of the biggest things that freed me with it was not feeling like I had to go by the grid or feel like I had to follow a mathematic formula.

I think one thing I used to get stuck on was feeling like if I moved this Bézier point over this many units if there was a point opposite that, I had to do the exact same thing to that point so there was perfect symmetry. Or things made sense mathematically, or their numbers were nice and round, or the coordinates were all lined up perfect. And I think one of the freeing things was, what I would hear people say was, “If it looks right, it is right.” It’s not so much if the math is right, but to your eye, does it look right? And if it looks right, then it probably is right as far as a readable, usable character, and then how does it look in a group of letters when it makes up words? How do they relate to each other? But that helped me loosen up and not feel so rigid. So it became a lot about learning how to train your eye to look at optically, does this just feel right? Does it look like it works versus is the point in the exact coordinate that it needs to be, mathematically?

And there’s a balance to that, you don’t want to be loose with it, you need to have it look like quality for sure, and everything be even and uniform where it needs to be. But it frees you up to feel like you can play a little bit more, and not be so hung up on making it feel like a machine.


Ian Paget: Yeah, I think that’s probably one of the most important things I got shown a good number of years ago by someone that worked on a lot of typography because that same general rule of working optically applies to logo design as well. I know there’s a number of weird optical illusions involved in typography, a couple that come to mind off the top of my head is things like overshoot. And I can’t remember what it’s called, but you know when an X, there’s this weird optical illusion if you do actually have it aligned perfectly, it doesn’t look right. You have to have it slightly off because when you get an angled line and it goes through a solid object, it doesn’t look like it’s quite in the right place and you need to adjust that. Would you mind talking a little bit about some of those weird optical illusions that you need to consider when working on fonts or even letters individually?


Adam Ladd: Yeah. So all the optical illusions are like a language almost to where you pick up on them over time more, and you recognise what needs to be adjusted, and what looks out of place quicker, and you get more comfortable with making those adjustments. Like you referenced with the X, having those two diagonal strokes crossing, I think typically people, they cut the left stroke, the lower left in half and then kick that section out to the left a little bit. And that just makes it look more optically balanced because otherwise, it does like you said, look like the lines are broken, or something looks out of alignment with them. Other things are the way a curved section connects into the stem and joins up with it. So that might be with the lowercase N, you’ll have two vertical parts of the stems and the strokes, but then where that stroke curves either out of the stem or back into the stem. When it goes into that tall vertical, it’s going to look really dense where it joins together because you’ve got a lot of, I guess, visual traffic I’d call it.

So you need to pull in that side where the joint happens, away from the stem to just give a little bit more of a white space and a gap. So the stroke thins out, but it makes it feel more breathable, and I guess more balanced. Yeah, and if you just let it go, and you’re just connecting shapes together that are all the same model line weights or width, they’re just going to look dense. And there’s a lot of subtleties that need to be adjusted just to let it breathe a little bit and not get too dark feeling. Actually, what they call it is colour, if you were to look and see, say you’re working on a San Serif typeface, and it’s supposed to be a legible, usable design. You want to look at a bunch of your characters together and making up words, and when you look across those words, you want it to have an even colour. And that means there’s nothing too dense or dark and there’s nothing too thin and light to where it’s distracting your eye or feels like a blob, or feels like a break. It’s got to be relatively grey or even colour visually when you look at it as a whole, and that takes adjusting multiple letters in those optical compensations.

The other primary one that you’ll run into is horizontal versus vertical strokes, and typically a horizontal stroke is going to look, even if they’re the same unit measurement, say it’s 20 units on the vertical, and then you create a capital H and it’s 20 units in size across the horizontal, you’re going to want to thin out that horizontal one by a few units. Just whatever it is, our eyes see the horizontal lines as thicker, so that’ll apply across the board with an O. The top and bottom round sections of the O is going to be a little bit narrower than the side, and all across the board that will have to be applied. So, a lot of stuff that carries throughout the font and just needs to make it feel comfortable and optically correct.


