Types of Fonts, Examples, and When to Use Them

Updated on August 30, 2023 · Published on
types of fonts, examples, and when to use them

No matter the nature of your design project, different types of fonts and final font selection is crucial.

Fonts help communicate a message and convey the feeling associated with the message. Picking the right fonts for your logos and other design elements can help how your message or brand identity is perceived.

What are the different types of fonts?

There are many different types of fonts, but they can generally be categorized into the following broad categories:

  1. Serif Fonts: These fonts have small lines or “serifs” at the ends of each letter’s thick and thin strokes. Serif fonts (like New Roman) are often used for printed materials such as books and newspapers, as they are considered easier to read in large blocks of text.
  2. Sans-serif Fonts: Sans-serif fonts do not have serifs and have a clean, modern look. They are often used as web fonts; in digital media, such as websites and mobile apps, as they are easier to read on screens.
  3. Script Fonts: Script fonts imitate cursive handwriting and have a flowing, elegant look. They are often used for formal invitations and announcements.
  4. Display Fonts: Display fonts are designed to grab attention and are often used for headlines and titles. They come in various styles, from bold and chunky to delicate and ornate.
  5. Monospace Fonts: Monospace fonts have a fixed width, meaning each character takes up the same amount of space. They are often used for programming code and other technical applications where alignment is important.
  6. Handwritten Fonts: Handwritten fonts mimic the look of handwriting and resemble handwritten calligraphy to add a personal touch to designs or brand logos. These fonts and Calligraphic Scripts are often used for invitations and other informal communications.
  7. Decorative Fonts: Decorative fonts are highly stylized and are used for special occasions or to add visual interest to designs. Decorative fonts come in various styles, from ornate calligraphy to whimsical cartoon fonts.

How to pick your font in a world with a million different types of fonts

These days, we have more options and different variables of typeface classification than ever before.

Thousands of fonts in a variety of styles are readily available.

However, navigating the different fonts and choosing the best fonts can be daunting.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the major font types (from popular sans-serif fonts to decorative fonts), how they are used, and how to select the right font that communicates the vibe you’re going for.

Table of contents

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The five types of fonts

while there are many font variations, here we list the five main types of fonts, pointers on when to use them, and several examples. 

1. Serif fonts

Examples of Sans Serifs: Georgia, Times New Roman, Beirut, Mermaid, Bodoni, Roslindale

serif fonts example of Georgia Serif font,  types of fonts example giving vintage vibe
Image Source: Donauhof Wien

Serif fonts are among the original, classic typefaces used commonly for professional and sophisticated designs.

Serifs include slight projections that finish off the strokes of their letterforms (called serifs, where the style gets its name). Emerging in the 1500s, the first serifs were Old Style serifs. This style includes Garamond and Goudy Old Style. The successors of the Old Style serifs were called Transitional serifs, which first appeared in the 1700s. These typefaces had high stroke contrast and were more upright than their Old Style predecessors.

You can tell a serif font from others by the tiny dashes of each letter’s upper and bottom strokes. 

What makes serif fonts unique?

Serif fonts are unique because they have small lines or flourishes, known as “serifs,” at the ends of the strokes that make up each letter. These serifs give the font a more traditional, classic look that is often associated with print media, such as books, newspapers, and magazines. Serif fonts are designed to be highly readable in large blocks of text, making them a popular choice for long-form content, such as novels or academic papers. Typographic experts claim these are the most legible and easily read of the sans serif typefaces.

The serifs in serif fonts help guide the reader’s eye along the line of text, making it easier to follow and reducing eye strain. This is because the serifs create a “baseline” for each line of text, which helps the eye to quickly and easily align the text. Serif fonts are often described as having a more formal or traditional feel and are commonly used in contexts where the designer wants to convey a sense of elegance, sophistication, or authority.

serif fonts example of Beirut Serif font types of fonts style example
Image Source: Drella Gallery

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

Alata sans serif font types of fonts example sans serif typefaces
Image Source: Blog With Joy

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.

what is the difference between serif fonts and sans-serif fonts?

The main difference between serif and sans-serif fonts is that serif fonts have thin strokes/small lines or flourishes at the ends of the strokes that make up each letter (known as “serifs”), while sans-serif fonts do not.

