Like most graphic designers, I geek out over fonts. I love the different personalities, styles, even the craftsmanship that is found in individual letters. But there is so much more to designing with fonts than just being picky. Typography is an art. It’s how we make words come to life. Whether you’re working on compelling sermon branding, a meaningful magazine story or creating a kick-butt website, the typography can make or break the project.
In this brief introduction to typography, we’ll cover styles, pairing, general things to watch out for and some great resources to check out.
There are a number of styles, or classifications, of fonts (blackletter, stencil, hand drawn, etc.) but since this is just a quick overview, I’m going to focus on the big three styles: serif, sans serif and script.
- Serif fonts have small lines on the ends of strokes in a character. When used in headings, copy or text treatment as the artwork itself, serif fonts evoke more traditional, serious or academic notions. Typically serif fonts are easier to read in print. Examples: Times New Roman, Georgia, Didot.
- Sans serif fonts, sometimes referred to as gothic, don’t have serifs—thus the “sans,” which means “without.” Sans serif fonts can used more generically. Depending on the project, sans serif can lend itself to the professional or the playful. Examples: Helvetica, Century Gothic, Museo Sans.
- Script fonts are those that connect end and beginning strokes or appear to be handwritten. They give the impression of being very fluid. Although script typefaces are thought to lean feminine, I’m a firm believer that can be very masculine. Examples: Snell Roundhand, Wisdom script, Lobster.
Graphic designers typically have hundreds of fonts on their computers but only use the same 20. Because while there are thousands of fonts at our disposal, we learn what typefaces pair well with each other and what font personalities help us accomplish our goals.
The is no magic number of fonts that should be used in a project, but the goal should always be to create harmony and hierarchy. In most cases, less is more. My general rule is no more than two or three fonts. Pairing fonts can be tricky but here are some rules of thumb that are helpful:
- Something in Common: This can be using same font family, form and kerning, or even typefaces created by the same designer (the fonts tend to have the same personality). Just remember to avoid using fonts that are in the same style or classification, that’s where you can find yourself in trouble. Font form is also something typefaces can have in common and should be used wisely. Form is the proportions, length of descenders, direction, etc.
- Something to Contrast: Style or classification, size, weight, color. All these aspects can be used to contrast paired fonts. If you’re a beginner, I would start by using the same font and using size and color to help you contrast. If you’re a little more advanced, take a look at any font resource site and you’ll see different classifications (example: script and sans). Pick two. Have fun, play.
It’s important, especially in running copy or web, to create typographic hierarchy. Where’s the title? Subheading? Is this a smaller idea of the big idea?
Things to Watch Out For
As you’re sorting out fonts here are a few things to keep an eye on:
- Kerning: I’ll admit, this catches me off guard a lot. When editing your projects, make sure to go back and check the spacing between individual characters. Not all fonts are created equal and some need adjustments.
- Dated or Cliche Fonts: I can’t talk about typography in the church and not mention Comic Sans, Scriptina or Papyrus. These aren’t the only out-dated or cliche fonts but they are some of the worst. Overly “grunge” fonts make me cringe as well. My best advice for avoiding this types of fonts is to see what the current trends are. Creating something for the children’s department? Go to children’s entertainment websites like Nickelodeon or Disney Channel and see what they are using. I promise it’s not Comic Sans.
Here are some of my go-to sites for fonts. If available, take a look at the how the designer used the font in a font book or example banners.
What font lessons do you have to share?
More: Check out the rest of our Design Basics series.