Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video Combine typefaces, part of Learning to Set Display Type.
- Most projects say more than one thing, and need more than one typeface, so the question always comes up, how do you pair them? What typeface goes with what? And that question is super hard to answer because there are so many variables. Just the numbers. If you have 10,000 typefaces, you have basically a hundred million pair possibilities. So, I can't tell you what goes with what. What I will do is give you some guidelines that I follow, that should get you into the ballpark. I'll list them and then we'll circle back on each one.
One is that a typeface will always go with itself, or work within its own family, so you can use one version of a face for your main display and another version for your supporting type. Typical is a Roman and an italic, or a bold version and a lite version. This is a conservative approach, but it's almost foolproof. Two, is to use opposites, or at least very different typefaces. Faces that really have nothing in common. And three, big contrasts will help typefaces work together.
One face really big and another really small, or one decorative and another plain, or one very wide and another very narrow. Let's look at each of these. Turnip Hill. We just saw this. Here it is on a book cover. I just made this up. The background painting I found on Thinkstock, which is our go-to stock photo site. The title, as you recall, is set in Hoban, but look at the author's name. There are two ways to handle it. One is like this, where it's a totally different typeface, and a different kind of typeface.
The thinking here is that we have two equally important focal points that need to be kept separate, so I used an extremely condensed face filled with sky color, which makes it recede. So the title and the author are completely different things, but complementary. They both go with that background. The other approach is to make them the same, like this, both set in Hoban. This ties the author to her title. They are one and the same, the difference being only the contrast of black and white.
The thing to watch for here is that you not confuse your viewer, make her wonder which is the title and which is the author. When you're dealing with two focal points, these are your two basic approaches. Radically different, or exactly alike. What you don't want to do, and I want to emphasize this, is use typefaces that are similar, but not the same, or you'll get a fight. In this case we have two swashy styles, which are very showy, but in different ways. And they just conflict.
It's like two different songs playing at the same time. In the case of Turnip Hill, both approaches work equally well. This wine bottle, though, is an example of where one is clearly better. Simple label, everything centered, but it's just typed. Same typeface, same size, the only differentiator is color, so it's very plain. There's only one voice here. The makeover is still simple, but now we see two completely different typefaces, a big difference in scale, and a difference in color value.
Tintern Abbey has been lightened. This is the better label. More voice, more nuance. This web screen is gorgeous, and subtle, which is why I want you to see it. It's set in a single type family called Essonnes, from Typekit. Light italic for the headline, and regular text for the sub-head, they're different, but they have shared family traits, so there's nice contrast as well as coherence. The type on the white button is Avenir, a plain, uppercase sans serif, and it's a perfect complement.
Very clear without trying to compete by being similar. What else you're seeing here, and this is equally important, is a big difference in scale. The headline is much larger than the sub-head. The bigger the differences, the less the typefaces will affect each other. You do want them to be complementary, but it matters less if they're not. This page is a beautiful use of techniques. One family of type, one opposite style, and a big difference in scale.
You can use these techniques everywhere. Scale is a key thing, especially type in close proximity. The closer you put two typefaces of similar size, the harder it'll be to keep them from fighting, even if they're visually compatible. Here's a simple example of that. Sant Ellia, that's the rough script, is paired with Archer Book. At this size, this close, they're messy. Your eye is jumping between them, there's no beauty. This is what you might see on a typical flyer or poster, where everything seems important.
You need to create a hierarchy of scale, more like this. And now, you've not only improved the look, but you've nuanced and enriched the communication. There are other kinds of contrast that help settings coexist. Here we have several lines of type, all one style. This is Vanitas, all uppercase. The only differentiator is the black and gray color. Very understated, elegant, super classy setting.
Color contrast can be bolder. Anytime you have a mid-value color background, you can put both dark and light type against it. They can be the same style, as you see here, or different, as long as the differences are big like this. This is a technique I use a lot. If you're feeling bold, scale can be taken to an extreme, and it works. In this case, the background type is so big, and so bold, that it has virtually no effect on the small type.
You can pair almost any type face with it. Pretty dramatic.
Join John McWade as he explains how to design in a variety of styles and voices using display type, which is type that's set at headline size and above. He discusses type families that include strikingly expressive characters, shows how to combine typefaces, shares how to avoid common design flaws, and takes you through working with type in photos. This art form is applicable to print advertising, brochures, magazines, posters, fliers, slide decks, and much more.
- What is display type?
- Form vs. function
- Setting display type
- Combining typefaces
- Tightening or loosening a setting
- Using display type with images
- Avoiding common mistakes
- Typographic voice