How to Choose Fonts : A Guide to Choosing Fonts for Graphic Designers

selectingfonts - How to Choose Fonts : A Guide to Choosing Fonts for Graphic Designers
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How to Choose Fonts : A Guide to Choosing Fonts for Graphic Designers

Ben Baker has put together this guide to choosing fonts for your design layouts. I hope that Ben’s Fonts Selection Guide helps you out…if it does, please pass the link on to other graphic designers. Feel free to add further information in comments below.

Beyond that, fonts can be selected for:

Affect

Appearance

Effect

Emotion

Gender

Impact

Purpose

AFFECT

How does the font affect the layout of the ad? Does it flow well according to what you are trying to do with the project? These are aesthetic questions, answers to which will vary from customer to customer and designer to designer.

letterhed-benbaker

In this example business stationery for a customer goes through three changes of fonts. The top example is basic fonts. If you look at this stationery, the customer is not what you might consider a basic kind of customer. His stationery is attempting to make a very definite visual impact through image and information. In this case, the fonts chosen fall down on the job.

Option 2, where the headline is changed, makes a much more interesting impact on the the viewer than the Times. With it’s thick and thin pen strokes and broad horizontal sweeps, the font stands out.

Option 3 changes the next line of copy. Again the font provides a dramatic change. The drawback is it becomes more difficult to read. If this font is chosen, a decision must be made: Does the average viewer have enough information to want even more information and so try to read the difficult font? If the answer is yes, then the font might be a good choice. If the answer is no, then the font must be changed to something easier to comprehend.

APPEARANCE

Is the font easy on the eye? Will it take the average viewer time to understand the font or is it immediately apparent? Other discussions in this book talk about scripted fonts v. sans serif fonts,

Is a fancy font needed? For such things as formal event invitations a fancier font like Old English is probably better than a plain one like Helvetica.

A good rule of thumb is to consider publications. Nearly every news publication uses Times or a Times variant for the body copy font. That’s because it is easy to read and we are conditioned, from the time we start reading, to recognize Times. Other fonts can be and are used in headlines and in cutlines.

EFFECT

old-dark-house - How does the font make the reader react?

How does the font make the reader react? Cartoon fonts are especially good for this. Old horror movie posters used fonts to great affect, creating suspense in the poster viewer. Other cartoon fonts today such as flaming letters convey the image of heat.

EMOTION

Again this is pretty much the realm of cartoon fonts. Dripping fonts create a sense of dread or suspense. Fonts like Helvetica and the Times family are neutral. Flaming fonts can emphasize anger or urgency depending on the words chosen.

This example font is Flamer

This example is Flamer.

almontesnow-This font is Almonte Snow

The opposite is snow capped fonts.  This is Almonte Snow. The font can be different colors as well.

GENDER

Some fonts are neutral, like the Times and Helvetica families. We are conditioned from when we start learning to read that these fonts simply convey information. Some fonts, however, have a distinctly masculine or feminine feel.

arialblack - Arial Black, a heavy angular font

The first example is Arial Black, a heavy angular font.

bigcaslon - Big Caslon, which has a thick-thin structure, and a more rounded feel

The second is Big Caslon, which has a thick-thin structure, and a more rounded feel.

chicago - Chicago which has almost a mechanical feel to it.

The third is Chicago which has almost a mechanical feel to it.

chaucer - Chaucer, also a rounded font with swooping lines.

The fourth is Chaucer, also a rounded font with swooping lines.

impactfont - type to boldface

The fifth is Impact, one of the strongest fonts available without converting the type to boldface as well.

coronetfont - invitation font or handwriting.

The last is Coronet which looks like a formal invitation font or handwriting.

IMPACT (not the font)

Even the neutral fonts can have an impact. The use of color, shading, fills and drop caps turn ordinary letters into art elements. These art elements can serve as a teaser to draw the viewer in (a colored drop cap) or provide information to the viewer (a letter filled with a picture).

textpix a letter filled with a picture

In this example, the word EXAMPLE appears as 200 point Helvetica bold and is filled with a mobile home. The individual letters could be stretched to allow more of the mobile home to show. (How to do this is explained in Illustrations and Shapes.

