Sam Parrett

Sam is a font designer from the UK whose fonts have been used by Netflix, Katy Perry, Xbox, Michael Kors, and more
May 10, 2021

I'm Sam Parrett. I am 33, from the UK, and I'm a font designer. So I create and sell digital type faces to other creatives for them to use in their own projects.

Your 'client list' is incredible! Netflix, the NBA, Cardi B, Xbox etc. What are some of the coolest places you've seen your fonts appear?

Well, firstly, I always feel a bit cheeky listing it as like a client list, because I don't technically work with them directly. They're just kind of people who have bought my fonts and most of them probably don't even know who I am personally, they've just bought the fonts off of certain marketplaces and used it in their work.

But don't get me wrong, it's really hard to pick one out as one that stands out, because all of them, and like when you read some of the names and you're looking at some of the biggest global brands in the world and there is just little old me here in my office just kind of scribbling down some words, it's pretty mind-blowing.

But there have been a couple which were sort of put up in Times Square which were just crazy. One was for a Netflix show, To All the Boys I've Loved Before, I think it's called, and they kind of displayed that up on Times Square on the billboard.

And I think it was PETA or PETA, you know, the animal rights organization? They put up like a huge skyscraper-sized billboard in the middle of Times Square for the New York Fashion Week. So basically like everyone in New York, it had, obviously, my font kind of all over it, like a naked picture of Gillian Anderson. You know, from the X-Files?

I'm telling you, it was just so surreal because I was sort of, not a massive X-Files fan, but I watched the X-Files growing up and it was just bizarre. It was like a weird dream. Just imagining the millions of millions of people walking around New York every day just seeing my font there, just splayed across like a naked Gillian Anderson. It was just absolutely, absolutely crazy.

There was another one I was going to mention. Oh, there's just so many. I could be here all day just listing them off and how my mind is blown pretty much every time. Oh, the Britney Spears one, so that was projected onto a hotel in New York. The MGM Grand, I think it's called. It's basically like one of the biggest hotels in... Did I say New York? I meant Las Vegas.

It was like the biggest projection on to a hotel in the world or something, and she used it for one of her residencies in Vegas in that hotel. I mean, Britney Spears, as well, growing up, who was just like the biggest superstar when I was growing up. It was just, yeah, again, mind-blowing. I keep saying mind blowing, but it really is mind blowing.

Even now, like every time people say to me, you must be kind of used to now. I'm like, no, the whole thing is just insane. I still think I'm going to wake up from a dream

That's incredible. How do you find out about these? Do people send photos to you? Do you just find them yourself? I mean, I'm assuming you're not wandering around Times Square and just happening to see it all the time. How do you discover who uses your fonts?

Yeah, most of the time it will be someone else who kind of points it out to me. I'm lucky enough to have like a really cool following of people on Instagram who recognise my work, and they get really excited about it, as well, which is just amazing. That always makes me so happy that other people get excited about it when they see my fonts.

But yeah, it's usually other people. Sometimes I will know about it because I've sort of spoken to maybe the design agency or whoever's kind of behind it. So sometimes I will know that it's happening before it happens. But yeah, usually it's just kind of spotting it. I do spot some myself. I don't wander around Times Square, but obviously you see these things online and on social media.

Yeah, so a lot of the time it is a surprise and a really, really cool surprise. But saying that, obviously, I live in Bristol, here in the UK, kind of when I am wandering around the shops and stuff. Haven't done it so much this last year, obviously, but when I do wander around, I worry that I must annoy people because I'm always like on the lookout for fonts. So when I spot something it's like "OMG it's my font!"

I saw one in Victoria Secret, I think it was. You know, they have a lot of like women's lingerie in there and places where people like me don't really belong. But then I saw my font in there and I got really excited and so I go in there and start taking a lot of photos with my phone and everyone's just looking at me really weird.

Have you ever said, like, "oh, don't worry, that's my font", or "I'm the designer"?

I've said that once. I've said that once or twice, but I think people just don't really understand what that means. Yeah, if you're kind of not in the design world, people would just kind of looked at me like I was even more odd at that point. It didn't really do me any favours. So now I just kind of quietly secretly take photos of things. There's no way to do it and not look strange.

What were you doing for work before being a full time font designer?

