Public Interest

Choosing the Right Fonts: Rules to Live By When Combining Typefaces

by | May 20, 2020 | Branding, Graphics

Picking the right fonts to use for your marketing collateral is a daunting task. Combining the right fonts is not just for aesthetic purposes. It also strengthens your brand image and makes it consistent across all platforms. 

Whether you are using graphics for social media posting or for print outs, these are the rules you should remember in your next design when pairing fonts. 


Choose Fonts that Complement Each Other

The purpose of your design should be considered when choosing the right fonts for your project. Fonts have their own mood or personality. Some appear elegant while others are playful. Bubbly and rounded fonts work well for a birthday party invitation but not for a business newsletter.

In some cases, opposites attract as well. Take a font with a strong personality (extroverted) and pair it with something more neutral and conservative (introverted) to achieve balance in your design.


Understanding Context

Usually, you will know the right fonts to use once you’ve established where you plan to use your design. 

Have you noticed that in printed tickets, the smallest texts are usually in all caps and the letters are spaced generously? You want the text to be legible and easy to read at the size where it is going to be displayed especially for small types. 

Font style is another factor to consider for readability. You want to select fonts that fit the context of your design and match the intended message. This is tied back to what we’ve discussed earlier that fonts have their own unique personality. 

Depending on the context, there will be designs that would require fonts that pop out and there are also times that you’d want a minimalist approach. If your design is sporting a retro theme, you may want to choose fonts that reflect the vibe of that era.


Establish Visual Hierarchy

When we say visual hierarchy in fonts, think about which part of your design you want viewers to look at first. Ideally, you want viewers to focus on what information is essential and what should stand out at first glance – like company name, special offer, or headline. The most important element is usually (though not always) the largest and the weightiest. 

The best example of visual hierarchy in fonts can be found in traditional medium – newspapers and magazines. Fonts in print media are combined in a way that visually separates elements like headlines, subheadlines, body, and captions. Qualities such as size and weight (boldness), and spacing (whether it is between lines or letters) can influence how the eye should navigate the page and what text attracts attention first.


Serifs and Sans Serifs for Quick Designs

When it’s crunch time and you need to decide on fonts quickly, pair a serif and sans serif font. These work together well particularly at contrasting sizes. 

However, both these fonts are still in question in terms of readability. Design experts claim that serif fonts are great for large amounts of text as it moves the eye more effectively and increases reading speed. This works especially in print. 

On the other hand, sans-serif fonts are often favored for online texts. Sans-serif fonts are characterized by their simplified letterforms that display more clearly at various screen resolutions.


Create Contrast

One reason why serifs and sans serif fonts work so well is that they create contrast. Contrast brings together multiple design principles including hierarchy and how fonts complement each other.

There are many ways to achieve contrast including style, weight, size, color, and spacing. A chunky font works well with a thin one because they are so different. The differences gave each font a unique personality that helped them stand out as individual pieces.


Don’t Pair Fonts that are Too Similar

Choosing fonts that are too similar or don’t have enough contrast can be problematic. It will be difficult to establish hierarchy since the fonts aren’t visually distinguishable. 

However, fonts don’t have to be exactly alike to be incompatible. Typefaces that are somewhat different but have comparable proportions, weights, and shape may look similar enough to make your design look confusing. 

Here’s a quick way to check if your fonts are too similar. Place the fonts alongside each other on your screen, sit far back a little and squint your eyes. If from this perspective you feel like the fonts looked the same, then that’s an indication that you need to put more contrast in your design.


Limit the Number of Fonts Used

Rule of thumb calls for using only one to a maximum of three fonts in a design project. This is common especially for print. However, it can’t be avoided that some projects will call for more elaborate font combinations. If you do need to use a variety of fonts, make sure the overall effect is harmonious and shouldn’t look cluttered.

It is easy to overdo it with typeface selections. So it is still better to put some restraints, cut back, and use a thoughtful approach. Refine your choices and give each font a specific purpose in the design.

Deciding whether fonts complement each other can sometimes feel like playing a guessing game. Most of the time, you’ll be relying on your gut feeling and instinct. That’s ok. Practice makes perfect. Eventually, it will be easier for you to identify which ones work and which ones don’t.


To make things simple, using a brand guide can make these decisions for you.  Always refer to a brand guide if there is one, as there may be rules on the font type, style, spacing and weight.  Oftentimes they are specific as to primary font and alternative font and where to use each.  If you do not have a brand guide to refer to, make your own.  When you’ve found the right fonts for your brand, stick with it.  Your audience will appreciate the consistency and it keep your brand on point.


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