When you’re drafting up a logo, flyer, poster or t-shirt, if you’re using words, you’ll need to take some time to think about what font to use. This decision has not only a huge impact on legibility and style, but also the vibe you are trying to project with your design.
A lot of this has to do with audience expectations and industry trends. For example, clean modern fonts like Helvetica Neue have long been associated with tech companies like Apple (who has since switched to a bespoke font, San Francisco). Finance companies may lean towards solid authoritative choices like Clarendon or Gotham Narrow, whereas wedding photographers or wineries may gravitate towards script-styled fonts like Anisha or Darleston.
Your choice in font can set the tone of your design and shape how viewers feel and interact with the concept or brand you are trying to represent.
FONTS VS TYPEFACES
This is a small distinction, but basically, think of a typeface as a ‘family style’, and a font being a specific size and weight in that family.
For example, Arial is a typeface, but in the Arial family, there are variations and combinations of these variations: light, condensed, regular, bold, etc. These variations would be classified as the specific fonts in the typeface family.
The distinction becomes a bit muddier in the digital age, but in traditional physical printmaking, fonts were drawers of letters in the same style that would be laid out to create blocks of text. In this case, each size was considered a different font, but as word processors can simply scale text size up and down, that distinction has become less important.
SERIF VS. SANS SERIF
For the longest times, fonts have been mainly categorized as either serif or sans serif. Serif fonts are the “traditional” ones with little feet and flourishes on them and are commonly associated with the printed word and typewriters. But this binary choice comes from the world of writing. When it comes to designs and logos, we can’t forget about script fonts (think loopy handwriting) and display fonts (heavily stylized and graphic).
Sans serif fonts (sans = French for “without”) are those that lack these feet and flourishes, and have a cleaner, more modern appearance. Traditionally, serif fonts have been considered more legible on paper, while sans serif fonts are recommended for digital display (i.e. screens).
When it comes to design though, there is a common practice that, when done well, can create impact for your custom design:
PAIRING DIFFERENT FONTS
One particularly effective way to create contrast and emphasis in your design is to pair fonts from different typefaces – one for the headliner or title, and another for secondary text (body, subtitle, etc)
Without getting too geeky, the goal here is to create contrast while maintaining a sense of cohesiveness. How?
- Consider pairing a bold sans serif with a simple serif font (or vice versa)
- Style alone isn’t always enough to create contrast – consider the stroke weight (thickness) of the letters, and try to avoid pairing fonts that are too close in weight.
- Even combining fonts within the same typeface can be effective – a bold or black headliner with a thin or light body
FONT PAIRING TOOLS
Here are some links to some great font pairing tools – choose a font you like, and they can suggest a variety of complementary combinations, along with real-word samples of pairings:
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