For the Love of Fonts 2: Font Pairings & How to Make a Match

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.

For the Love of Fonts: Font Pairings and How to Make a Match

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.  

Opposites Attract

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.

Example of two fonts that don't pair very well. Text reads "These two fonts are way too similar".
These two fonts (MEXE and Berlin Sans) are about the same height and width, so the design is looking really one dimensional. Although the letter shapes are different (study the R and O), it’s not enough to really excite the eye.

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.

Example of a successful font pairing. Text reads "Wide font pairs well with something narrow".
This pairing (Azedo and Fester) looks way more interesting. A wide, light font creates a lot of negative space, so something narrow and bold brings balance to the design. Because I made the second line of text smaller, the weights appear the same even though they’re not. Attention to that kind of detail will give your finished project more polish.

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.

Example of typography where several fonts have been used in one design. Text reads "I like most fonts but this seems excessive".
This example uses a whopping five fonts (Brixton FY, Castellar, Broadway, Shabrina, & Blackout Noon). There’s nothing inherently wrong with using multiple fonts, but these display-style fonts are all fighting for attention. It’s just a lot to take in.

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.

Example of typography using three harmonious fonts. Text reads "Your Go-To Font. Spotlight. This font is doing a lot of work, but you'll probably never notice because it's supposed to do its job quietly in the background."
Sticking to my three fonts rule (Hurley 1967 Sans, Rinstonia, & Libre Baskerville), I get something a little more cohesive and easy on the eyes. As you can see, I assigned a task for each font I picked, so when I implement these fonts in my graphic design work, it’s going to be beautiful and super practical.

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.

Example of two fonts that don't share any history. Text reads "Casual Curly. Heavy Historical".
Although I followed my Opposites Attract rules, these two fonts (Brixton FY & Baldur) still kinda clash. One is a handwritten style with classic tattoo vibes. The other has that Gothic Blackletter way about it. There’s a world where these two could be together, but I don’t think they’re soulmates.

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.

Example of two Western style fonts paired together. Text reads "Showdown at town square".
These fonts (Magesta Script & Knucklehead Deco) were designed with American history in mind. This might not be the pairing you’d think about when looking at each font separately, but the combination instantly transports you back in time. This is why research is important, friends!

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.

Example of a highly decorative font paired with a simpler style. Text reads "I can be so difficult. I'm cool with that. You do you".
Grunge brush fonts (Saturnight & Gill Sans MT) can be especially difficult to pair due to their freeform nature, busy texture, and large scale (they almost always need to be oversized to look right). A sans serif style is the go-to match because it allows for some structured design and legibility, even when it’s tiny.

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.

Example of three serif text body fonts paired together. Text reads "A text style font. This is a narrower serif font. This serif is easy to read when it's very small. It's completely different from the other two fonts. Fun fact: none are Times New Roman".
It may seem like I’ve just broken my “no matchy-matchy fonts” advice from earlier, but these three fonts (Javanese Text, Cambria Math, & Lucida Bright) provide something different in style, function, and reading experience in large bodies of text. Designing with only one of these fonts might seem easier, but I guarantee the result wouldn’t be as polished.

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.

Example of two different style fonts from the same family. Text reads "These are from the same font pack."
Although these look like two different fonts, they’re technically from the same font family (Flowy Sans: Regular Freehand Italic & Flowy: Script Clean). These alternates naturally pair well because they’re related!

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.

Example of typography using the same font in different weights and widths. Text reads "Why, yes! These all happen to be from the very same font family".
By using alternate widths, weights, and styles within the same font family (Tw Cen MT) you can incorporate new letter shapes in a subtler way. Don’t forget, other design elements like scale, color, texture, and composition further affect the final design. Maybe one font (with a few tweaks) is all you actually need.

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!

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