Whether you’re in charge of designing a website, flyer, brochure, magazine, ad, street sign, billboard, textbook or ebook, you know the importance a font brings to your design.
Design without fonts would be like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the bread; it’s no longer a sandwich.
It’s common to think of fonts only in relation to creative projects or branding exercises, but the beautiful part about fonts is they are everywhere.
Designer or not, at some point in a creation process involving text, font must make an appearance.
Think about textbooks, for example. You don’t normally think about the typeface you’re reading while studying for your next exam, but guess what?
Someone had to choose that font before the textbook was published. It doesn’t matter who you are or what industry you work in, you need to know about fonts and how to choose them wisely.
Know Your Brand Message and Goals
Before you start looking at fonts and thinking about picking one, you first need to know your brand and the message it’s trying to convey.
Brands set companies apart from each other, and this gives them an identity.
Pepsi and Coca-Cola don’t use the same fonts, color, or wording even though they sell (arguably) the same product. If they did, there wouldn’t be any competition.
Fonts — similar to a logo and slogan — are ingrained in a company’s brand and help the consumer understand what you stand for.
A few questions to ask yourself as you embark on this font journey:
- Why does your brand matter?
- Who is your audience?
- How does your brand stand out from competitors?
- How do you want your audience to react to your brand message?
Each font has different characteristics that affect the consumer differently. Answering these questions will help decipher which font will align with your brand message best.
Differences Between Sans Serifs and Serifs
The main division in typography has stepped up to the plate. Get your mitts ready, this is going to be home run content.
Typography is divided into 2 main categories: sans serifs and serifs. They have a very small difference, but it changes how the font appears, feels, and is read.
It’s like putting humans into 2 categories of male or female. While physically we only have a few changes, there’s definitely a lot of differences between us. We present ourselves differently, we act differently, communicate differently, and much more.
Serif fonts are the older fonts of the two, and because of this they feel more traditional in style.
These fonts have the decorative feet at the end of each character stroke. Those feet, or lines, are called serifs!
I’m sure you’re familiar with the popular Times New Roman, which is a serif font. These fonts work incredibly well for longer-form content.
Other popular serif fonts:
- Droid Serif Pro
- Bookman Old Style
- Mrs Eaves
- Arno Pro
Sans means “without,” so sans serif fonts are those without the decorative lines at the end of each character.
These fonts tend to look more modern, and are extremely readable. This is why they are popularly used for digital content!
Sans serif fonts also have the versatility to present different looks based on the weight chosen. A thicker sans serif can look strong, while a thin sans serif can come across as extremely modern and classy.
Popular sans serif fonts:
- Open Sans
- Noto Sans
- Roboto Condensed
- Source Sans Pro
Decorative and Script Fonts
Under each category of sans serif and serif fonts, there are subcategories that may help you narrow down a type of font for your brand.
As the title suggests, these fonts look like script. These fonts replicate the look of handwriting, whether this is through cursive, calligraphy, or manuscript.
Script fonts can vary greatly, so don’t knock the whole category until you’ve seen each type. These work best as a title, and paired with a font that is not a script font as well.
If your design is very open with a lot of space, then a script font is a great option!
Script fonts include:
If you grew up in the 90’s you probably remember making homemade birthday cards and banners on Microsoft Word, and I’m going to bet you used a decorative font for it.
These fonts are very similar to script fonts, and they should be used in the same way.
Decorative fonts make a statement, meaning you should use them sparingly. They tend to be used as headlines or titles and can reflect a culture or time period.
This is the largest and most versatile group of fonts, so keep in mind a lot of them may be outdated — but there’s still lots of unique ones, too.
You can look at examples of decorative fonts here.
Web Fonts vs. Print Fonts
Above all, you want your text to be easily readable for the platform it will be displayed on.
Ever gotten a brochure or newsletter with the tackiest looking writing? Just like everything good in life, there’s a time and place for certain fonts.
A great way to divide them is between web and print, because not all fonts work well for both.
Looking for an easy rule of thumb?
Web: Sans Serifs
While there will always be exceptions to this rule, generally it’s much easier to read a sans serif font on a computer.
Made with simple shapes, these show up better, as computer screens have much lower resolution than print.
Note: there are sans serifs that are meant for the web; they come in wider and taller dimensions!
Serif fonts work well on print because each character appears more individual; a characteristic that becomes lost on screens.
With long paragraphs of text, serif fonts are much better at preventing eye fatigue while reading.
And you’re more likely to see longer excerpts of text on print, since the web makes it easier to click away faster from content.
Know Where You’re Coming From
Way before printing, the only means of displaying text was handwritten manuscripts. Imagine the snail speed at which communication was delivered, as you waited for a handwritten book from your favorite author.
The first printing was in 868 by Chinese monks who used block printing, which involved using wooden blocks with ink to press to paper. This replicated handwritten characters.
Movable type was first created by Bi Sheng around 1041-1048, which in terms of font means the same exact letters could be replicated for print.
In the 1400’s, Johannes Gutenberg created an adjustable mold that allowed the widths to be changed for casting metal types.
A character could be more narrow or wider, and the same character could be replicated many times. He also invented block letter, the first typeface!
After that, fonts took off like wildfire.
In 1470 Nicolas Jenson created the famous Times New Roman. This was inspired by the text on ancient roman buildings.
Then in 1501, italics were invented by Aldus Manutius in order to fit more letters on a page. This saved money on printing.
Skip forward awhile; in 1816 William Caslon IV created the first Sans Serif typeface. Widely not accepted at the time, but a monumental point in typography history!
And now, with technology and the internet, fonts are widely available and constantly being created.
Finding A Font And Combination That Makes Sense
Now that you’ve gone through what I like to call “Font Bootcamp,” it’s time to pick the fonts that best fit your brand.
With the categories of fonts presented above, you can get an idea of which categories you feel best align with the personality your brand.
Depending on your design, you may need a couple fonts to choose from.
The good news? Bold Web Design has a helpful font combination tool.
So, if you do find a font that fits your brand incredibly well, you can just plug it into the combination tool and find its soulmate.
Simple, right? If only dating was that easy.
My last piece of advice before you venture on your own font journey, is to remember the emotion behind your brand.
Emotion sells, and each brand’s message is advertising to the emotions of their customers:
- Banks provide security, so they want to appear as trustworthy. I’m sure a frilly font wouldn’t quite do the trick.
- Sports teams show competition and determination, so a courageous font is usually used.
Behind each font, design, ad, sign, and article there’s an emotion the company is trying to communicate.
If you’re having trouble with the technicalities of fonts and font pairings, think of the emotion your company is inciting.
This should be easiest and most obvious to identify. After all, we’re just humans trying to connect with other humans, one font at a time.
With a passion for everything about fonts, Debbie Morgan of Adelaide, South Australia’s Bold Web Design loves experimenting with how different fonts change designs.