I was working in retail, yeah. So I went to university and I studied psychology, which is a bit random. I grew up in like a small village and I didn't really want to hang around there, all my friends were going off to university, so I basically kind of just needed an excuse to get out and get into Bristol, really, which is where I am now. So I just kind of picked a subject which I was, I suppose, like fairly interested in, somewhat good at. But my heart was never really in it, if I'm honest, I kind of knew that throughout the course. Graphic design was always sort of just a little side hobby. Never really took it very seriously at that point.

But yeah, anyway, so I graduated and just kind of looked for any work I could get. So, oh God, the first thing I did was a door-to-door sales job, which was just some horrendous multilevel marketing scheme. Which is a self-employed career that I advise everyone to stay away from.

It was all absolutely awful. But after that, I got a job in a phone shop. Which was a little bit better, I met some cool people, but it was still pretty awful. Selling phones all day. Well, I say selling phones, I mainly just got shouted at by customers whose phones didn't work, but I was supposed to be selling phones. Yeah, that was the last thing I did before I jumped into self-employment.

What was the transition from your job to self-employment like? Did you start creating fonts on the side while working?

The font thing didn't come for a while. So I was a freelance graphic designer for a while before I started making fonts. But yeah, so I played in a band, as well, at this time. Played guitar. I was doing graphic design for the band. So I was making our logos and our MySpace page, for anyone who's old enough to remember MySpace. Designed all of that stuff. Never really thought it would become a career, but I was really passionate about it, really enjoyed it. I was rubbish at it, absolutely awful, but I loved it. So I suppose it kind of caught the attention of a few other like friends' bands and local bands and they would then ask me to do their work and it kind of clicked like, okay, maybe I should start charging a little bit for this.

So it was a sort of side hustle, but very, very small side hustle, as I was working in retail, in the phone shop, I didn't have much time to do it, but I was doing it a little bit. So probably for a few months, maybe six months or so before I left, before I left the phone job.

I probably jumped out of that job a bit too soon, but it got to a point where I was just completely fed up with it. Realised that I was never going to survive in the real world doing a real job working for someone else, so I just kind of had no other choice than to make the design career work, really. But the thing is, my goal wasn't to become self-employed, it was just to make a living off of what I loved doing, which was graphic design, and because I didn't have any qualifications, didn't have any experience, my only option really was to go self-employed.

I'm so glad I did, because I wouldn't have it any other way now. But yeah, it was the only choice for me if I wanted to get into graphic design, which I was so desperate to do. So yeah, there was a small overlap. Probably should have left it a bit longer and saved up some money. But yeah, I just made the leap, told my boss that I was kind of fed up and I was leaving. I was a bit cheeky because I should've given him a month's notice, but I didn't. But in my head, I was never going to be applying for any jobs anytime soon, so I didn't really want or need his reference.

How did you learn everything you needed to know for graphic design and font design?

You know, I really want to give us something insightful here and give you some sort of secret formula, but I really just kind of learned it all on YouTube.

There's just such a wealth of information out there, there's not really any excuse to not start any hobby or learn any hobby by yourself. Because the graphic design, when it started out, I just kind of needed to learn a lot of Photoshop techniques, and there's just so many Photoshop tutorials on YouTube. You can pretty much search the exact thing you want to achieve and you will find it on YouTube.

The same with font design. People ask me today how do I get into what you do, how do I learn it? There are some really good Skillshare courses and I know some people who run the Skillshare courses, but when I started, I didn't really have any money to spend on courses or anything like that. So yeah, I just went on YouTube and typed in font design tutorial and the first one that came up was a tutorial on FontLab Studio, which is the software that I still use to this day. It was a really good in-depth tutorial. It went on for absolutely hours and I felt very out of my depth. But, yeah, honestly, it's just YouTube. It's as simple as that.

How did you start getting more interested in font design than what you were doing with graphic design?

Yeah, it kind of happened very quickly. So I was working sort of mainly in the music industry through my band connections, so I designed a lot of logos. I had like a rejected logo concept for a band which I was really happy with because I'd hand drawn it all and I thought it looked really cool. Unfortunately, the band, it wasn't quite the direction the band wanted to go in. Yeah, it was a really long band name as well, so I remember having all these letters already designed and just thinking, I don't really want this to sit on my hard drive doing nothing. You can't resell a logo design unless a band has exactly the same name. So yeah, I just thought maybe I could turn this into a font as I've got sort of nearly half of the letters of the alphabet here.

