What’s in a Font? How Fonts Can Define Your Design
You’ve been asked to design something. Maybe it’s a flyer advertising your company’s next seminar. Maybe it’s the invitations to your friend’s wedding. You know what you want the project to look like. You know what tone you want to convey, but for some reason your ideas aren’t coming across in the final design.
If this sounds familiar, take a look at your fonts.
What are fonts?
If you’ve ever used a word processor, you probably have a basic understanding of what we mean by “font.” However, when working on a design project where font is essential for conveying meaning, you have to understand the difference between type, typeface, and font.
- Type is the generic term for everything that goes into visual text, although it originally referred to the actual pieces of wood or metal used to create physical letters.
- Typography is the phrase designers use to refer to the style and appearance of printed text. Designers can specialize in typography, the art of designing and arranging text visually.
- Typeface, or font family, is an alphabet designed so that all the letters and symbols have similar features. For instance, Times, Arial, and Minion are all typefaces.
- Font, then, refers to the specific style of a typeface. Arial Black is a font of the Arial typeface. Minion Pro Italic is a font belonging to the Minion font family.
Why are fonts so important?
You might think that the exact fonts you choose for your project don’t matter, as long as the audience can read and understand the information. But type does more for a design than simply share the written message. Fonts actually go a long way toward defining the tone of your piece and creating a solid brand identity.
According to Josh Baron, the multimedia art director for brand management agency Sparxoo, “Type choice is critical. A brand’s typography is as important as any other element associated with an identity. In many cases, it’s the vessel for that brand voice.”
Different fonts invoke different feelings in the viewer. The style you choose for your text can let the viewer understand the heart of your message before they read a word. It can also add visual flavor to your design in a way that catches the eye without being superfluous. You should put as much energy into selecting and pairing appropriate fonts as you put into the rest of your design.
How do I choose the right font?
Let’s briefly review some terminology. The two basic font styles are serif and sans serif. The serif is the small line at the end of a stroke on a letter.
- Calibri is a sans serif font.
- Cambria is a serif font.
In modern design, body copy is acceptable in both serif or sans serif typefaces. Whichever you choose, try to find a simple font that will be legible and readable. Before you settle on a font, step away from the computer, and see how easy it is to read. If you’re planning on making physical copies, print out examples of fonts you’re interested in to see how legible they are on paper. Some fonts are more readable on a full-size poster than on a screen.
“Test and look,” Dan Rhatigan, senior manager on the Adobe Type team, says. “It doesn’t help to pick a typeface because you like the name or because it has a single gimmick that interests you. Try a few typefaces, see how they behave in your design, and compare the results.”
Don’t be afraid to experiment with many different fonts, especially if you’re new to design. Sometimes, you can’t tell what will look good until you see it on the page.
How many different fonts should I use?
One of the most important tips to remember when creating a cohesive design is to select no more than two or three fonts for your project. Using too many different fonts for different sections of the design will distract and confuse the reader.
Like with any other design element, your font choices should conform to basic principles like contrast and repetition. If you plan to use multiple fonts, find selections that are distinct enough to distinguish separate pieces of information, but that visually work together.
An effective way to find fonts that complement each other and give your design variety is to use multiple fonts belonging to one family. Choose a typeface that comes with options such as bold, italic, light, medium, and black. The different fonts from within the same family pair well together, but they break up the text and help draw attention to your project.
- Alegreya, for example, has normal, bold, and black options.
How do I make my design stand out?
Sans serif and serif fonts are great for body copy, but if you want your design to pop, use a display or header font that is a bit more eye-catching.
“Since a header’s function is to grab your attention with just a few words, there’s a lot more variety of fonts to choose from,” Dan says. “It is much easier to get away with typefaces that have bigger personalities or that might not be as easy to read at smaller sizes.”
Look into playful options like script, decorative, or handwritten fonts. These tend to work best for large headlines.
- Scripts fonts like Bickham Script are perfect if your design theme requires an elegant or artistic style.
- Bold decorative fonts like Stencil can help your design reference a specific idea and emphasize the important aspects of your design.
- Handwritten fonts like Tornac, as the name implies, mimic handwriting, and are great if you want to give your design an old-fashioned or personal look.
Where do I find fonts to choose from?
If you have a subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud, you already have access to thousands of exciting free fonts through Adobe Typekit. The fonts you download will be synced across Adobe services, so whether you’re using InDesign, Photoshop, or Illustrator, you can try out as many fonts as you want. View a wide selection of Typekit tutorials to discover how the program works and to learn additional tips for selecting typefaces.
If you aren’t sure where to start, consider some tried-and-true typefaces that will work with most design themes. The san serif typeface Acumin has many font styles that are clean and easy to read, and the serif font family Ingeborg provides many visually appealing options. If you want to try mixing serif and san serif fonts, start with Skolar and Skolar Sans, both well-designed fonts that were created to complement each other.
The text of your project is essential to its overall success. Finding the perfect font will attract attention, convey your message clearly, and represent your brand well. Get started with our list of favorite fonts, and sync them to your design app.