Choosing the right font for a design is both an art and a science. Of course, you want to choose a font that’s aesthetically pleasing and fits the mood of your project, but it also needs to be appropriate and readable for the accompanying text. With an endless pool of options available on the Internet, deciding on the perfect font can be overwhelming for any designer.
The easiest way to identify the right font is to break them down into categories. There are five primary types of fonts, and each one has unique qualities that make it appropriate for different applications. For a better understanding of the five kinds of fonts, we’ll walk you through each category below.
Serif fonts are often considered the most traditional kind of font. This type of font has small strokes, otherwise known as serifs, which extend outward from the main stroke of each character. Serif fonts are very readable, so they’re typically considered the best kind of font to use for large chunks of copy. However, that’s not always the case on small mobile screens – we’ll get into more on that later.
Serif fonts are also a popular choice for brand logos. They communicate a level of confidence and elegance for brands that want to look classic and established. One serif font that has become increasingly popular for brands is called Didot, which has been used in the logos for Harper’s Bazaar, Elle Magazine and Giorgio Armani. Other well-known companies, including Vogue and the New York Times, also use serif fonts to create logos that feel timeless, if a bit formal. Incidentally, they’ve all had the same logo for decades, proving that serif fonts don’t ever go out of style.
Sans-serif fonts have been steadily growing in popularity in recent years. As their name suggests, sans-serif fonts feature a main character without any decorative finishing strokes. These types of fonts are seen as some of the most crisp, simple and modern font options. Sans serif also tends to be the best font to use for reading text on screens. Their clean, sharp lines are easy for devices to render, popping out distinctly against the bright white screen.
Unlike serif fonts, sans-serif fonts are a bit more casual and youthful. When used for a brand logo or supporting materials, a sans-serif font can make the brand appear relatable, contemporary and laid-back. Helvetica is one of the most popular sans serifs with brands today, with companies like Target, Panasonic, Jeep and Toyota all using a variation of the font in their logos. Google also famously underwent a logo redesign when they switched their wordmark branding from a serif font to a sans serif in 2015, which helped give their mega-corporation a more approachable look.
Slab serif fonts are a branch of the overall serif font family we discussed earlier. However, they’re more squared off and blocky than the traditional serif fonts, which are known to be a bit slimmer. You might consider the slab serif a more modern take on the serif font, while still carrying the same readable, classic and confident qualities of the font family.
Slab serif fonts are a good option for brands that want to make a bold and dramatic statement while maintaining the timeless look of a serif font. Clarendon is perhaps the most recognizable slab serif, used in the logos for major brands such as Honda, Sony and Wells Fargo. In longer text pieces, slab serifs can also be used to call out important words or phrases, much like a bold or italicized word.
A script font is another more formal font that is used more sparingly in designs. Scripts mimic handwritten cursive lettering, and usually feature decorative curls, loops and flourishes. However, the overall look and feel of each script font can range from fancy and sophisticated to trendy and relaxed.
Script fonts are definitely not the best choice for longer blocks of must-read text. However, they can be used really effectively for headings, accent phrases, logos and other short bursts of text. They can communicate a feeling of whimsy and elegance, and perhaps a bit of a feminine touch for relevant brands. Just be sure to use a larger point size and avoid all-caps lettering to make the text as legible as possible.
Just like the script fonts, decorative fonts have a more limited range of use, but they do pack a big punch. Decorative fonts can encompass a wide range of designs, and they can even include other custom graphic elements to further elevate the design. Even more than the other font types, these kinds of fonts can communicate a really specific mood and atmosphere.
The main applications for a decorative font are typically a custom logo or the main title of a print piece. Those are often the largest elements on a page, which makes the more creative fonts easier to read. Using these kinds of fonts more frequently throughout your design can really overpower the other content and make the whole piece look busy, so limit the font to a few key headings to make the highest impact. In recent years, vintage-style fonts have become especially popular, as have futuristic-looking fonts. You might recognize famous examples of each, such as Ray-Ban’s playful 80s-era logo and the new sleek, modern, almost sinister-looking Seattle Kraken team logo.