No matter the nature of your design project, font selection is crucial.
Fonts help communicate a message and convey the feeling associated with the message. Picking the right fonts can help how your message or brand is perceived.
These days, we have more options than ever before. Thousands of fonts in a variety of styles are readily available.
However, navigating through the different fonts and choosing the right ones can be daunting.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the major font types, how they are used, and how to select fonts that communicate the vibe you’re going for.
Table of contents
The 5 types of fonts
Here are the five main types of fonts, pointers on when to use them, and several examples.
1. Serif fonts
Examples: Georgia, Times New Roman, Beirut, Mermaid, Bodoni, Roslindale
Serif fonts are among the original, classic typefaces used commonly for professional and sophisticated designs. You can tell a serif font from others by the tiny dashes coming from each letter’s upper and bottom strokes.
As a result, they are the first fonts to come to mind for various projects, such as logos, print copy, and websites. And they give your design an old-fashioned, elegant tone.
A serif font is seen as a trustworthy, conservative, and safe choice in almost any context, such as:
- Headings and subheadings
- Body copy, whether short or long pages of text
- Large or small sizes
However, they are generally not recommended when you need tiny font sizes. If you’re designing something mainly for digital screens, you may want to consider the other font types we’ll discuss below.
2. Sans Serif fonts
Examples: League Spartan, Fredoka One, Aileron, Bebas Neue, Zelda
Serifs have been the oldest fonts used in print, and many are available by default on digital devices. You can find them in almost every book, document, or other publication.
The sans serif type refers to fonts without strokes unique to the serif fonts. They weren’t as popular as serifs throughout history but became prominent with the advent of computers and other digital devices.
This was around when German designers experimented with footless letterforms and designed some iconic fonts that are extremely popular today, such as Helvetica and Futura.
The legible and bold sans serif typeface is now synonymous with simplicity, efficiency, and a modern look and feel. They are also considered to be the most economical and clean fonts.
Because of the absence of small strokes coming out of the letters, sans serif fonts are less detailed and more legible in specific contexts. For example, they adapt well, even in small sizes or on digital screens.
They are highly readable regardless of the font size or length of text. This makes the sans serif font type a jack of all trades.
In addition, sans serif is seen as a bold, more creative font type than the traditional and conservative serif font type. For this reason, they are used more in logos and headlines than in lengthy paragraphs. Pick a sans-serif font if you want a minimalistic or modern appearance.
3. Script fonts
Examples: Alex Brush, Broadley, Pacifico, Barista, Great Vibes
Script fonts are identified by cursive, handwritten, or calligraphy-style letters. Their letterforms are the most similar to cursive handwriting. Due to this, they have the gracefulness of serifs combined with a more beautiful and authentic design.
The script font type is best used for romance book covers and wedding invitations or when you want your designs to appear more historical. And they work exceptionally well in logos, headers, and quotes.
The strength of this font type lies in its uniqueness and boldness, but it comes at the cost of legibility. So it’s essential to use it sparingly. Script fonts are generally avoided for long body texts or passages.
4. Display fonts
Examples: Gilroy, Asthetik, Made Canvas, Margaret, Playfair
Display fonts (also known as decorative) are the most difficult typefaces to identify as they don’t follow any general rules. These fonts are among the most unique and span a variety of styles, such as graffiti, abstract, and three-dimensional forms.
5. Slab Serif fonts
Examples: Typnic, Comply, Artegra, Bebop, Fanatix
Slab serifs are the most prominent and loudest serifs. Think of these fonts as the quiet and classic serif fonts’ more energetic and enthusiastic sibling.
They are meant to be readable from a long distance and have been used heavily in billboards, pamphlets, and posters for several decades.
More recently, they have also evolved into forms that can be used for long paragraphs of text. The Clarendon font is a good example.
Overall, the slab serif fonts convey a vintage, artistic vibe and an undeniable, rugged athleticism. They are an excellent fit for outdoor product brands.
How do you choose a font?
We have covered some ideal scenarios for using the primary font types. But there are some additional factors you need to consider when deciding on a font palette for your design project. So let’s take a look at them.
1. Your brand personality
The fonts you choose should align with the visual attributes of your brand and its niche. For example, a beauty brand’s typography would differ from an IT brand.
A great way to grasp this is to research the fonts being used by brands similar to yours. You don’t have to steal the same fonts, but you’ll get a general idea of what to shoot for.
Also, consider the colors you are going to use. You’d want to use light colors with extravagant fonts and intense colors with low-key fonts. If both the colors and fonts are flashy, for example, then your design will look more like a circus poster.
2. Number of fonts to use
Pick one font as your primary font. This would be one used the most, especially in large sizes such as headlines. You can get bold and unique when choosing the primary font because it’s not just for legibility but also for setting a mood.
Afterward, pick another font as the secondary font. This will be used for body text and other large paragraphs. As legibility is essential, your primary consideration here should be that the font is simple and easy to read.
You can also choose a third font if needed. You can use it sparingly for elements such as call-to-action, buttons, menus, etc. It can be a bit fancy, like the primary font, but it shouldn’t overshadow your other fonts.
Always keep the hierarchy of your fonts in mind when using them in your project. Your primary, secondary, and other fonts have different weights, and they should be used as such.
There are occasions when the use of more than three fonts is justified, but the golden rule for most cases is to stick to just two or three.
3. Contrast between fonts
The next most important aspect is the rule of contrasts. This comes into play when you pair two or more fonts in the form of heading + subheading or heading + body text.
Taking two fonts that look similar is a recipe for disaster. Your design will come across as confusing and unprofessional. Always select fonts that appear very different when put together.
For example, you can match a script font in the heading with a serif font in the body copy. Or pair a sans serif (such as Brandon Grotesque) with a serif (e.g. Baskerville).
The fonts you combine don’t even have to be from different font families, as long as they have enough contrast.
Most of the sans serif fonts, for instance, have different variations in letter spacing and weights that can be used in plenty of ways in the same project. You can use a condensed and bold version in the headline and a regular, light version in lengthy texts.
4. Screen vs. page legibility
Finally, your font selection should factor in the readability of your message on various screens, sizes, and page formats. Overlooking this aspect can lead to a design that’s hard to read and puts unnecessary strain on the eyes.
Think about whether your design is meant for digital screens, print, or both. And makes sure your font choices reflect that.
Your next step: Experiment with your fonts
With the different types of fonts and best practices at your disposal, it’s now time to pick fonts for your design project. Brand guidelines certainly make the job easier, but there’s no match for experience and experimentation.
Sometimes what you thought would work may not look right, and at other times the pairing you had the least confidence in can work like a charm. It’s all part of the process. Even the most experienced designers take their time in trying different font combinations to find what they’re looking for.
The more you work with different fonts, the better you’ll get at using them to make your desired impact. So take risks and have fun!