Top 10 Tips for Choosing a Typeface

Top 10 Tips for Typography

If you’re not a graphic designer by trade, knowing how to choose the most appropriate typeface for your in-house design or artwork can be confusing. With the shear number of fonts available, both on desktop computers and on-line, the decision as to which fonts to use in your leaflet, brochure, flyer or other sales and marketing literature can be overwhelming.

So — where do you start?

1. Check the corporate identity (‘ID’) guidelines.

First check whether the organisation concerned has a set of corporate identity guidelines. Many of the bigger or more brand-aware organisations have a formal corporate manual in which you’ll usually find a section which tells you exactly which typeface(s) you should be using. This is so that the organisation’s brand remains consistent wherever it appears. Many corporate ID manuals even include finer detail such as the usual size you should use fonts in ‘body text’ or in headings and sub-headings, whether they should be ranged left, right, centred or justified, what Pantone colours they should be and so on. If you have not been supplied a corporate ID manual of this kind, ask the organisation’s marketing or brand manager for a copy.

2. No corporate identity guidelines?

In the absence of formal corporate guidelines, request and try to gather together printed examples of the existing corporate sales and marketing collateral. If you’re in luck this will allow you to see the kind of typefaces which should be used and how they should be used including ranging, size and colour.

3. No Corporate ID guide NOR printed examples?

In the absence of corporate identity guidelines AND existing examples of any kind, if your prospective piece is to contain a company logo or corporate graphic of some kind then that might instead be the most obvious place to start looking at typefaces. If it contains a font, you could first consider whether you can match* that font family — or alternatively find one* which complements it visually.

* 4. No way to compare what fonts look like?

If none of your applications incorporate a way to preview and compare what fonts look like, you could do worse than installing something like ‘Free&Easy Font Viewer’ by Alexander G. Styopkin which, as the name suggests, is both free and easy to use and allows you to see, at a glance, what every font on your PC’s system looks like.

Be careful where you download any 3rd party software** from and always keep your anti-virus software up to date – and switched on – when downloading and installing applications from the internet (particularly free ones!). Carefully check any application file(s) using the anti-virus software before executing and installing them. Also, of course, make sure you have the correct system requirements before downloading anything in the first place.

5. Using Serif fonts

Serif font detailSo what’s a serif? Well, imagine the capital letter i. If it is written using a font with a serif, then the top and bottom of the capital i will have ‘flared’ ends — rather like a flared trouser leg at the bottom and a mirror of that at the top! A capital T will also have a kind of flare at Serif font Tthe tips of the T furthest left and right. And so on. So that is a serif font. These tend to look traditional rather than modern, so if you’re looking for a traditional, serious kind of look (e.g. a legal document) then use a serif font. Examples of serif fonts include Times Roman (or Times New Roman) and Courier which are both a bit old hat in our opinion, or Bembo, Baskerville, Garamond or Goudy which are similar but not quite so dull, particularly Bembo which has a lovely italic variant with some nice individual glyphs (characters) including the ampersand (&) which has a lovely flourish. There are other, more modern serif fonts with a bit more style about them, for example Trajan (or Trajan Pro which is similar) and Fenice.

Serif fonts

6. Using Sans-serif fonts

Sans is the French for ‘without’ so basically sans-serif means ‘without serifs’. So here you are talking about typefaces such as Helvetica, Arial, Verdana (which in our opinion is nicer), Frutiger, Futura and our all-time favourite sans-serif font, Gill Sans which, in our view, you can’t go very far wrong with. Sans-serif fonts tend to look a bit more modern than serif fonts. They look cleaner to the eye and less austere so if you are looking for a fresh, clean look, then go with a sans-serif font. There are many new sans-serif fonts around these days, including Ubuntu and Sinkin Sans (available free from Font Squirrel**) and these have a very nice feel about them.

Sans-serif fonts

7. Using Hybrid fonts

There also exist fonts which straddle somewhere between the serif and sans-serif typeface groups. AT Rotis is a family of serif and sans-serif fonts but also has one variant which is somewhere between the two; ‘AT Rotis Semiserif’. Due to its hybrid nature, this font has quite a modern feel and is very unusual. Optima is essentially sans-serif but does have the faintest hint of those ‘flares’ we mentioned above, although is significantly older than the more modern-looking AT Rotis Semiserif.

Hybrid font

8. Using Script fonts

Script fonts are the kind of fonts you see in traditional wedding invitations and the like. So – for example, they are very italic and often incorporate flourishes on capital letters and squiggly trailing tails like you’d see with Palace Script and Edwardian Script typefaces. However they are usually only used for very formal types of print like the aforementioned wedding invitations and for very posh, traditional services or products of some kind. There are, though, some new arrivals which have been designed with a more modern feel whilst retaining the decorative nature of a script font, for example Qwigley and Euphoria Script.

Script fonts

9. Using Novelty fonts

There is also a huge range of what we unofficially call novelty fonts. For example fonts which look like chalk strokes, shaky handwriting, doodled letters, ink splodges, mini illustrations in the shape of a letter, or otherwise are somehow more decorative than more standard fonts. Professional graphic designers tend to use these extremely sparingly (because they can look rather gimmicky) although in certain circumstances they are perfect, for example a Halloween poster might be the perfect vehicle for using that font which looks like it’s dripping with blood or has little stars and planets surrounding the individual characters.

Novelty font

10. Combining fonts for ‘typographical sparkle’

Remember to experiment and test your typeface combinations before applying them to your entire document. There is no substitute for this and time spent trying out different font, size, weight, linefeed and spacing combinations is time well spent. Headings and sub-headings will usually need to be bolder than the main body text, and a larger size. Some combinations will give you a subtle kind of ‘typographical sparkle’ and such discoveries may well be a kind of mini ‘Eureka’ moment in your typography.  So the difference such experimenting and tweaking can make cannot be underestimated — the final piece of printing will be all the better for it.

For those who are struggling with typography, layout and design, Firstpoint Print has a team of qualified and highly creative graphic designers on hand who can help to make your sales and marketing literature look a million dollars – without costing a fortune. We are a commercial printing company and offer professional design and printing services at 3 London branches: Victoria (SW1), London Bridge (SE1) and Clerkenwell (EC1). So wherever you are in London or the Southeast, we are only a stone’s throw away for all your creative and printing services (we have litho, digital and large format printing all in-house).

You may also wish to check out an older post which was a more of a technical one, explaining how to make sure fonts contained in artwork will reliably print to high-end commercial presses like those at Firstpoint Print.

** N.B. Use of 3rd party software is entirely at your own risk.