Who doesn’t like a good font? Here’s a better question – who actually understands what fonts are and the vastness of that design element? Technically speaking, when you’re in Microsoft Word and you choose Arial as your “font,” it’s actually a “typeface.” The “font” is whether it is regular or bold or italic, etc. However, since the terms have become smeared together over the last few years, “font” is generally used to cover the whole subject. So for the sake of simplicity, in this blog post, we’re just going to say “font” instead of “typeface.” Now, the world of fonts is so big, that to really understand it, you’d want to take a whole course in typography. But we just want to throw out a few basic principles.
When choosing a font for your piece, the first question you want to ask yourself is, “Can others read this easily?” The goal of putting together a poster, flyer, postcard (or whatever), is communication. Therefore, does your font choice communicate clearly? When someone else looks at what you’ve developed, do they have to squint and reread the words to understand it? If so, then choosing a clearer font is probably in your best interest. We all like to make things look fancy and cool, but you never want to sacrifice clarity for those elements.
The second question you want to ask is, “How does this font make the reader feel?” Just like any other element – like colors – fonts evoke emotions on the most basic subconscious level. We may not realize why a font with a bunch of curlicues and extra fragments makes us want to dance, but there’s a reason people use these types of fonts when advertising things like parties. They’re fun. They almost appear to move. Would you want to use this type of font for a piece at a funeral? Probably not. Keep in mind, though, that when you do use the “fun” fonts, use them in moderation. Use them for just the headers and use more readable fonts for the large portions of text. Otherwise, you’re back to people having a hard time reading your piece.
The third question is, “How many fonts have I used on this piece?” Here’s a tip: Don’t use more than two, especially if it’s one page, like a flyer. You can get away with three. Never four or more. The reason, again, goes back to the subconscious and readability. If you use a handful of fonts on one page, it may look… “pretty.” But when other people see it, their brain is going to register “clutter” and they will also have a harder time reading it because their brain will need to work harder every time the font changes, in order to sort through and recognize the individual letters.
The fourth question is, “Do my fonts contrast enough?” Do your best not to mix fonts that are very similar to each other. For example, don’t use both Ariel and Helvetica. They are both sans-serif fonts (they don’t have the serifs (aka: “feet”) like fonts such as Times New Roman). If using different fonts for headers and body text, make sure there is obvious contrast between the two. This separates the thought and draws attention to what’s important. Likewise, don’t use two serif fonts together, like Times New Roman and Bookman Old Style, for the same reasons. Tip: For printed pieces, use sans-serif fonts for headers and serif fonts for body text. For pieces viewed onscreen (websites, PDF files, etc.), use serif fonts for headers and sans-serif fonts for body text. The reasoning is based on how the text appears in different forms and how our eyes receive the information.
Last, but not least, ask yourself, “Does my color choice make this piece readable?” If you have a light background, use a dark color for your font. If your background is white, you do not want to use yellow or light blue type. It doesn’t stand out enough, and it makes the text very hard to read. When in doubt, revert to black. Black will always look good on a light background. Don’t sacrifice readability for fun colors. For onscreen projects, if the background is dark, use a nice light color. Just remember to make sure the type is in contrast with the background, and you’ll be set.
Play around with fonts! Open your word processor and choose a variety of fonts to see how they look and feel. There is much, much more to be said on this subject than just the above guidelines, but hopefully you’ve gained a few new insights to help your next piece be even more eye-pleasing than the last.