Ian Paget: Yeah, a useful exercise I found when working on logo designs specifically if I’m creating a new letter, because I don’t know all of the nuances in every letter in the way that you probably do. What I do is type the letters with a well-designed font, and study those letters. I was really surprised when I studied an A because I always thought that an A was symmetrical, but it’s not. And things are not how you would expect them to be, and if you were to draw a letter how you would expect it to be, it just doesn’t look right, and if you were to study … It’s easier with a logo design because you’re just doing a few letters, unless it’s a long company name, of course. But if you’re just doing a few letters, rather than an entire typeface, it’s worth opening up a few similar fonts and studying the characteristics of each letter. And it’s surprising, the tiniest details make such a difference between something looking wrong, it just doesn’t look right, to reading comfortably, and when you’re working on a typeface from scratch, you have to be aware of all of these things.


Adam Ladd: Yeah, you’re definitely right. I mean, there’s so many subtle decisions that need to be made by the typeface designer to make it look right like you said. In the case with the A or a V, or a K, that downward right stroke is traditionally a little bit thicker than the left sidestroke, and if that’s just convention and people have gotten used to it over time, I’m not exactly sure. I know that a lot of this gets based back on calligraphic roots, or pen nibs, like if you’re using a broad pen at an angle. If you’re doing that left side downstroke, it’s going to be thinner based on the angle of the pen, but when you hold that same angle and you take it down from top left to the bottom right on the right-side stroke of an A, that’s going to be thicker just based on the shape of the pen and the angle you’re holding it at. So there’s a lot of history involved in some of these decisions as well, and what people have gotten used to over the years, because I know when I was just sketching letterforms like you, whether it was for a logo or something else, I would make the mistake of getting the balance of weight on the wrong side.

So I would make the left side of the A thicker, and the right side thinner, and I was like, “Well, maybe it looks right.” But something didn’t feel right, and then I would have to just come to a place where I realised, “Oh, I’ve got this flipped.” I mean, now I’m very much aware of it. But when I wasn’t doing it all the time, and I was just experimenting with letterforms, or doing something with a logo, you’re just not as tuned into it. But something, like you said, feels off. So with a V, that’d be the flip of it, that left side stroke would be a little bit thicker, going from top left to down to the bottom, and then the right side going from the bottom up towards the upper right would be a little bit thinner. So it’s directional, and like I said, it applies with the K, the W, all sorts of different ones that have those involved. So yeah, it’s a lot of subtleties, and the whole other side of it too is with a marketable, professional font, learning just the diacritic characters, or the accent marks, all those foreign characters that you may not be familiar with, I wasn’t familiar with.

Some of them you wouldn’t use in, like for me, the English language. Some of them you might see, like the tilde for Spanish language, a tilde with an N, you’ll see some of those and be familiar with them. But there’s so many more that need to be drawn and grown and understanding of their position, and size, and what’s traditionally acceptable, things like that, and that all has taken time, for sure.


Ian Paget: So I know in terms of process, we’ve spoken about using a software like Glyph and drawing each of the letters, I know we can talk about that for hours, but I’m conscious of the time, and I want to progress with the process. I’ve never used Glyphs before, so I’m not familiar with the process. So once you’ve drawn all of your letters, what’s the next part of the process because I understand that you need to look at the letter spacing and kerning and all sorts of stuff as well?


Adam Ladd: Yeah, yeah, definitely. That is the next big thing, some people do it while they’re drawing the letters, the spacing at least, not the kerning. They might draw the O and N and a few other key characters and get the spacing on the left and right called side bearings, get those measurements or metrics worked out. You have to have more than one letter drawn to be able to do that so you can see how they relate to each other side to side. For me, personally, I tend to draw most of the whole character set and then I’ll create a uniform spacing, so even letters like a V and an O and an H, capitals, I might say, “Let’s start with 50 units on the left, and 50 units on the right.” And I’ll apply that to all of the characters, and that just gets me a starting point. But when you type a word that might have those letters in them, you’re going to see that some of those need to change.

Maybe I’ll leave the 50 as the starting point with the H because it has two straight sides, and then I’ll tighten up the side bearings on the Os by a few units because it’s got the rounded sides versus the straight sides. So optically, there’s going to be more white space around that form. So I’ll tighten up those side bearings a little bit, the V will have its own need for adjustment with the two pointed sides, and then it becoming very narrow in the bottom, so you have a lot of white space. So you’re going to have to adjust those side bearings as well, and it’s kind of looking back and forth, typing words, making adjustments as you go along.

