Making Your Own Ebook – Part Eleven – Fonts

Fonts are software and all fonts are not FREE! You may be liable to pay the owner of the font for its use if you embed a font in your Ebook that is not a “FREE” public domain font and you do not have a specific licence to use the font. Just because the font is included in your computer does NOT mean that you can use it when you distribute an Ebook.

Whatever font you set, when you are formatting your book, it will probably be overridden by the E-reader’s internal fonts. You CAN force your chosen font but if that particular font is not included in the E-reader’s built-in set of fonts, you may get some unpredictable results.

Test it!

If you have a physical E-reader, or a PC/Mac/Tablet based E-reader, load your book and see if it uses YOUR chosen font or the user-selected font. Look at the Settings / Options to see if you can see YOUR font in the list. If you are using accented letters for languages other than English, other symbols that are not normally found on the keyboard, or an unusual base font then make a test file with the odd letters and test them by converting to Ebook and see what happens.

Font licences

You CAN override the E-reader’s choice and one way is by embedding the font in the Ebook, but do this only if you have a licence to Embed. Unless you bought the Font and confirmed that it includes a licence to allow it to be embedded in E-books you will probably not have permission to use the font in this way. The general terms & conditions included with most fonts do not specifically allow Ebook distribution rights, and the fonts included with your computer’s operating system and word processor software are also not licensed for embedding in EPUB or Kindle files.

You should not have a problem in general as most conversion software will include the “Desired” font and also include the general definition of “Serif Font” or “Sans Serif Font” alongside the desired font. When this is done the E-reader can select its default, or user set, Serif or Sans Serif font instead.

What is the problem with Embedding Fonts

Software applications that convert from Word Processor format to Ebook format usually offer you the choice to “Embed” fonts. When you Embed the font you actually copy the font definition file from your system into a directory inside the Ebook package.

When your Ebook is downloaded by a customer they will also be downloading a copy of the font file. This is interpreted as distribution of the font software because a full font definition file is included inside the Ebook package, and could be extracted and used by the person who has acquired the Ebook.

When embedding a font, there are methods available to “obfuscate” the font, to hide and encrypt the font information so that it cannot be extracted. However, the font can only be decrypted if there is a current licence for the font on the machine that is trying to open it so not many readers will be able to interpret an encrypted font file. Also, some aggregators will NOT allow encrypted fonts in an upload.

Barnes & Noble (Nook) says: “Embedded fonts are allowed, but the publisher should own the right to include licensed fonts. Encrypted fonts are not allowed.

Amazon (Kindle) recommends using the default set of fonts installed on Kindle devices and apps because they have been tuned for high quality rendering. They also say “Only embed fonts that are not currently available on devices and apps.”

If you do not Embed the font in your file you have no problem since you are not “copying ” the software just saying that if this font is available, use it.

Fonts Availaable in some of the main brands of E-readers:

Kobo Touch: Georgia, Avenir, Amasis, Delima, Felbridge, Gill Sans, Rockwell

Kobo Books for iPad: Baskerville, Verdana, Georgia and Trebuchet

Nook Touch: Caecilia, Malabar, Amasis, Gill Sans, Helvetica Neue, Trebuchet

Nook Color: Century School Book, Dutch, Georgia, Ascender Sans, Trebuchet MS, Gill Sans

Original Nook: Helvetica Neue, Amasis, Light Classic

Kindle 3: Caecilia, Caecilia condensed, Sans serif

Kindle: – Other models just have, Caecilia

Sony Reader PRS-T1: Original, Amasis, Frutiger Neue, Verdana, Univers Next, Really No 2, Palatino nova

Sony Reader: Older versions have only one default serif font option Dutch Roman (Dutch 801)

iBooks: Baskerville, Cochin, Palatino, Times New Roman and Verdana

Kindle for iPad: Caecilia

Wattpad: Georgia, Courier, Arial, AppleGothic, Courier New, and Zapfino

Serif or Sans Serif?

In printed books and magazines Serif fonts are generally used for all body text and it is rare, particularly in older books, to see Serif fonts used for anything except headings. There are good reasons for this but the most important is that, where resolution is high, Serif Fonts are more readable than Sans Serif fonts.

So why have Sans Serif fonts become so popular in recent times?

