Let’s say you are a carpenter. You wouldn’t expect to get by with just a hammer. No, you would have a toolbox full of squares, levels, screwdrivers, chisels, and other specialty tools because a good carpenter knows that their tools are their livelihood. The same applies to your fonts, and so, to nail that metaphor home (you see what I did there?), you need to fill up your toolbox with certain types of fonts to succeed. What are they?
Anatomy of Typography
Before we can hammer away at the font types, it can be helpful to understand a few things about the anatomy of typography. While there are many many parts in the anatomy of typography (aka fonts), we’ll just cover the basics.
The baseline is an invisible line that the font sits on. Think of this like the bottom blue line on primary school lined paper.
An invisible center line that most lower case letters fall under. Think of this like the dashed blue line on primary school lined paper.
This is the invisible top line of a font. This is the line where most upper case letters go to. Some lower case letters will also hit this line with their ascenders – such as the letters b, h, and k. Think of it like the top solid blue line on primary school lined paper.
The cap-height is the height of a capital letter, and the difference between the mean line and the ascender line (or in everyday human speak, the difference between the top of a lower case and upper case letters).
The descender is the bottom part of a letter that falls below the baseline in letters such as y and g.
There are thousands of fonts in a diverse range of styles available on the internet today, but it’s hard to know if you’re choosing the right font type (or typeface) for your project. Keep reading to learn about the different types of fonts, and what kinds of projects they are best suited for.
A Serif font is a typeface with small little nubs that poke out at the end of letter strokes. It’s quite easy to identify these types of fonts by looking at the upper-case E and T. You commonly see this type of text in newspaper headlines, logo taglines, and body (paragraph) text. I use a serif font for the headings in my blog posts.
A Sans Serif is a typeface without the presence of any little nubs, embellishments, or details. They are a crisp, clean, and modern representation of the serif counterparts. These types of fonts are also used in body text, usually in a digital format like websites, apps, and ebooks. I use a sans serif for the body text on this blog.
Script type links together letter-to-letter. Very similar to cursive handwriting or a signature. These types of fonts are perfect for headings and logos. You can find an example of the script typeface on the word “digital” in my logo.
Decorative (also known as Display) typeface is artistic and eye-catching. These are great for logos, posters, and headings.
Blackletter typefaces are sometimes referred to as Old English or Gothic. They are characterized by a dense black texture with highly decorated serifs in thin and thick strokes. While they can frequently be hard to read as body text, this font type is best used for titles, headings,drop-caps, and logos. A GREAT example of this typeface is The New York Times logo!
A font pairing is the pairing or combining of fonts in your design. As I mentioned in my previous post, a good rule of thumb when pairing fonts are to keep the number of font styles limited to two or three. A perfect example of utilizing three fonts would be on a blog or website where you would use one font for headings, another for sub-headings, and another for body text. Here are some more examples of basic font pairings.
Font Families, Sizes, and Weights
One way to utilize font pairing is to use the same font in varying sizes (points), weights (bold, black, ultra), and families (italic, condensed, thin) with clear differences between them. This is by far the easiest font pairing for a beginner and still provides a classic and minimalist style.
Serif & Sans Serif
Another safe bet when it comes to combining fonts is to pair a serif with a sans serif font. Why? The more contrast you have between your fonts, the better. However, don’t over-do it! You’ll want to stay away from fonts that are SOOO different that they cause conflict with each other.
Script & Sans Serif
Script fonts make for elegant and embellished short headings. Too many words can be hard to read, so it’s best to keep your application of script to a limited number of words.
Script & Serif
Another option is to utilize a script font with a serif for a more timeless and classy vibe. This is a great combo for wedding invitations and photographers.
Blackletter & Serif
These two types of fonts work extremely well together as they both convey the same time period and mood. This is why you see this combo a lot in newspapers and books. It can also be found in other areas that we are more familiar with… like Disneyland for example.
Blackletter & Sans Serif
This combo you’ve probably seen around town and didn’t even realize it! Rock bands, pubs, and beer labels are just a few places you’ll catch this duo.
Font Tools & Resources
Choosing the right font is fundamental for defining your project, but with thousands upon thousands of fonts available, it can be intimidating to figure out which ones to pick. That’s why I’ve compiled a list of my favorite online tools and resources for you to make it a tad bit easier.
Font Pairing Generators & Tools
So you don’t have time to sit there and figure out font pairings. I get it, we’re really busy people! Just Google font pairing generators and you’ll get pages of them, but here are my top choices (I even used the first one to create the images for this blog post)!
Font Download Resources
These resources are my favorites for finding great deals on fonts!
Sometimes you see a font on a website or design piece that you really like, but don’t know what it is. That’s when sites like these come in handy to help you identify the fonts!
Creating Your Own Fonts
Do you like hand-lettering? Want to take it to the next level? Take the opportunity to design your own handmade fonts (and maybe make some money selling them) and visit Calligraphr!
Now that you know the five types of font styles and how to use them, it’s time to put it to use! Practice, practice, and practice some more. As with any skill, becoming proficient involves a lot of trial-and error… just don’t forget your coffee first!