Embedding Fonts in Ebooks

You hired a book designer to typeset your book for print. You’ve chosen a 6×9’’ trim size, agreed upon using Antonio font for headings, Abhaya Libre for body, and Nymphette for chapter spacers. Everything looks great, and you love your new paperback layout.

Embedding Fonts in Ebooks

Naturally, you want all editions of your book to follow the same style defined in your print edition. You want to provide a unified reading experience across multiple platforms for your audience. After all, a consistent look & feel of your cover and interior layout creates author branding.

You already know that ebooks are not like printed books, so what options do you have? Ebooks have no fixed page size, so 6×9 trim size from print edition is out the window. There’s no way of telling which screen size your readers will use to read your book—a small smartphone that will show just one paragraph per its page, eReader that will show a few paragraphs per its page, or giant desktop monitor that will show two full pages of a chapter on a single screen. You realize, nothing will stay in the same place as it was in the paperback layout. You feel control over your book’s layout slipping away. The only thing you can hold onto is the choice of fonts and spacers to carry on the branding set in the print edition. 

Or so you thought…

 

IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER

The person reading your book can override your embedded fonts at any time, and view your book using default fonts built into their device, in font size of their choosing, with spacing they like, and on background color they prefer.

 

Many eReading devices default to fonts built into the device. The person reading your book has to manually turn on your embedded fonts in order to see them. Often, a toggle for that is located somewhere in the menu/settings where they would never think to look.

 

Some older versions of eReading devices do not support embedded fonts, and will display your book using default fonts built into them.

 

Ebook font embedding

LICENSE TO EMBED

In order to legally embed fonts into ebooks, you have to have a license to do it.

When you buy a commercial font, in most cases you buy a desktop license, or desktop + web license package. Ebook embedding license is a separate thing that costs extra. Sometimes that cost is quite high, which makes people decide against it.

Fonts that you get with your operating system also fall under desktop license, and you don’t get ebook embedding license with them.

The good news is that there are good free fonts out there that allow ebook embedding. One of the sites that has quality fonts to offer free of charge is Font Squirrel.

When you look for free fonts that allow ebook embedding, make sure they are full families. That means the font family includes a regular, italic, and bold weights. When you embed fonts in an ebook, you need to have those for your italics and bolds to display correctly. If you don’t have them, all bold/italics will be lost or displayed funny. Full families might not be important for headings if you don’t use bold/italic on them, but they are very important for the body.

Here’s a list of Font Squirrel free fonts, filtered by being full families, and having ebook license:

  • Serif fonts, full families, with ebook license
  • Sans serif fonts, full families, with ebook license 

A list of Font Squirrel free fonts that are not full families, but can be used for headings, and have ebook license: 

  • Script fonts with ebook license
  • Hand-drawn fonts with ebook license
  • Display fonts (such as Bebas Neue) with ebook license
  • Dingbat fonts for chapter spacers with ebook license

You can set various filters on Font Squirrel to find the ones that you like, just make sure they are allowed for ebook embedding by switching on that filter, and that they are full families for your bold/italics to stay preserved when you embed fonts in your ebook.

EMBEDDING SUPPORT

Not all eReading devices support font embedding. Older generation devices display books using only their on-device fonts. Some devices support font embedding, but they don’t do it well, so your book comes out looking all over the place. 

Even if a eReading device supports font embedding correctly, it can sometimes lead to unexpected results. Fonts can make, or quite literally break your book if a device doesn’t load it properly. Scroll up and see “Important to Remember” part again because those 3 sentences cannot be stressed enough.

Ebooks have been here for a while, but they are still fairly new in the grand scheme of things, and far from perfect.

DOWNLOAD SIZE

When you embed fonts in your ebook, it will make a significant impact on the file size. The bigger the file, the longer the download, and download-related cost. Some people will not buy big-sized ebooks because they have poor internet connection, and some may become frustrated if the download takes too long, and just give up on your book. Some publishing platforms will deduct delivery cost from your royalties. All of that has to be taken into account when deciding whether to embed fonts.

DEVICE DEFAULT FONTS

Manufacturers of eReading devices invested quite a lot of time, thought, and resources in making their devices. Each device comes with several fonts already installed. Some are common, some are unique to that device. Each device has different set of fonts from other devices of a similar kind. However, all of them have one thing in common—they are fully optimized for those fonts. So, if you want your book to be displayed the best it can on plethora of different devices, don’t embed fonts. Or at least, don’t embed them for the body.

WHAT KIND OF FONTS TO EMBED

For ePub, any TrueType or OpenType font (.ttf or .otf) will be okay, as long as you have the license to embed.

For Kindle, only TrueType font (.ttf) will work, because most OpenType fonts (.otf) get errors like “Embedded fonts may not render clearly on all Kindle readers.”

SHOULD I EMBED

By default, Marraii Design does not embed fonts in ebooks, unless requested to do so. If you don’t ask for it, I won’t embed. If you do ask for it, I’ll probably tell you all the facts stated above, and leave the final decision to you, because it concerns you, your book, your readers, and your royalties.

However, there are some cases when you need to embed a font. For instance, books with special characters that are only available in certain fonts. If you don’t embed, your book won’t be displayed correctly, so you don’t really have a choice.

In other cases, the best option is to not embed at all, or to embed a nice, free font for chapter headings while leaving the rest of the book without designated font choice. Having custom font for headings is a great touch that:

  • won’t break a book if it doesn’t load, or if a device doesn’t support embedded fonts
  • doesn’t inflate the file size too much
  • and it carries on the branding.

Before you decide whether to embed, go back up and re-read “Important to remember” highlight.

Thanks for reading!

Nat Mara

Marraii

Also known as Nat Mara & Bookaholic at Fiverr.
Graphic designer, ebook architect, book typesetter, and digital nomad with more than a decade of experience.

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