A couple of quick definitions:  Serif fonts have fine details (serifs) at the end of the letter stroke, the bars on the top and bottom of the “I” for instance. Sans-serif fonts do not have these little flourishes (from the French “Sans” = “Without” serifs).

Sans Serif fonts came into prominence in the early computer days because early computer screens were so bad (very low resolution) that they could not display the fine detail of the serifs. Sans Serif fonts were used as they were generally considered to be more legible on computer screens and became recognized as a result.

Resolution of Ebook readers: I did a rough & ready survey of some of the more popular E-readers and found that the average resolution in pixels per inch (ppi) was around 220. Compare this to the average LCD computer screen which will have a resolution of 72 – 130 ppi; Newspapers around 90 – 150 ppi: magazines around 250 – 300 ppi and more than 300 ppi for high end printing.

Good E-readers have a much higher density of pixels than the average computer screen and compare well with printed material so serif fonts will work well. The choice of built-in fonts seems to support this idea.

Note about ppi and dpi. I know that the purists among you may argue about comparing print media and digital screens using ppi for both. The comparison above is about “relative” resolution for printed material since you don’t have “pixels” in printing.

My Recommendations

If your book is fiction or non-fiction and is mainly text based:

  • Ignore everything except font size, and whether your fonts are Serif or Sans Serif. Let the readers and E-reader device sort out the fonts they prefer to use. The conversion software should identify the main fonts used and put in Serif or Sans Serif as an option in the CSS for the Ebook.
  • Use font colour sparingly. Over 97% of readers are E-ink and only 3% have colour. With the rise of tablets colour may make a difference but in reality black on white works best for type.
  • Don’t try to force YOUR preferred font.
  • Don’t embed fonts.

If your book is has a lot of formatting, illustrations or tables the solution with the least pain is to get someone else to prepare the Ebook for you. There are some things that just work better if you get a pro to do it for you (like dentistry or eye surgery. Ouch!). Once you have passed over your originals it is THEIR problem, not YOURS.

For more complex books you also need to think about whether a standard EPUB or MOBI file is your best option. You may need to move to “Fixed EPUB”, but the old E-readers will not ba able to display exactly what you want and will have no colour..

If the appearance of the book, layout, colours and fonts are important the you will need to move to PDF, or print to achieve what you want.

More to come for links to free softward tools, images and pricing..

©DavidCronin 2015 The Ebook Doctor



After over 30 years as a senior executive across the cable, telecommunications and cable television industries, David Cronin founded the Indie Publishing company Moyhill in 2004. Already involved with computers since the mid 1970s he quickly made the transition to book designer and publisher and the first book that Moyhill published in 2004, The Red Tailed Hawk, in Spanish won best digital print book in the UK that year.

Since then Moyhill has set up authors as their own publishers and has formatted several award winning novels and non-fiction titles. It is essentially a one-man operation and this enables a one-to-one relationship with authors throughout the entire process.

After this series has been completed next week David will be holding a Q&A session via the blog for those authors who have read the series but still have questions.

If after that you feel you need more assistance to give your book a final polished format then you can contact him direct on


34 thoughts on “Making Your Own Ebook – Part Eleven – Fonts

  1. Pingback: Making Your Own Ebook – Part Eleven – Fonts | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  2. Hmm, I paid my printer to converts my last two novels to eBooks, so I assume they dealt with the font problem. It was a bit expensive and I was thinking that next time I would do it myself, since the InDesign software I used will turn out an EPUB file. I will bear all the above in mind. Thanks.


  3. For people who have astigmatism, Any Serif font is harder to read than the San Serif font, as you kind of mention here. The embellishments are pretty but get awfully blurry to those who have this problem. Sure, there are glasses for this problem, but do you realize how many who have 20/20 vision have astigmatism?


    • Thank you Glynis for commenting.. it is a problem for many people. I have an astigmatism in one eye only but causes problems with close up reading despite having great long distance. Some print books even with corrected glasses are a problem for me so really happy that I can change the font and the size on my reader. One size does not fit all I am afraid but at least now there is some flexibility in the use of fonts provided they are available on the reader of choice.. take care and best wishes.. Sally


  4. Pingback: The Saturday Round-Up – People, Posts, Pets and Promotion! | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  5. Pingback: Formatting your own Ebook – Q & A with David Cronin | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

I would be delighted to receive your feedback (by commenting, you agree to Wordpress collecting your name, email address and URL) Thanks Sally

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