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[Typography] Finding Fonts

category: Design | course: Typography | difficulty:

With all this knowledge about letterforms and styles under our belt, we can start picking the right fonts for our typographic projects. Even when you’re only going to use different fonts from the same typeface, you still need to find the font that portrays the right mood and message within your design.

Unfortunately, though, fonts don’t come with a description “reminds people of rock ‘n roll” or “radiates with joy”. The meaning of a font depends on its historical and cultural meaning, its visual forms and typesetting, and most importantly its context. Before you use a font, find out what it was initially made for, how it has evolved, and what feeling the forms evoke. For example, large sweeping curves usually create a free, natural, joyful feeling, while big blocky letters create a colder, formal, or more sad feeling. But not always.

Type Exercise: Pick a word, preferably an emotion or feeling, and make it look like what it means.

Professional Fonts

There’s a difference between professional fonts and so-called system fonts. The latter is the set of fonts automatically installed on every computer, such as Arial and Helvetica, which are quite generic and neutral. Professional fonts, on the other hand, have been hand-crafted by typographers to include as beautiful and as many characters as possible. As you can pick up from my choice of words, professional fonts are the way to go.

Professional, however, doesn’t necessarily mean expensive or paid at all. Amazing fonts have been put online for free, and I recommend you start experimenting with those first, before spending all your capital on fonts. Paid fonts, however, will always be more unique, special and specific than anything else you might encounter. Paid fonts include all sorts of different styles and weights in a single typeface, as well as support for many special features and symbols that advanced typography demands.

Therefore, I’d like to define a good font as one that has letterforms that are distinct enough to be told apart, while not so individual that one has trouble reading complete words. In typography, everything’s connected to everything, and individual elements can only be noticeable at the expense of the whole – a good font combats this.

Finding & Acquiring Fonts

If you want to compare fonts, you need to know where to find them. There’s dozens of websites selling (or freely distributing) fonts, as well as large packages of fonts installed by default or by other software. On your computer, there should be an application or program that loads up all your fonts. If you can’t find it, though, you can always open a new Word file and look through the list of fonts at the top left.

When it comes to downloading (and/or buying) fonts from websites, you can’t really go wrong. There are quite a few huge, trusted websites (e.g. myfonts.com) you can compare and look around, until you find that perfect font. Once downloaded, double-clicking on a font should automatically pop up a window that allows you to install it. From that moment on, you can use it in your projects!

Over time, you’ll be able to build your own library of typefaces. Don’t rush this process, though – it’s better to slowly build your library with typefaces you really like and work well for you, instead of immediately throwing in every free font you can find.

The Typeface Selection Process

Design is all about striking a balance between practicality and aesthetics. Your choice of typefaces must first and foremost be governed by the content of the message of text, then the intended audience and purpose, and only lastly by (technical) constraints.

With that said, you can’t start a typography without at least one typeface. I also suggest, however, that you don’t start a typography with more than a single typeface. This starting typeface should be the one to use for the majority of the text (the body text), as that is the most important to get right, and not the headers or other fancy parts.

The only reason, then, that you should ever add more typefaces is if you really need them. First explore the different weights and styles of the typeface you’ve already chosen, and you’ll notice you don’t need so many other typefaces.

Type Error: In general, more than two or three typefaces is too much

When you do bring in more typeface families, they should fulfil a function your basic family can’t, while achieving visual balance with your main font. These extras are called accessories, and, for example, contain bolder and more attention-grabbing letters than the main font, which makes them ideal for headlines. I must warn you though, that some fonts look very nice when set large or small, but are quite ugly when displayed at another size. Next chapter will talk more about the matching of fonts.

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