So it really was just kind of a learning exercise at first. I think I had a couple of texture packs for sale on my website for like a couple of pounds, which I sold maybe like four or five of. It was just like a little side thing I was doing when I had a bit of downtime. So yeah, I thought, well, maybe I can make a font to sell with these texture packs.

I kind of mentioned to my friend that I was making a font and he said, oh, are you to sell it on Creative Market? And I didn't have any idea what Creative Market was. So I put it up for sale on there and I suppose the rest is history, really. So my mind was pretty much instantly blown at the idea of being able to sell a digital product and kind of sit back and do nothing and watch the sales come in. It was a just completely new concept to me. It was amazing.

The font, I think, made within the first week multiple times the amount I would have made for the logo design, for the one-off payment for logo design, if you know what I mean? So it was just a real eye-opener of the potential. I could suddenly open up my work to this global audience rather than just working in this very small specific niche in the music industry, which I was working in. So yeah, it was amazing.

The beauty of Creative Market is that anyone can join and your marketing is kind of done for you. I think it was featured in the newsletter on Creative Market, which was then sort of instantly sent out to, I don't think they had quite a million customers then, but it must've been hundreds of thousands of customers, which is just an audience I could never ever reach on my own. So yeah, there was no marketing done on my part. It was all integrated marketing.


And you then thought "well this is working, let's do more of this"?

Oh, yeah. A hundred percent. So just to stay on that first one, a couple of months later, that was then picked up by WWE who still use it for their titles and merchandise and stuff, which is just crazy.

Yeah. So I just kind of knew then, okay, I'm onto something cool here. So I did continue with the freelance work for a while because I'd built up some really good relationships with clients, but I'd just had my daughter at this point and I really had to kind of think financially. The freelance stuff, for me, had kind of hit a ceiling of there's only so many hours I can put into freelance design and the music industry, as awesome as it was, and I got to work on some really cool projects, some really, really creative projects as well, but there's not very big budgets in it. It's not all about the money for me, but when my daughter was born, I had to kind of prioritise things that were going to put food on the table, I suppose, and pay all the bills.

The font design, I was kind of looking for something new and different at this point, because I'd been freelancing for five or six years and I was kind of doing a lot of the same stuff that I was doing every day. But yeah, anyway, so yeah, I just kind of went, after a couple of months, I just said to everyone, all my clients, I was like this is kind of the end of the road. Which was quite difficult to do, because a lot of these people, we're friends now. But it was definitely the right decision.

Then I just went full steam on fonts because it very quickly got to a point where the fonts were making more money than the freelance work was and I was putting less time into the fonts than I was into the freelance work. So it was kind of a no brainer, really. So when I was able to then go a hundred percent on the fonts, it all just kind of exploded and, yeah, here we are.

What's your favourite thing about being self-employed?

Oh, well, there's so there's so much good that outweighs the bad that the bad is almost irrelevant for me. Because I get to do what I love every day and I get paid for it, which is just incredible. It's doing something which actually helps people as well, because other designers will use my work and it will elevate their own work and help them sell products or whatever. So yeah, it's just absolutely amazing.

I get to see my young kids grow up, spend so much time with them, which is just such a privilege. I can work my personal life around my working life, which is the other way around if you're not self-employed. Honestly, I could go on for ages about the benefits, not having a boss, not having to worry about being fired. I could never ever go back to employment unless I had no other choice.

What's the most challenging thing about working for yourself?

I think I'm at a really good point now where there aren't so many challenges, but obviously the first few years are really tough. Financially, the first few years were a real struggle. A real struggle. But I didn't really think about it too much because I was just loving what I was doing. So anyone thinking of being self-employed, I would really recommend going into something that you really are passionate about and that you love doing. Because, yeah, those first few years were tough learning the ropes, having hardly any money whatsoever, but that's all part of it, really.

I suppose the admin side of it, the paperwork, can be a bit boring. The marketing, as well. You know, it's not really a downside, but for me personally, it's not something I'm particularly that interested in. I know some people kind of enjoy that side of it, but for me it's just kind of part of the job, not something that I particularly enjoy, I suppose.