And if it’s not 50, you might say it’s 100, it all depends on kind of the proportions and what weight value you’re working in with the typeface as well. So it could be more, it could be less, but you kind of find a standard starting point and then adjust from there. One nice thing with Glyphs too is it has a bunch of scripts, and the others do as well. But the scripts will make some of this easier in that they might open up a single character like and H, and put it next to a bunch of repeating characters, like a bunch more H’s, a bunch of Os, and so you can see them all together and just work out the spacing that way. And things like that help, and you just step by step, move through each character.

You can also set groups to where an O might share the same basic form as the left side of a lowercase D, so a lowercase O and the lowercase D, or the lowercase C, the left side, those all are going to be similar in shape and the space that they take up. So with these programs, you can group those metrics or those side bearing fields together, and once you change one, it applies to all the rest. So, that can be populated throughout the whole character set, and that makes things quite a bit quicker, and then once you’ve got spacing worked out, then you get into kerning, to just resolve any problem areas. And spacing and kerning on their own, I mean, it may take you just as long to space and kern a typeface as it does to draw a typeface, some people are quicker one way or the other. But on its own, it’s another kind of skillset and something very involved and very tedious in a lot of ways and you just have to work it out piece by piece with creating those groups and those pairs to where they have shared values or shared shapes, that speeds it up.

And then from there it’s producing the font and getting it out into the market and things. But those are the kind of big components with drawing and getting the font to look right.


Ian Paget: So once you’ve done all of that work, with Glyphs do you simply save it and you have a font? Is that how it works?


Adam Ladd: Yeah, almost, which is nice about, again, these programs. All the makers of these different ones, they’re just very knowledgeable, have done a great job with listening to user feedback and just giving you the tools that try and make the process as easy as possible. But it is time-consuming and one of the big hurdles I had was not just learning to draw better and work out all the spacing and the kerning. But it was the technical side of OpenType features, and what they call vertical metrics where in different programs like the Adobe programs versus the Microsoft programs, they might render the font and the spacing a little bit different. So you have different fields that you have to input values into to just make it work properly. It comes down to naming conventions as well, because there’s certain rules you have to follow with character length and how things display in the different programs. So all of those items were a challenge on their own, trying to understand, and that’s why I had to lean on people like Ryan and Laura that I mentioned earlier, to help me figure out what was I doing wrong, and why was my font cut off? Like why were some of accenting characters cut off in the Word program?

So, once you get all that figured out too, and then you have to decide also if you want OpenType features like ligatures or swashes, and some people are very savvy, and code and technical oriented, and they pick up on that very quick. And again, you don’t really have to write code, you can with all this, but there’s a lot of pre-created fields that you just basically fill values into based on your drawing, and it will generate the feature for you. Whether it’s a swash or something like that, or a stylistic alternate A, and that gives you more interest and more you can do with the fonts. But you have to decide where the cut off is there, and basically, once all that’s done, you’ve got your name figured out. Which is difficult nowadays too because there’s so many names, there’s so many fonts, so many free fonts and free font websites that have used the name that you were hoping you’d be able to use, and then you find out it’s taken, and you have to start over with the name search.

So once you get through all those layers and you figure it out, then it’s basically it’s just saying export, and you can choose if it’s OpenType, or if it’s TrueType, or if it’s a web font format, export it into the Adobe fonts folder for testing in the Adobe programs. See how it looks, print it out, you’ll probably want to do that along the way as well. And once you keep going along, making your tweaks and adjustments back in the font software. Give it a final name and hit export again, and then install it in your system, and you kind of have a working, ready to go font.

Obviously there’s probably more to it than that, but that’s it in a nutshell, and one of the other things too is when you’re doing a testing phase, the name itself of the font, if you’re testing it in the Adobe fonts folder, you can run into type cache issues on the computer. Where if you’ve made a change, it might not read that you’ve made that change if you’ve left the font name, or the file name the same, that you’re exporting. So you’re going to want to name it something like font name test A, font name test B, C and so on as you make changes to versions as you go along.


