Typeface Pairing for the Non-Designer

Posted in: Branding and Graphic Design

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Designers are often tasked with incorporating text with designed elements. Figuring out which typeface to use for any given project can be a little overwhelming with so many options available to you. On top of that, projects generally include different typefaces, which you will have to pair together to look cohesive (making it that much more difficult).

But, I’m here to tell you that type pairing doesn’t have to be difficult at all! There are no hard and fast rules for it. You just need to keep a few best practices in mind to get you started. This guide will help you choose and pair typefaces so you can have great typography no matter what you are designing.

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Typeface or Font?

First off, let me correct a simple mistake almost everyone makes. When describing lettering, the figures themselves are actually called a ‘typeface’ not a ‘font’. Think of a typeface as the overarching family and a font as the specific style of the typeface. For example, Helvetica is a typeface. But Helvetica 14 pt bold is a font.

Now that the technical stuff is out of the way, let’s get onto the guide.

Limit the Number of Typefaces You Use

The old rule that designers used to follow was to never use more than two typefaces. Today, most designers have thrown this rule out the window. I do think it’s a good rule to keep in the back of your mind, however, especially if you don’t have experience using more than one typeface at a time.

Keeping the number of typefaces you use to a low number will help keep your design clean, cohesive, and legible. When you begin a typography project, look for similar traits in typefaces and go from there. Typefaces that share traits like height and width tend to pair together better and you’ll have an easier time choosing.

Use Both Serifs and San Serifs

Typefaces fall into two main categories: serif and sans serif. Typefaces that are serif have small lines at the end of the letter strokes, while typefaces that are sans serif have no lines. Using both of these styles together can bring a great contrast to your typography and help ensure that you don’t pick fonts that are too similar in style. A good example of two classic typefaces that work amazingly together is Helvetica and Garamond.

Keep Visual Hierarchy in Mind

To have a successful typography project, it’s crucial to create a visual hierarchy with your typefaces so the reader’s eye is drawn to the most important words or phrases first. Elements such as size, weight, and spacing all play a critical part in how the reader will see the text.

To create a visual hierarchy, you will need to determine which parts of your text are more important than others and let your typeface choices reflect those priorities. Typically, the most important text should be larger than everything else and then you can scale down from there.

Use Font Pairing Resources to Help You

Since you’re likely new to pairing typefaces, I wanted to provide you with a few helpful tools to get you started. Here are some of my favorites:

I recommend that you take your time going through these tools so you can learn even more tips and tricks. It’s going to take time to get comfortable with type pairing, so really lean on tools like these during that process.

Trust Yourself

Sometimes, knowing if fonts complement each other can feel like a shot in the dark. When this happens, trust your gut. You may not get it right every single time, but you’ll learn from any mistakes you make and, eventually, you’ll get more confident. Make a point in your daily life to notice fonts and how they are paired together. This will help you develop an understanding of what font combos work and which ones don’t. Before you know it you will be pairing fonts with little effort.

I hope this guide will help you on your journey to expert type pairing. Do you have any tips or tricks that I missed? Leave me a comment and let’s chat about it!


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