Join Ina Saltz for an in-depth discussion in this video Guidelines for combining typefaces, part of Foundations of Typography.
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Because of the complex array of typographic choices that are readily available, the most common question I'm asked is how do I know what Typefaces go together? Let's try to take some of the mystery out of making good type choices. What we are looking for are type combinations which will live harmoniously with one another. Using too many Typefaces can create visual cacophony. It's like type soup, in many cases you might be better off selecting just one Typeface which has a large family of variations.
Helvetica Neue, for example is a very large family with many weights and widths. And each of these comes with a matching set of italic letters. Because the fonts all originate from one family member, you can be sure the other family members will play well together. Here are a couple of projects each of which sticks to using one large Typeface which allows the designer to achieve many different effects. Each of these examples is really varied yet uses only one Typeface.
You can see here that by using many different weights and widths from one family there's plenty of typographic diversity. But let's say you do need or want more than one Typeface. Here are some factors that might help you decide which to use. The most important factor is contrast or differentiation, a common situation is body text plus headlines. Your Text Type choice will most likely be a Serif text face. So for contrast, you will want to look for something like a Sans Serif that has a variety of bold weights.
In this page from Vibe magazine each Typeface plays a different role and each is a strong contrast from the others. Most projects don't need more than two well-chosen Typefaces to create a broad and useful typographic hierarchy. When combining Typefaces, consider their basic characteristics. Typefaces from a Similar Historical Period whose families have different features, may work well together. Another possibility, combine Typefaces by the Same Designer, since they will have a stylistic connection, or you might want to choose two very opposite Typefaces, one very traditional and sober, the other, friendly and warm.
Typefaces with a Similar Body Height can make good companions as long as their styles are different enough to have a strong contrast. A common mistake in combining Typefaces is putting together Typefaces that are individually idiosyncratic, that is they have Strong Stylistic details, so they conflict with one another. And here we are with Eurostile and Cochin looking very unhappy together. If you find it necessary to add a third Typeface to a text face in a Sans Serif, a Slab Serif might be a good choice.
This works well if you have a need for a third of typographic texture or content which needs to be separate and stand out from the other text elements. Think of putting together an outfit where each piece of clothing has a complex pattern, maybe a fashion maven compare these successfully. But in all likelihood the effect will be jumbled and unmatched. One simple piece and one complex piece work much better, that way the stylistic details of both can be appreciated.
Choosing two simple pieces or Typefaces works well too, differentiation is the key. Combining Typefaces need not be any more complicated than putting together an outfit. The elements should compliment one another. There are no hard and fast rules, but let good taste be your guide.
- What is typography?
- Differentiating type characteristics
- Using ornamental and decorative type
- Combining typefaces
- Using contrast and scale
- Kerning and kerning pairs
- Choosing the optimum line length
- Aligning and spacing characters, words, and paragraphs
- Understanding factors affecting legibility
- Working with three-dimensional type
- Putting type in motion