Ian Paget: Yeah, that’s a good piece of advice. Okay, so I guess once you’ve tested it a few times and you have a finished typeface that you can roll with, I don’t know if this is a big topic that could take a while, because I’m conscious of time, but I understand once you’ve got a finished typeface, you would then want to start selling it. Would you mind going in to briefly how you would go about licensing and selling that font once you’ve finished it?


Adam Ladd: Yeah. So, there’s a few different ways to go about it, and yeah briefly it would be either you set up your own shop online and your own website, and you can sell there. I didn’t take that route at first because there’s just more to figure out, and it’s such a dense market that it’s hard to get exposure I think, at least it was for me. So I opted to go with the popular font resellers online like MyFonts, and Fontspring, and a bunch of the others, and you work for them, like Creative Market, and Adobe, and different ones. And there’s a process to your getting involved and making sure that you have a quality product, and everything else, and the benefit that you have with selling with already established shops is they have the traffic and the audience already there. But there’s also multiple other people who are selling and releasing new fonts each day. So it’s kind of a give and take to where you have to make something that you hope is marketable and is going to stand out amongst the sea of new releases that are continually coming.

Obviously, there’s a sharing model of the splitting revenue and profits and things with that approach, but then with your own web shop, you get the full value for it if you make a sale or a license purchase. But there’s more maintenance, more troubleshooting to do, and things like that. So you have to decide how much of it is worth it, I think it’s hard to do it on your own without getting into a reseller at the start.


Ian Paget: I think it sounds a little bit like a business, like once you’ve created the actual font, you need to come up with a name for it, and then you need to start finding a way to sell it. So I’ve looked into doing T-shirts in the past, and it sounds exactly the same. So you can either take the route of doing it yourself and selling it through your own website, but then you need to deal with all the orders when they come in and deal with the printing and everything. All of the maintenance, terms and conditions, customer service, everything that goes along with that. But when you go through one of these resellers, they do all of that for you but it’s their platform so they’re going to take a slice of the pie. But like you said, they have the audience already, and that’s where a lot of people are looking for fonts anyway. So I think it makes sense to do that even if you are really established, it would be a missed opportunity to not do that, really.


Adam Ladd: Yeah, yeah, and you’re right, it is a fairly common model, if you’re an author and you’re selling books, and you might work with Amazon or whoever else. So yeah, you benefit each other in the sense of someone is providing the content or the product and the other person’s providing the technical support, and the audience. So you’re sharing all that, but for me, it made things easier with, as you mentioned, the licensing side and terms and conditions, and that was a whole nother field to figure out. It’s like, “Am I legal? Am I doing this right? Am I going to get in trouble if I don’t have this wording the exact right way? And the end-user license agreement?” But when you sell a reseller, they typically have a standard one that you can use, and you can kind of learn from that. So for me, I do both now where I’m selling with resellers, and I don’t sell directly through my website like you can check out from my website. But you can go and look at my products and I’ll link to the resellers.

But I’ll also note that if you have custom licensing needs, whether it be for something with more use, like a really big user amount, or a more unique software situation that may not typically be covered, or you just have questions, then I welcome people to reach out to me. And I’m happy to work directly together, and we work through it back and forth and work through the license agreement if those have custom requests and needs there as well. So, that just takes time and I had to, again, ask questions in places like TypeDrawers is a forum, and the Glyphs app forum, or the Fontlab forum.

All those places, you can just ask a lot of questions, and there are a lot of really experienced people and professionals who are very generous with their time and resources to help you get your questions answered. Whether it’s things with business and licensing, or just drawing quality, or resources, or whatever it is. I lean on those type of places a lot and they’ve helped me get over humps and get into new opportunities, I guess you’d say.

To where in the beginning, I was like, “I don’t know about all this end user license stuff, I don’t want to mess with it.” Because of the fear of it being too complicated, or what if something breaks and I get in trouble? Or whatever it could be, some of it can be irrational, but you’re like, everything’s new and you’ve got a lot that you’re learning. But places like that helped answer my questions and helped piece by piece, get more comfortable with that. And now I’m happy to work with clients for making modifications to fonts, or licensing that might have a unique need, and we can work through that just one on one together.


