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I've always found font selection to be a little bit of a mystery. What factors should be considered when choosing a font? How does one successfully incorporate two fonts into a design?

I realize that some factors will include things like:

  • Legibility
  • Scalability
  • Appropriateness/Mood/Emotion

However, how does one objectively judge legibility or appropriateness? Are there objective principles that can be applied for font selection? If possible, please list resources or examples in your answers. Studies focused on the effectiveness of different fonts would also be extremely useful.

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6 Answers 6

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Smashing Magazine has a really good article on combining typefaces:

  • Try matching a Sans-Serif title type with a Serif body type
  • Avoid similar classifications (don't use 2 slab typefaces or 2 condensed typefaces)
  • Assign distinct roles to each typeface/font
  • Contrast font weights
  • Create a variety of typographic colors
  • Don't mix moods
  • Contrast distinct with neutral (rather than with another distinctive font)
  • Avoid combinations that are too disparate (e.g. narrow & expanded)
  • Keep things simple (try just 2 typefaces)
  • Vary point sizes
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A brilliant article by Heofler Frere Jones: http://www.typography.com/email/2010_03/index_tw.htm

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Good reference website for seeing how people have paired fonts. I Font You They also give the name of each fonts in the description. Another good resource is a smartphone app called "WhatTheFont" you can take a picture of a font and it will try to find the correct name of it. It's great for if you see some typography you enjoy or find effective.

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As a complement to what's been posted you could have a look at The Big Book of Font Combination which besides being gorgeous, is an infinite source of inspiration that is good to have around ;)

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The main thing I keep in mind when pairing fonts is this: Is the second font saying something different?

The answer will not necessarily determine whether you should or shouldn't pair the fonts, but it's very important. often adding another font to the design adds nothing other than unneeded complexity and busyness. It's also important that the font you're using is different enough to warrant the change. If two fonts look too similar, it risks looking sloppy and adds nothing.

If a font is very grounded in a particular style or period, it will often not be a good idea to pair it with a font from a different recognizable period.. it will be jarring. A more neutral font works better as a counterpoint.

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Aside from the obvious rules (it must be comfortable to read if it is going to be used for long text, it has to fit with the theme of the rest of the design, etc), there are no hard rules about choosing a font. Picking a font is about choosing something that fits aesthetically with the rest of the design (and other fonts in the design), attracts the reader with its legibility, and, most of all, is comfortable to read. Of course for web fonts, it is also important that a decent number of your readers have the font installed, which limits your choices.

As far as pairing fonts, there are again to absolutely fixed rules. Generally you probably don't want to put Mosh with Times New Roman, but there could always be an exception.

I would recommend reading through I Love Typrography's piece on choosing fonts:

http://ilovetypography.com/2008/04/04/on-choosing-type/

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