What advice would you give someone who's looking to get into font design or graphic design?

The first few years, I would say, sort of stick to your principles. I was really not a very good graphic designer, but I made up for it in sort of going the extra mile for clients, always being there to help them, and the customer support side of it, which I really enjoyed building up those relationships with people. So yeah, it's really hard to stand out from like a saturated crowd of other freelance designers and sometimes you just feel so overwhelmed by the quality of work that people put out there. So yeah, I would say make up for it in other elements of the service you provide and people will always appreciate it when you kind of, like I said, go the extra mile for them. So that's kind of how I built up a client base early on.

But getting into font design, specifically, I would say don't just one day say I'm going to get into font design and drop everything else. Because it's not really something you can just kind of jump into the deep end of it because it's such a specific kind of niche within graphic design. I would say if you're really interested in graphic design and possibly looking into font design, then you kind of need to learn the basic elements of design and design theory and typography.

So start as a freelance designer and learn the ropes and learn everything you kind of need to know about graphic design before kind of dipping your toes into font design, because it takes a hell of a lot of patience to be a fun designer and it's something that you have to really love doing. Sometimes the font can take months and months to make, so if you jump straight in there and do nothing else and spend months making a font, which then potentially doesn't sell, it can be heartbreaking. Yeah, so it's risky. It is a risky industry, so I would definitely start it as a side hustle if it's something you're looking to get into.

It's a magnificent beast. It's a magnificent beast and sometimes it can really overwhelming when you kind of look at the amount of glyphs you need to put together. I just take it one character at a time. But yeah, it does take a lot of skill and patience.

What does your typical work day look like?

My typical working day has evolved a lot as my kind of personal life has changed. At the moment, I have my kids here every other week. I've got two young kids. When they're staying with me, there is no working day. It's just absolutely crazy. When they're not here, it's pretty much full steam font design. I'll get up as early as I can, seven, eight o'clock in the morning, and then pretty much, yeah, just go full steam on the font design until maybe seven in the evening.

That does sound quite intense, but then obviously there is a time when the font is then launched and I will then slow things down for a couple of weeks, have a bit of downtime, work on some other things like my own website and doing cool interviews like this. So it's quite a nice balance I've worked out between working on the fonts and then my own sort of family life as well.

What resources that have helped you would you recommend aspiring designers check out?

Actually, this is kind of slightly different to what you're looking for, but something that really helped me when I set out was a government grant, a financial grant, I received. When I left my phone job and I was unemployed, there was someone who worked in... So in the UK, this is going back 10 years, I'm not sure if it's still the same now, so I was receiving what's called Jobseeker's Allowance when you're looking for work. Yeah, there was a lady at the Jobseeker's centre, or whatever it's called, she was really helpful. She said if you are looking to set up your own business, we can sort of help you with it with a grant.

So for six months, every week, I sort of received a payment. It wasn't a lot, but it meant I could eat whilst I was setting up my business. Honestly, it was an amazing lifeline. I honestly think without it I don't know if I would have been able to set up the business, or it would've been a real, real struggle without it, even more so than it already was.

A lot of people kind of look at government handouts as a bad thing, but that was just proof that it really does help and now I've got this business set up where I'm paying back to the government with my taxes, you know? So I would say to anyone who's looking to set up a business to see what financial help is out there for you, I don't know what it's like now, because like I said, it was going back over 10 years, but I'm sure the government will want you to set up your own business. So definitely look out there to see what help you can get financially.

What's next for you, what are you working on at the moment?

So I'm working on my first ever collaboration on a font, so the first time I've ever sort of worked with anyone else on a font. So that's pretty cool. It's a bit of a learning curve to kind of figure out the logistics of how we're both going to do it. Well, the font side of it actually is done now, so it should be launched, I think we're aiming to launch at the end of the month. So yeah, definitely keep an eye out for that one.

Other than that, just as long as I'm enjoying making fonts and I still have ideas for new fonts, then I'll just continue making fonts, because it's great. I love it and I will just continue to do it for as long as I can.

Follow Sam:

Instagram: @setsailstudios


Sam Parrett

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