Serif fonts are often associated with print media, such as books, educational resources, newspapers, and magazines, and are designed to be highly readable in large blocks of text. The serifs in serif fonts help guide the reader’s eye along the line of text, making it easier to follow and reducing eye strain. Serif fonts are often described as having a more traditional or classic feel, and are commonly used in contexts where the designer wants to convey a sense of elegance, sophistication, or authority.

On the other hand, Sans-serif fonts are often associated with digital media, such as websites, mobile apps, and social media platforms. They have a clean, modern look and are often used for short bursts of text, such as headlines or captions. Sans-serif fonts are designed to be highly readable on screens, which tend to have lower resolution than print media. They are often described as having a more casual or informal feel employing neoclassical designs. They are commonly used when the designer wants to convey a sense of modernity, simplicity, or friendliness.

Overall, the choice between serif and sans-serif fonts depends on the specific context and design goals. Serif fonts are often used for formal or traditional contexts, while sans-serif fonts are often used for informal or modern contexts.

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 iconic fonts that are extremely popular today, such as Helvetica and Futura.

Sans serif fonts can also be broken down into several subcategories, including Grotesque, Square, Geometric, and Humanistic styles. Brands that use sans serifs in their brand logos: LinkedIn, Calvin Klein and The Guardian.

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.

open sans serif font types of fonts example serif font family
Image Source: Blog With Joy

Because of the absence of small strokes from 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 of Script Fonts: Alex Brush, Broadley, Pacifico, Barista, Great Vibes

example of Arkipelago script fonts
Image Source: Begindot

Script fonts are identified by cursive, handwritten, or calligraphy-style letters.

Their letterforms and font styles are the most similar to cursive handwriting.

Due to this, they have the gracefulness of serif font styles combined with a more beautiful and authentic design.

example of Salmela script font
Image Source: Begindot

The script font type is best used for romance book covers and wedding invitations or the right font 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 of this font family: Gilroy, Asthetik, Made Canvas, Margaret, Playfair

example of Warnick Pro display font showing unorthodox letter shapes as opposed to original fonts and formal scripts
Image Source: Neuron Themes

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.

 Example of Febre display font making a strong typographic statement with capital letters
Image Source: Neuron Themes

5. Slab Serif fonts

Examples: Typnic, Comply, Artegra, Bebop, Fanatix

Hudson NY slab serif font, example of slab serif fonts
Image Source: Design Inspiration

Slab serif fonts are the most prominent and loudest serifs. Think of these slab serif fonts as the quiet and classic sans serif fonts’ more energetic and enthusiastic sibling.

Slab serif fonts originated in the early 19th century when a new printing technology called “slab” or “Egyptian” typefaces was developed. These fonts were designed to be bold and attention-grabbing, with thick, rectangular serifs that created a distinctive “blocky” appearance.

The first slab serif fonts were developed by Vincent Figgins, a prominent printer and typefounder in London, in the early 1800s. Figgins created an ” Antique ” typeface featuring thick, slab-like serifs and bold, heavy strokes. The font was an instant success and quickly became popular in advertising and poster design.

In the United States, the first slab serif fonts were developed by the American Type Founders company in the mid-19th century. These fonts were based on earlier British designs but were adapted for the American market and became particularly popular in newspaper headlines and advertising.

They are meant to be readable from a long distance and have been used heavily in billboards, pamphlets, and posters for several decades. 

Hugo slab serif font example
Image Source: Design Inspiration

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. 

According to Scott Chow from The Blog Starter,  the fashion industry is a big example of this trend where more than 70% of fashion brands use Geometric San Serif fonts.

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 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 should be used as such. 

There are occasions when using 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 as 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).

example of font pairing with good contrast
Example of font pairing with good contrast

The fonts you combine don’t have to be from different font families as long as they have enough contrast.

For instance, most sans serif fonts have different letter spacing and weight variations that can be used in many ways in the same project.

You can use a condensed, 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. 

Consider 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 font pairing you had the least confidence in can work like a charm.

It’s all part of the process. Even the most experienced designers try different font combinations to find what they want.  

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! 

hiteshsahni
Hitesh Sahni