5 Tips for Choosing and Pairing Fonts

Good font selection can take almost any design and bring it up three levels. Yet to many, this can be daunting. There are so many fonts to choose from! And with the advent of the computer, the number of fonts has exploded.

I’m asked by many of my non-designer friends to look at the flyer or presentation they’ve created and tell them what I think. I soooo hate when this happens. As a designer, I’m pretty fussy about type selection. Are they appropriate? Are they paired well? Is there enough variation to create a good hierarchy? So when I look at my friends’ work, they’ve almost always made poor selections — mostly from lack of knowledge, and some just have bad taste.

Good font selection can take almost any design and bring it up three levels. Yet to many, this can be daunting. There are so many fonts to choose from! And with the advent of the computer, the number of fonts has exploded.

First we need to understand the difference between fonts.

Display fonts are designed, and look best at a larger size. They tend to have strong “personalities” meant to make a statement. They often don’t have many variations in weight, and will typically be the dominant font on your page (even if they are used the least).

Text fonts are designed to look good as body text. They work best at small- to medium-sizes but can be used larger with extra attention paid to their letter spacing. Their personality will not be as bold as a display font, but can still have a lot of character. It just tends to be a little more subtle.

So how does one pair fonts? Here are five approaches that will help you look like a top-notch designer.

1. Limit Your Choices

Without the help of a designer, people often make the mistake of choosing too many fonts. So try limiting your font selection to two to three font families. A font family is font and all its variations (i.e., regular, italic, bold, bold italic, etc.). Use fonts with a large family and you’ll be safe using them, knowing that they’ll complement each other.

Garamond Font FamilyLimiting your choices doesn’t mean only use two to three fonts. It means using the right number of fonts for the project you are designing. With that said, the more fonts you use, the harder it is to balance them together and create harmony that enhances the design. As the examples show, one, two or many fonts can work when designed well.

2. Find the Right Characters

Fonts have personality and therefore you need to find the right personality for your project. If it’s a corporate presentation to bankers, you’ll want to consider fonts that are safer and risk-averse like Helvetica and Times Roman. Or you could add a little play with Gill Sans or Palatino. All are corporate in personality and will not make you look risky.

Fonts with a more corporate feelOn the other hand, if you are creating a flyer for employees about the company picnic, you can use fonts with more fun and bold personalities like Boston Traffic or Geometric. Or a personality that feels more picnic-like such as ITC Kabel or Logger.

Fonts with a more playful feelWhen it comes to character of your fonts be careful, you don’t want to look too cute either. Show your work to colleagues and get their feeling about the fonts. They may have a different opinion.