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I'm a programmer and a beginner in graphic design. When learning design, I found it very hard for me to decide which font to use in my website. In fact, when viewing separately(i.e. not in a side-by-side view), I think most fonts are identical to each other!

I've browsed many examples, only to found that their CSS font stacks tend to contain 4 or more fonts, which effectively overwhelms me, and presumably other starters.

So, I'm asking for some recommendations here: is there any any general-purpose font which can be used by design beginners safely? Here, "safe" means "not making a website ridiculously ugly or illegible".

To make my question more specific, the font I'm looking for should be:

  1. Free to use.
  2. General-purpose. It must be (at least partially) suitable to most projects.
  3. Web safe. Ideally it should have already been installed on most devices.
  4. Novel. Classic fonts, such as (Sans) Serif, are nice, but they are used at so many places that users are starting to get bored with them.
  • There are a lot of fonts that fit this criteria. You'll have to make your question more specific for us to be of much help – Zach Saucier Oct 18 '16 at 2:03
  • @ZachSaucier I've narrowed my question. Hopefully it's specific enough now :) – nalzok Oct 18 '16 at 8:05
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    I think you're seeing this all wrong. Point 1 and 3 are solid requirements, point 4 is completely fictional and wrong. If you think all fonts look alike, start learning more about fonts, their origins and how they are built up. Generally, a 'general purpose font' is a bad thing. Your font should match your media, target group and design. – Summer Oct 18 '16 at 8:34
  • All fonts are safe to use when you understand how to use them. Your question is the equivalent of "is there a safe color for beginner designers?" Like JaneDoe1337 said, the more you learn about the font differences the better you'll be able to use them. Like colors, programming languages or food seasonings. – Luciano Oct 18 '16 at 8:52
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    @sunqingyao because a font can make a big difference, even if it's only psychologically. You might not notice or understand now, but does make a big impact on the overall design. Asking what the purpose is of taking time to choose fonts would be the same as asking what the purpose is of taking time to design something. It's more than just making something 'look good'. – Summer Oct 18 '16 at 9:44
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Before giving you a specific font recommendation, I'll give you some things to look for in a font if you want it to become your go-to font.

  • It should be legible. Look for a font that works well in a variety of sizes and weights, in black over white and iverse.
  • It should come in a variety of styles- look for a family that has several weights, widths, that has italics. This will give you versatility of having contrast for titles or interface elements within the same family. If you find a family that has both sans-serif and serif, so much better
  • It should be fairly neutral This goes against what you talk about in point number 4, but the more "personality"/novelty a font has, the more likely it is that it will not be suitable for some projects

That being said, let me recommend a few families that fit these criteria:

Open Sans enter image description here Hardly original, but it is a great family, with lots of weights, good language support, even a narrow version.

Source Sans Pro enter image description here Amazing typeface, especially for interface design, also has a companion serif font

Roboto enter image description here Quite sober, but super legible font, with lots of variations and again, a matching serif

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    Although I do think the information you are giving is good, I'm tempted to downvote just because I think the answer is not suitable for the OP. I think he'll use this as a quick fix instead of learning anything. – Summer Oct 18 '16 at 9:49
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    Why do you not think it is suitable? I am explaining the reasoning behind my choices to help him learn, and I'm providing some examples that embody the principles I list. I believe my answer provides useful information to the OP about the subject he asked about. – spiral Oct 18 '16 at 10:37
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    @JaneDoe1337 Please don't worry. I promise you I'll learn everything, because designing is really fun! Also, one can't become a good designer by using "quick fixes", right? – nalzok Oct 18 '16 at 15:17
  • @JaneDoe1337 And now that you've mentioned that, are there any learning materials recommended? Currently I'm reading The non-designer's design & type books – nalzok Oct 18 '16 at 15:18
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At first I thought it was a simple question. It is not. It is a good fundamental one.

I do not remember who said that is better to master the use of a few fonts, than to simply use a ton of them... That is not the actual quote... It seems that I did remember the quote either Xo)

Classical classification

First you need to understand the categories fonts are divided into. That would be a long answer, so you need to do some homework. https://www.google.com/search?q=font+categories

But in general there are some elements that define this categories:

  • The serif (or lack of it)

  • The difference (or lack of) between vertical and horizontal strokes

  • The overall shape (circular, squared, oval)

  • The style... (oh god, this is too board... Decorative... let us leave this alone for a while)

One classical set of "book fonts" categories is

  • Old Style (Roman old style)

  • Modern

  • Slab serif (Egyptian)

  • Humanist

  • Sans serif

Variations

By how thin the font is and how thin the stroke is:

  • Extended, Normal, Condensed

  • Bold, Normal, Thin

  • And a lot of variations on some cases. Extra, ultra, black...

Decorative ones

One personal way to arrange "script" fonts is:

  • Manuscript (Stylish fonts with thin lines, simulating the use of a soft calligraphic pen)

  • Hand writing (Architect type)

  • Historical (Medieval, celtic, "textura", pre-Gutenberg)

  • Calligraphy

  • Brush strokes

In a practical sense

1) Sans serif

Choose let us say just 9 Sans serif fonts. A good option is to choose one that has variations of weight (all the variations count as one) 3 for each category (You can repeat the same font on different categories).

  • Some that looks good on menus. Normally I choose one condensed here, so the menu can have a little more text.

  • Some for text, one would be verdana, and choose another two.

  • For titles, one very rounded and circular at least.

2) Serif

For web concentrate more just in titles.

  • Two Old Style

  • Two modern

  • Two Slab

3) Humanist

This works on long and small texts. There are not many to choose from. Choose just 2.

Be ready to have a long collection of Script fonts

But only collect them as the project requires it. Do not waste your time if you do not have a specific case.

Regarding your requirements

Just stick to the google fonts.

And I agree that "Novel" and "General Purpose" are contradictory terms. But I stated that on my "classifications" of fonts.

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