Selecting the most appropriate fonts for your creative projects requires both practicality and artistry, and knowing some things of the finer points can be extremely helpful. While the variations are boundless, there are three basic font categories to consider: Roman, San Serif and Script, as well as variations of each in styles that include bold, light, narrow and italics. Choosing the right one can play a key role in the final appearance of your piece.
Roman type styles, such as Times Roman and Bodoni, have serifs on the letters. Serifs are extra vertical or horizontal strokes added to the basic letter design. Translated, sanserif is French for without serifs and that is precisely what it means. Some of the most fitting examples would be Helvetica, Futura and Calibri. The last category is script, which is a style invented to mimic the appearance of real handwriting. Those fonts that do not fit within these three groupings are constructive or theme fonts, and each one has its own unique set of characteristics.
Determining Font Contrast
In Roman styles one of the most fundamental characteristics is contrast. Contrast essentially refers to the difference in thickness between the thinnest part of the letter and the thickest. Some examples of high contrast fonts are Goudy and Bodoni, while an example of a low contrast style would be Garamond. Another key characteristic to consider is X-height, which refers to the height of small lowercase letters (a, e, o, etc.) in comparison to tall or capital letters. Having a high x-height can make copy appear full and substantial, especially when combined with a low contrast font.
Sans Serif and Script types have characteristics to consider, as well. Sans serif fonts don’t always have contrast, though the thickness of the lines will vary. To see this, compare a very thin type, such as Ariel, to a thicker type like Futura. Looking at x-height is also appropriate when using san serif fonts. Script has the same two elements, in addition to slant, ornaments and very intricate and artistic detail to consider. The last thing to consider is the style most befitting of your project, such as regular font, bold, light, italics, etc.
Where to Use Specific Fonts
The general rule of thumb is: sans serif fonts are better for digital and audiovisual projects, serif fonts in turn are more appropriate for print items -especially for long copy or paragraphs- but it really comes down to creative license and research.
The characteristics of your project will inevitably dictate where to use type styles. Artistic instinct definitely comes into play, though there are some practical and very basic rules that should be observed. Headlines can be done in most any type style provided that they are clearly readable. Very small body copy should usually be done in a Roman or San serif font, with low contrast so that printing the fine lines isn’t a problem. A lower x-height can help leave some space while making things easier to read.
A Few Words on Reverse Print
Printing in reverse has similar considerations, and can be very eye-catching when implemented properly. Small type printed in reverse, especially on some paper types, can have problems with blurring and distance visibility. Avoiding fine lines for reverse fonts is the best idea, but when in doubt, it’s advisable to avoid using reverse type for anything smaller than a 10 point text. If the piece is never to be printed and will only appear on a computer screen, small type is less of a problem.
Using Font Combinations
For traditional body copy you can use most type styles, as long as they are readable and not a distraction. Complex script or constructive type, which can include fonts such as Decorative or Chalk, should be used sparingly. The standard is to limit a piece to two type styles, but you can vary the style using bold or italics to highlight and differentiate. Mixing roman and sanserif styles or combining script with roman or sanserif is fine, but mind your consistency.
The two-style rule is not absolute, but keeping some uniformity will help the reader. If there are too many different elements to look at, a reader may resist reading altogether. Your top to bottom flow will not be as strong if the eye is drawn all over the page by conflicting styles.
Fonts for Specific and Target Audience
The last set of consideration includes the nature of subject matter, client image, target readers, and your own artistic view. If the theme is cutting edge, using an old roman type may not be appropriate. If you are printing formal invitations, script… even a fine read script, is perfectly acceptable. If the audience is very young, using a simple sanserif type may be easier for them to read.
Meet artistic input with practical considerations, and you’ll be one your way to one font-friendly project.