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If you want to improve your typographic craftmanship an reoccurring advice is to stick to and master a few typefaces like for example Helvetica, Caslon or News Gothic. This was, for example, a common advice Massimo Vignelli gave, who's famous for only use about 6 typefaces. By master, I mean to know how to use them in a way that makes the typography looks good. To know what the best line height is, sizes, weights and so on.

  • Are there any ways to speed up this learning process?
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    Are you talking about using typefaces in your designs or designing your own typefaces? – Luciano May 22 at 16:06
  • What exactly do you mean by "stick to and master a few typefaces"? Sorry, but your question isn't clear. Can you please edit your question and clarify. Many thanks. – Billy Kerr May 22 at 19:21
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    I don't understand this question either. By "master" do yo mean... know a font well and be able to predict how it will work in a given design by utilizing some of its unique idiosyncrasies? – Scott May 22 at 20:49
  • @Scott Yes, that is what I mean. It is, on a side note, of course objectively impossible to answer a question about how to be a master of graphic design since it is a matter of taste but I hope that this is the right forum for these questions as well. – Tony Bolero May 22 at 20:55
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    Thanks for the edit. It's much clearer now, so I think I can attempt an answer. – Billy Kerr May 22 at 21:18
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Practice

Get a typeface you want to master and make it an exercise out of applying it everywhere, see how it fits in an existing piece. Logos, illustrations, signage, book covers, packaging, you name it. Look for existing designs that use the typeface you're trying to master, see what works and what doesn't.

Rinse and repeat with the second typeface, and so on.

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Be sure you choose typefaces complete enough to use well.

You'll need weights, widths, and complete character-sets–––glyphs, serifs and sans serifs. You'll need roman, italics, upper and lower case numerals, small caps, and ligatures. You'll need accents, punctuation, and symbols.

Then, you'll be ready to attempt to master one for fine typography; and, eventually another.

You've started a fascinating and rewarding line of study and practice.

Have Fun. Good Luck.

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Generally speaking, although there are no hard and fast rules, in most design works, the usual practice is to use no more than two fonts (or three at most) in any single design peice. I'm not saying that you should only stick to a particular set of 6 fonts however. That choice would ultimately be subjective, although it's not a bad idea either. It might be a good way to start off, so as to avoid confusing yourself.

Some things to consider when choosing/matching fonts:

  1. Contrast. You need to think about how the fonts you select contrast with each other. For example: using fonts which are very similar, such as two serif fonts of similar size/weight, right next to each other, can be problematic. Contrast is created when there is an obvious visual difference between two fonts. Contrast is good because it adds variety and interest to a composition - it catches the eye.

  2. Rationale. What is your reason for using a font. If the answer is simply because it looks cool, then it's probably the wrong reason. Does using that font really improve the design? I realise there are lots of cool fonts out there and it can be tempting to use them for effect. However just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

  3. Visual hierarchy. For example: the use of a larger bold serif font as a title/headline, and a smaller sans-serif font for body text (or vice versa). This can help organise the information into recognisable blocks. Consistent use of these can help guide the reader's eye to the most important elements in the composition, and organise the content. Use of too many fonts can add a sense of confusion.

  4. Font styles and weights. Instead of adding yet another font, if you must create more contrast, then consider using different styles such as italics or bold, or different sizes, but again not too many as to adversely affect aesthetics or add confusion to the visual hierarchy.

  5. Readability. Is that cool font you really adore actually readable? If it's too fancy or outlandish, it might not be readable especially at smaller sizes. It might be good for a headline/title or call to action, but a bad choice for body text.

  6. Corporate identity/branding issues. For example: should the font used in a logo be used for text in the rest of a design? Sometimes companies have corporate identity/branding guidelines which forbid the use of such a font in other elements of a design. Be sure to check if there are any such rules.

Now, although I said this is the usual practice, I don't want to be accused of being a boring old fart (which I am!). There are exceptions to these "rules" where the use of multiple fonts can add something special to a design, even a sense of deliberate chaos. I have seen some amazing things over the years which break all the usual "rules".

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