Over the last several weeks, I’ve been working towards the release of Brew City Type‘s first font—Porter. As a designer, typography has always been a secondary passion because of its foundation in everything I create.
It’s never been a more exciting type for typography. Over 20 years ago, the word “font” found its way into our common vocabulary and people started paying attention to what the letters looked like in everything. Last year, Apple changed the system font in their iOS 9 update that sent everyone in a frenzy and re-ignited the conversation on fonts.
This wouldn’t be a complete article if I didn’t point out that while there’s been a lot of good come from it—people learned about faces like Helvetica or Times New Roman—its brought some ugly parts in the name of Comic Sans and Papyrus as well.
But when I say “ugly”, its not always the fault of the typeface.
How you use a font matters.
Choosing Your Typeface
There are millions of fonts out there, ranging from the pre-installed options on your computers, to freely available fonts you can download and all the way up to individual font styles that can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. How do you know what’s going to be appropriate? There’s a couple of steps you can take to direct yourself to appropriate choices.
Step 1: How are you using it?
Fonts are typically designed for two major uses: display or text.
A display font is created for larger use, such as headlines or logos. It’s not intended to be used for body copy or situations where there’s a lot of words to read. There’s usually more detail in a display font and as such, that detail often gets lost the smaller the font size is set.
A text font is just the opposite: its mostly used for setting a lot of copy, like a blog post, article, or book. It’s designed to have less detail, but be much easier on the eyes to read in blocks of text.
Some fonts do really well at being one of these or the other. There are also some fonts that can do well at both—typically, these types of fonts have more weights or varieties beyond the Regular, Italic, and Bold you may be used to seeing.
Step 2: How are you reproducing it?
The medium in which you’ll be using a font plays a big factor. One of the most common mediums is obviously digital—Word documents, websites, and so forth. Many new fonts are designed in a manner that plays to the strengths of being on screen.
Print gets a little murkier though. Older fonts were designed with print in mind, because that was the only way it was going to be used back in the day.
Print quality is the major factor here. Is the font going to be printed out on a low quality machine like an office printer? Or is it going to a professional print shop? Additionally, the kind of paper you’re printing on will also factor in. Ink will “bleed” or “run” more on newspaper than it will on a high quality paper.
You can get by with a more detailed font if you’re going digital or a high quality print. If its anything less, look for fonts with less detail to them.
Step 3: What feel are you aiming for?
This step is where the biggest mistakes are usually made.
If you skim over this paragraph, I want you to take away these things at the very least:
- A little goes a long way.
- An effective font choice shouldn’t be overly noticeable.
- A font shouldn’t be stressful to read.
A little goes a long way. In design, a font should be the backbone of the piece, not front and center. The feeling of a piece can be influenced more by the tone of the copy, the supporting imagery, or even colors and graphics. The font you choose should help support these elements. If it goes beyond, people will notice the font more than anything else—including your message—when they look at the page.
It shouldn’t be stressful to read, either. Readers don’t like to spend a lot of time having to stop and figure out what exactly each word or letter is. If it can’t be scanned in a reasonable amount of time and slows the eye down, it’s not an effective font choice.
Bonus: Using more than one font?
If you’re going to be using more than one font, I have a couple of rules to keep in mind:
- Using any more than 3 fonts is perceived as unprofessional. Ideally, stick to no more than 2.
- Don’t mix similar looking fonts. Try to find a pair that compliments each other.
Like color, using too many fonts on a page will make it look busy and hard for a reader to focus anywhere. This breaks the rule from step 3 and makes your font choices too noticeable.
For mixing fonts, my best recommendation is to do an online search for font combinations. If you’re sticking to system fonts, I have a few popular combinations:
- Georgia & Verdana
- Helvetica & Garamond
- Myriad & Minion
- Helvetica & Times New Roman
- Century Gothic & Palatino
When someone is skimming over the piece, they’re taking a lot of details in (whether they realize it or not) and making an almost instant first impression. Those details can make or break that first impression, and your choice of font can sway the pendulum one way or the other.
By taking some time and planning out your fonts, you’ll be amazed at the impact and difference it can make.