When I ask people who aren’t designers what their biggest question is about designing something, it’s been a resounding familiar theme – fonts and sizes. I was a bit surprised that this was the lead topic but after thinking on it, I understand why.
While colors and images can be just as abundant in choice as fonts, colors are probably easier to decide since they are already present in a logo or other company materials. As for images, these aren’t too hard to select since they are a direct visual that communicates your message.
But ah, fonts…the pesky abundance of styles, weights, serifs vs. sans serifs – how are you suppose to choose? Well, there are some things you can look for when choosing your fonts and some guidelines on what sizes to use too.
The original question that started this was from a friend who was asked to prepare a flyer for a company outing. She had been charged with creating quick projects like this before and had lots of uncertainty about the design process, particularly fonts and type size.
Her question was how to choose the fonts and whether to use serif or non-serif fonts. Her demographic was an older audience and she knew they would respond to something more traditional. This, I told her, was a great start to determining what fonts to choose. Fonts, just like colors and images, can invoke a certain feeling and sense of time, therefore it’s important to know your audience. Depending on the theme or topic of your project, you’ll need to portray that feeling with your font choices, just as with any graphic element.
Serif vs. Sans Serif Fonts
As for serif or san serif, let’s first outline what the differences are for those not familiar. Serif fonts have tails on the tops and bottoms of each letter while sans serif (also referred to as non-serif) do not. Serif fonts are more traditional and decorative while sans serif are more modern and clean.
There are other categories of fonts besides serif and sans serif including decorative, calligraphic, retro, grunge and many more. You can find many of these fonts online, some for free and some for which you’ll need to pay.
I’ve purchased many font packages over my career and when you need a clean set of fonts that you’ll be using time and again, bite the bullet and purchase the package from a place like fonts.com or urbanfonts.com (the later actually has both pay for and free fonts!)
If you’re looking for a holiday font or something fun for a main headline or title on your project, I recommend going to a place like dafont.com. They’ve got a bunch of different style fonts that you can choose by category and they are all free. Just keep in mind legibility. There are some pretty spunky fonts out there but they can interfere with your message instead of helping to communicate it.
I've put together a list of some go-to fonts so download the cheat sheet now!
Weights & Styles
Other than style, many fonts also have the options for different weights. Some can come with the standard, regular, bold and italic weights. Others have many more choices such as medium, demi, heavy, condensed, compressed, extra bold, thin, light and so on.
Take a look at this graphic which illustrates how many styles that can be offered with just one font family:
If youre just starting out, don’t get too carried away with all the weight styles. Just use the basics until you get a handle of the type of fonts that work with the projects that you typically do. Then, as you get more use to pairing font styles together, you can create a set of 15-20 fonts that can act as your font arsenal. This set should include serif and sans serif as well as decorative and fun fonts you can pull from quickly and without having to scour the web for options.
If you haven’t already guessed, there’s a lot to choose from when selecting fonts and font styles. Lets quickly talk about sizing.
Back in the day of typewriters and word processing, 12 point type was all the rage. That’s because there weren’t nearly the amount of fonts to choose from as there are now. And believe it or not, not all fonts will look the same at the same point size. Helvetica at 12 point is about 6 times bigger than Wade Sans at 12 point (insert gasp and exacerbation here!). Yet another thing to consider when choosing a font, I know.
The thing to keep in mind is that your headlines and sub headlines should be larger than your body copy. Your body copy should be between 9 and 12 point, depending on your font choice.
As a rule of thumb, I try not to go below 8 point for copy that I really want to be read. Sometimes, on package work, it’s necessary to go below that but with general flyers and print materials, you want to stick with around 8-10 pt size. Key points or statements can also be larger than body copy if you’re trying to focus on a point of difference and can even become a visual graphic element when treated with the right font and point size.
Worthwhile Font Sites
So, with all that, I have to say that this just scratches the surface of fonts and what you can do with them. But try not to get overwhelmed. Just get a few favorites under your belt and build from there!
If you have questions or comments you’d like me to address, please feel free to comment below. I’ll answer any questions via the comment area or a future post.