When searching for how to "italicize" a word in an italic context, I come up with an idea that changing the typeface is the solution that still convey the psychological effect that an italic-in-roman word normally does.

For example:

But how do I know which typeface should be used, given a contextual typeface? My choice of Arial in the example is merely because I feel it's right, not really based on any explanation. What knowledge of typography that I'm missing that can explain this phenomenon?

  • I think a better question is "what aspects make one alternative font a better choice than another in this context?" Asking "which typeface should be used is entirely subjective Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 5:45
  • But isn't my question ask for the knowledge to choose, rather than which typeface to choose? I think "better" is subjective as well
    – Ooker
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 5:55
  • The way it's worded I'm not quite sure what you're asking :P Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 5:58
  • I get it.. you have to read @Vincent's secnd comment here (which I agree with.) It's a good question but could perhaps use some rewording a bit.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 8:16
  • I'm sorry, but the example you give is absolutely horrible to my eyes. Calibri and Arial are both sans serif typefaces, and they are both in regular weight italic here. There is so little contrast that a casual observer will not consciously see any difference.
    – Vincent
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 10:19

2 Answers 2


There's a vague guideline: contrast in some aspects, lack of contrast in others. You want your reader to be able to smoothly read on, but you want the difference in typeface to be clearly noticeable even to a casually observing layperson.

When combining two typefaces in a single line, make sure that there is enough contrast between the two:

  • Make sure the two typefaces are from different categories, like sans vs. classic serif. If the regular body text is a classic serif, don't choose anything that might be mistaken for a classic serif as a second typeface.
  • In most cases, even then it's wise to emphasise the difference between the two faces by using a contrasting font for the second typeface so it really stands out. Think bold or black/extra bold.

When combining two typefaces in a single line, make sure that the reader can smoothly read the line:

  • Ensure that font x-heights match—that's the height of the lowercase letters. That doesn't just mean to match up the displayed point size, but also eyeballing the lowercase letter sizes and check whether they match as much as possible. Some typefaces at eg. 12pt are significantly larger than other faces at the same 12pt. Compare Garamond and Verdana for a good chuckle: even Verdana's capitals are significantly larger at the same point size.
  • Do not change font colour in addition to changing the typeface and weight. You are already drawing attention to the difference with the typeface change, no need to hammer it home.

Lastly, there's of course an aesthetic aspect: choose a second typeface that combines well with your first. There is loads and loads of guides for this around, both online and off.

  • Why would having the x-heights mismatch is considered as not smooth. In the Calibri - Arial example, why can't the fact that they're both san serif in regular weight italic contributes to the smoothness, and the difference in their x-heights contributes to the contrast?
    – Ooker
    Commented Mar 3, 2018 at 5:48
  • @Ooker Because that difference is too subtle. It's hard to imagine once you are a designer, but a layperson doesn't see much difference between different typefaces that are in the same category. I see your overarching point and I agree that you could use difference in x-height to create contrast if you know what you're doing, but matching typefaces of the same category is always a no-no. A subtle difference in typeface is just jarring because people oversee it so quickly.
    – Vincent
    Commented Mar 3, 2018 at 11:48
  • I've opened a question regarding this: When would a strong no-no guideline become insignificant?
    – Ooker
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 4:42

The common typographic practice is to reverse the italics, that is, to use the non-italic version of the typeface to emphasize something within italics.

Using a different typeface will most probably not convey the meaning you want to the reader.

More info: italics within italics at Wikipedia

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