PURPOSE

When choosing a specific font, a graphic designer has a purpose. That purpose will generally fit into the above categories. What that purpose is depends on the designer and the customer. If the font is strictly there to convey information, then a Times family or Helvetica family font in black letters on a white background is a neutral and as straight-information as you can get. If you need to convey emotion through fonts, choose a scripted or cartoon font.

The only rule about purpose is that the font works.

Just remember, not all fonts are cross-platform compatible.

Communicating with type

Text, letters, words, sentences, sentence fragments and so forth provide information. But so do art elements. It is how that information is provided that sets type apart from art, except where the two merge (See Using Type As Illustrations).

Type should provide information that art elements do not.

Consider a flyer promoting a concert. What art elements should go on the flyer? A picture of the band, or at least the lead band. Unless it is a legendary band like KISS, the picture itself is not going to provide sufficient information to a lot of people.

The text needs give the name of the band and the kind of music they play.

What else is missing? Where is the band playing? What are the admission fees? When does the concert start? Is there an age limit to get in? If it is a benefit concert, what charity will receive the money?

satellite - Text should be structured so that the most attractive information is displayed first.

Text should be structured so that the most attractive information is displayed first. This is called the headline, just like on a news story. Note: It does not have to be the most important information.

The reason the most attractive information is listed fist is because the project is attempting to draw attention and get people to pay attention to it. Consider which of these headlines is more likely to draw a reader in:

0 DOWN, 0% APR FOR 30 MONTHS

WITH APPROVED GMAC CREDIT FOR QUALIFIED BUYERS

The zero down is far more attractive than the headline about credit. But, the line about credit is far more important than the zero down headline. The zero down headline attracts everyone. The approved credit line is exclusionary; everyone does not have good credit.

However, think of this from the vehicle dealer’s point of view. The graphic project will hopefully attract a lot of potential buyers. The dealer knows everyone who comes in will not qualify for GMAC financing and a new car. But, the dealer also sells used cars and has financing options for people who do not qualify for GMAC credit. Perhaps these people will buy a used vehicle.

The same headline-use reasoning applies to the small legal disclaimers that appear on many graphic projects for things like cell phones, satellite TV, cable TV, home furnishings bought on credit and more. This is vital information, but it is not attractive information.

Text should be laid out in descending order of attractiveness. Going back to the GMAC headlines, subheads would tell the project reader about options on available vehicles, that certain vehicles are excluded from the zero down promotion, the buyer must choose from available dealer stock.

[tags]fonts, text, choose fonts, choosing fonts, how to choose fonts, graphic design, desktop publishing, fonts and design, design and fonts, pick fonts, picking fonts, select fonts, selecting fonts[/tags]

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6 Comments

  1. Posted June 24, 2009 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    With so many fonts out there, its not so much finding one that fits the application, but the problem is deciding between 100 different very similar fonts that fit. What about designing your own fonts or customizing existing ones?

  2. Piper
    Posted July 9, 2009 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Here’s a typo you might want to fix (’fist’ = ‘first’):

    “The reason the most attractive information is listed fist is because the project is attempting to draw attention and get people to pay attention to it.”

    Thought you’d want to know. Thanks for all the info. Piper

  3. nvn
    Posted July 27, 2009 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    thanks oo much
    :))))))))

  4. Sjimone
    Posted August 20, 2009 at 4:21 am | Permalink

    hey, i’m very very new in this designing scene as i am currently studying Graphic Designing, and i’m still in my first year….

    thank you so much for this topic, as i learned more by reading this, then what i did the entire time so far…. thank you so much

  5. chowhuihoon
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    provide video/clip for better undestanding.and provide free software download for online painting and design.

  6. Posted February 17, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Also, the type of fonts (serif or sans-serif) emotionally influences the readers. As one scientific study found, serif is more suitable for academic works compared to the sans-serif fonts.

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