Ian Paget: Well, I think this has been a really good introduction for anyone interested in working on their own font, or typeface. I mean, obviously there are a few articles online, but they are quite vague and I think this has been a lot more in-depth and someone could actually listen to this and start working on their own font. And I think the forum that you mentioned is going to be really helpful for a lot of people.

Just before I do wrap up the interview, are there any books that you would recommend that people read when they create a font? Has there been any books that you’ve learned from or referenced, or has there been another approach for you in terms of learning at the very beginning?


Adam Ladd: Yeah, like you reiterated with the forums that were mentioned, those are great and they’re kind of living in the sense of people are contributing and posting things regularly to them. So just reading through those, typing into the search field, questions that you have and seeing if someone’s already discussed it were all really helpful. As far as books, I honestly haven’t sat down and read a bunch of type books, but I’ve had them referred to me before, and one of those that I bought and have thumbed through, but not gone through thoroughly has been something called Type Tricks by Sofie Beier, I believe it is, and forgive me if I mispronounced the name a little bit. But it’s called Type Tricks, it’s a little handy reference guide that addresses a lot of things with drawing quality and some of the fundamentals. I think another one is called Designing Type by Karen Cheng, again, I hope I got the name right, but Designing Type. So they just go through fundamentals and some of the how to look for certain optical corrections and things that we discussed earlier. And that’ll give something on paper that you can reference and read through.

And then also, what you mentioned earlier, Ian, with looking at existing fonts and studying them. I did that a ton as well, and that helped me a whole lot in either seeing them printed out or actually taking an OTF file or the TrueType file and dragging it into the Glyphs app software and inspecting where people put the Bézier points. You don’t want to copy, but you can learn from those, how people approach the drawing and how they placed things where they did, and curves. So, inspecting the fonts, good quality fonts, has been key as well. And one of the things too, people do as far as font quality is drawing at extremes, and you’ll be able to find out more online or in these books. But there’s certain optimal places that you want to put your vector points, either on the horizontal or the vertical extremes of the path and that’ll give you typically a better drawing quality, sometimes you have to break those rules. But some of those books will go into things like that and give you tips to get started.


Ian Paget: Amazing. A couple of those books I haven’t heard of, but like with anything, I think type design is such a specialist thing that you kind of just need to jump in start drawing letters, studying letters. Yes, you can read about it, but ultimately you’re only really going to start learning when you start really studying and creating letters. So, Adam, this has been amazing, I think for anyone interested in type design, or anyone that wants to start moving into the area, or even creating a few letters, will have found this useful. So, thank you so much for coming on, it’s been great to chat with you, and I look forward to rolling this one out.


Adam Ladd: Yeah, I really appreciate it, Ian. I appreciate you reaching out and just the similar common bond that we share with logos and enjoying the art and design and logos, and then how that’s evolved for me over the years. It’s been enjoyable, challenging for sure as well, and it was a journey I honestly didn’t expect to take fully. But I think if you’re passionate about it, it’s something that’s worth the time, and it’s got its challenges along the way for sure. I know with us, I mean, our family is a family of faith, and though we had difficulties, and we had stretches where we were like, “Is this going to work, is it not?” We were taken care of, and I had, as I mentioned, some successes in the beginning and then I was putting more fonts out and they weren’t selling as well, and you kind of second guess yourself, and you think, “I just spent the last few weeks, to few months on this, and it’s not really bringing much income.” But there’s risk to anything and it’s worth it if you feel led to it, and passionate about it. Again, you just kind of have to take that step of faith sometimes and push forward.


Ian Paget: Well, I think your story’s really inspiring and yeah, I’m just really thankful and happy for you that everything worked out well in the end, and I hope the fonts keep selling well, and for you, fingers crossed, it’s an ongoing passive income for the rest of your life.


Adam Ladd: Yeah, I appreciate that, thanks, Ian. I hope it is a help to other people, and people can feel free to reach out if they’d like to learn more, have questions and things like that too. I know, especially when you’re one person and you’re not with a team, and you’re just working from home it can feel pretty isolating. So, it helps to reach out.



Thank you to the sponsor, FreshBooks


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How to Design & Sell Fonts

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