As you will remember from my previous post, each typeface has its strengths and weaknesses, quirks and charms, and possibly a history. The more you know about a font’s background, the easier it is to pick one for your project. It also makes it easier for you to pair two of them together.
Mixing and matching fonts can make for eye-catching and impactful graphics. It’s the kind of detail that looks effortless when done right, and completely tragic when it misses the mark. Today, I’m going to help you avoid the latter by giving you the lowdown on font pairings.
Picking multiple fonts for a single project is actually a lot of fun once you’ve got the basics down. Think of yourself as a font matchmaker. Your job is to determine which styles will have a happy and harmonious future together in your final design. To do that, you should learn why some font pairings are a dynamic duo and why others are doomed for discord.
It might seem like similar fonts would be a natural fit—but contrast is a key element in design. The point of using different fonts is to add something new to the final product. Varying shapes or styles keep the eye and mind engaged. Throwing in a highly readable font or two can boost the practicality of your design. Choosing something out-of-the-box makes for memorable designs.
Try pairing tall fonts with wide ones, squared with rounded, flowy with structured. It’s okay if your fonts share commonalities. For instance, both could be handwritten. But the goal shouldn’t be to find a near-perfect clone. If your goal is to have matchy-matchy text, it’s probably better to stick with a single font.
Less is More
Too many different shapes and styles can make a design feel cluttered and may cause people to miss the message. I generally limit myself to three fonts in a single graphic. I don’t need my designs to look like the work of a manic packrat writing a ransom note.
Remember, font selection is just one step of the process. You’ll get to play with fun stuff like composition and color next. Those will also be visually impactful, so fewer (or simpler) fonts might be the better option.
Tale as Old as Time
Pairing fonts from the same era or origin is a fairly foolproof method. Especially when you need to evoke a specific setting or period. For instance, using Western fonts will lend your design that “saloon at high noon” kind of vibe whereas industrial styles will probably read “Hipster coffee joint on a Monday morning”. Pick your poison.
This trick also works for typefaces with the same mood. For instance, some fonts are clearly designed with humor in mind, others evoke elegance. Some work best in a casual environment, and there are ones all about serious business. If you stick to fonts in the same vein, your design’s purpose will be clearer at a glance.
The Safe Bet
If you’re worried about committing a major design faux pas, one of the easiest things to do is use a clean, minimal font as your secondary. It’s a nice trick to have in the back pocket if you want to use an uber-fancy font that don’t play well with others.
When designing entirely with minimal fonts or text body, I use the Opposites Attract approach on a super-subtle level. A lot of people will suggest pairing a serif and sans serif together, but I prefer to pick same-serif style fonts with differing shapes—especially for things like typesetting, educational graphics, or web design. To my eye, it’s a lot cleaner and puts the emphasis on the copy rather than the font selection.
One and the Same
You can bring contrast to the table without looking for a totally new font. Some typefaces come with a variety of alternate styles under the same name. These are commonly called font families.
Sometimes a font family will have a serif and sans serif style under the same umbrella. Most have different weights. At very least, you should have a bold and oblique option.
This is my favorite trick for when I need (heaven help me) a third or fourth font on a single graphic. In these rare situations, I need subtle differentiation, not a bunch of unique, eye-catching fonts fighting for attention.
I hope this guide empowers you to pick multiple fonts for your next typographic adventure.
If you want to see future posts about graphic design, please feel free to let me know what subjects you need demystified!