According to the results gathered in this report, the type industry currently appears to be growing. Based on the census material, the number of new foundries remains high, even if one can detect a slight decrease over the last few years. This may be, though, because some foundries are not visible enough yet. Foundries are still concentrated in Western Europe and the United States — especially in New York, California, Berlin (and Germany in general), London, and the Netherlands. This centralization is steadily dissipating, however, and multiple locations are becoming more and more common — thanks in no small part to the web.

Industry analysis overview

Running a foundry is hard work; it involves many tasks besides drawing letters. Because most foundries are solo or very small shops, relying on external help — mainly for font production, web, and language extension work — is common. To expand their customer base, the majority of foundries rely on distributors (MyFonts and FontShop being the most widely used).

A majority of foundries state that they are in good financial shape. Balanced with retail work, custom jobs often represent a more immediate and important source of revenue for many companies. Still, the type industry is not exempt from its own challenges. Indeed, it’s currently in a state of transition and adaptation due to the rapid evolution of technologies. Optimizing fonts for various screen environments appears to pose the greatest challenge at the moment. And the proliferation of foundries means that each of them faces increased competition: dozens of new fonts are released every day, in some cases at extremely steep discounts.

Nonetheless, most foundries remain light marketers; they tend to use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to promote themselves. Moreover, foundry members generally prefer to create functional typefaces they enjoy making rather than think about a particular target market.

The growth of the industry may also be the cause of the recent explosion in type design tools. Type designers have more options to choose from and often use a combination of tools in their workflow.

136Moving forward, many foundries intend to enlarge their current structure slightly and to keep growing as companies. Others, in light of all the changes the industry is experiencing, have trouble imagining what the future has in store for them and what their foundry will look like in a few years. Indeed, the business model that adapts to these changes has yet to be defined. The fact that there is also some debate around what constitutes independent foundries and vendors — and if these terms are still relevant today — is also a sign of turbulence. It is possible that the traditional model of the type business will change.See Typophile discussion of custom type companies and concept of independence.

Final thoughts

137As illustrated by Jan Middendorp and in Type Navigator: the Independent Foundries Handbook, type foundries can assume a variety of forms. So a more focused approach certainly could have been used in this study. Only larger, more established foundries could have been analyzed, for example. Or, I could have concentrated on one-person foundries. Or “full-time” foundries could have been prioritized. The idea, though, was to obtain a big picture of the industry; therefore, I included all foundries while taking into account their differences when necessary.Based on chosen criteria.

While gathering my research, it was obvious that women made up a tiny percentage of founders. This is the subject of a different discussion, but the statistic was so glaring that I couldn’t help but notice it.

In general, I believe that the results of this thesis have added significantly to the currently available information on the subject. Nonetheless, this is still just a snapshot of a quickly changing industry: a few years from now, will it still be relevant?

One way to ensure relevance is to transform this snapshot into a living document. That is our plan. Later this year we’ll update the census with new responses and analysis. You can contribute. Contact Typographica with additions and changes to the foundry index. And, if you represent a foundry, let us know if you’d like to be included in the next edition of the survey.


Written by Ruxandra Duru
Designed by Chris Hamamoto
Edited by Caren Litherland and Stephen Coles
Published by

Thanks to Nick Sherman, André Mora, and Florian Hardwig for their feedback.

Set in unreleased typefaces (untitled serif & Output) by David Jonathan Ross of Font Bureau
with infographics made using FF Chartwell by Travis Kochel for FontFont.

Type Foundries Today was originally published in December 2011 as Duru’s thesis for her master’s in advanced typography at EINA, Barcelona under the supervision of Laura Meseguer. New surveys were conducted and the text was updated in December 2013.

Contact Typographica with corrections and additions.