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How to choose the right typeface for your graphic design?

If you're a graphic designer, then you know what I'm talking about before I even say how much of a slog it is to nail down the right font for your designs.

And, if you're reading this, then you're also looking for some advice to perhaps 'ease' your journey to aesthetic perfection. Well, you've come to the right place.

What do I mean by that? Well, keep reading, and you'll find out.

Back in the old days, fonts were scarce, difficult to get hold of, and unless the one you wanted came preprogrammed into a text editor, you were pretty much stuck.

But, now, we're not. They do so much more than simply display text. There're big ones, small ones, fat ones, thin ones, slanty ones and curly ones, serif and sans serif. More than you can shake a stick at — and they all do something a little bit different for us.

Fonts are in abundance these days, and if you know where to look, you can snag thousands of them for free. Which brings us to our first point.

1. Do I stock up now, or look for one when I need it?

Leave them where they are and then once you've decided what sort of font you want - download a variety of fonts that match your criteria, and flick through that shortlist instead.

2. The Initial Choice

There are some screener questions, which will help you narrow down the sort of font you want.

What do you want the font to do?

Well, is it simply there to convey information, or do you want it to carry a boatload of contextual weight?

With the number of fonts and styles we now have access to, we can say so much with the look and shape of a font that we don't need to put a lot of things in writing.

When they say a picture is worth a thousand words, a font is worth a million, because it's a combination of the two.

Ask yourself what you want your font (not your words) to say, and then draw a big line under it.

Do you want it to tell the person seeing it that the design is classy? Modern? Traditional? Is it for a college or school? Is it for Kids? Is it for a newspaper?

Think about the instant decision you want your viewer to make, and you're halfway home already.

3. The Reaction

We're delving deeper into the proverbial rabbit hole, here, and I'd like to take a quick second to share some interesting information.

There've been studies conducted that have asked people to give a word as a reactionary description when they've been shown fonts. It's nothing especially surprising - curly fonts, and those that look like they've been written by children connote happiness; thicker fonts are more assertive; serif fonts are traditional and bland, but sans serif fonts are modern and clean. You could have guessed that, sure, but it's still good to know.

4. Versatility

The versatility of any font is another thing you'll want to consider when designing text-based graphics.

A lot of the time, a font will look just perfect when it displays the company name, a single word, or a phrase. But, often (and more often than not), when it's used for a different purpose - a tagline, motto, subheading, or even for body text, it will end up looking rather out of place. If you're designing a lot of things for a company, we suggest choosing three fonts for different purposes, though I'll touch on that in a minute.

For now, we want you to think about where this font is going to show up, and how it will look.

Is it going to be in bold and black?

How does it look spaced out?

Can it be written on a curve without looking terrible?

Can it be colored in?

Does it look good over an image, or under one?

What does it look like when it's outlined?

Chances are that you'll be using any font you choose for a company a lot, and having no design skills themselves, they'll demand things that you just can't make work. But, if you anticipate the ways that you'll be using your font, then save yourself some grief in the long run.

5. The Big Three

Heading. Subheading. Body. Three different fonts. Three different styles. Three different functions.

Never, and we repeat, never rely on one font as a saving grace.

Your subheadings should be different. They have the opportunity to carry a different contextual weight and should add a little bit of diversity to the company. One with a fun, ultra-clean heading font might go for something a little more traditional for a subheading font to tell the viewer 'hey, yeah, sure we're modern and sleek - but we're also reliable and respectful.

As for the body font - choose something plain. Either serif, or sans serif if you want to be traditional, or modern, respectively - but the paramount factor here is that it's nice to look at in large bodies of text, and it's easy to read.


6. Brass Tax

Alright, down to the science. There is one here. W mentioned a little earlier that there are emotional reactions to different fonts, and that's great to bear in mind. But, beyond that, you can do more to help the viewers engage with what they see. How you arrange information, and what they take in can be a great way to get people to dig your designs.

There are lots of different theories as to how humans process words and information. A lot of it is to do with the shape of words, the order of letters, and the context in which they occur.


7. Typeface & Font

Typeface and Font are often used interchangeably. While, to the layman, there's no discernible difference, to us mouse-jockeys, there is.

Explaining the difference between typeface and font is better done with an example. Helvetica is a typeface while the different variations of this typeface like bold, thin, italic, condensed are fonts. Nevertheless, you will see people use words like typeface and fonts interchangeably.

A typeface is the type of font, and Font is the individual permutations within that typeface.

Serif is a typeface, like Times New Roman, Georgia, or Playfair Display. These sorts of fonts have little tails hanging off things - they're your stalwart traditionalist fonts likely to pop up in newspapers, novels, and 'reputable' or 'formal' websites like upmarket hotels, restaurants, and that sort of thing.

Script fonts, in a nutshell, imitate handwriting. These are used when designers need to convey a level of artistry or creativity, for the most part. Bradley Hand, Corsiva, Pacifico, and Dancing Script are all popular examples. Businesses that utilize creativity, want to embody formality, use a name in their title, or utilize a certain skill tend to use these sorts of fonts - hair salons, women's clothing shops, perfumes, car brands (like Cadillac), will often use script. And lastly, we have Monospace.

8. Recap

The task is not an easy one, that's for sure. Often, we'll spend hours pouring over fonts, trying to decide. A lot of the time, you'll never find a perfect font, because you'll have something in your head that you can't attain. So, unless you're into creating your fonts (which is painstaking), then I'd follow these steps.

First, decide what you want the font to say outside of the words it's using. Decide who your target viewers are going to be. Ask yourself what kind of font will appeal to them. Take the answers of those questions - I want the font to say 'we're a fun company!', the target viewership is young mothers looking for daycare for their children, and they'll respond to a font that looks fun enough to provide a good time for their child, but serious enough to be a reputable establishment that will also provide mental stimulation.

If those are your parameters, then you know where to start.

You'll likely be thinking either Display or Script. Display fonts can be fun, yet serious, and Script fonts can be respectable, yet artsy. If you decide that your client is opening a more educative daycare, then you'd go with Display. From there, you'd be thinking, ok — rounded corners, something that looks quite approachable, and not too in-your-face.

Answering questions about the purpose of the font will continually narrow your net.

Then, all you have to do is cast it. Most sites now (like Dafont, and Google Fonts) can write sample text in the font field, so you can see how it looks.

Choose a half dozen that look good, make sure they're '100% Free', 'Free for Commercial Use' or you have the right license to use them, and then download and install. Make a big sheet and test them out - see how they look. Write notes - pros and cons - and keep pushing. Whittle it down. Tweak the sizing, the spacing, the height, the width. Change the color, write them on a curve. Put them on images, on different color backgrounds.

This isn't an exact science.

*This post was originally published on Logo Design Guru.