How to Choose the Right Fonts?

Updated on September 10, 2019
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

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So Many Choices

When creating a book or resume or even a greeting card, the font is a part of the creative choice. How do you choose which font to use for your resume? Do you go with the default or make a guess? Here are a few things to think about when making your choice.

Ascenders and Descenders
Ascenders and Descenders | Source

Ascenders and Descenders

These are the parts of lower case letters that extend above (in ascenders) the x-height, or below (in descenders) the baseline of the type. Ascenders include b, d, f, l, and t. Descenders include q, p, g, and y. These are important to keep in mind because line spacing or “leading” keeps these apart for ease in reading, but when you want to get creative with lettering, you may want to decrease the leading. This means the ascenders and descenders could overlap and crash into each other, making it harder to read the text.

I have seen cases where this is exactly what you want. The most intriguing poster was created for people to understand what it was like for people with reading disabilities like dyslexia by decreasing the leading so all the text crowded each other. It was indeed difficult to read for a good reason.

Dyslexia poster
Dyslexia poster | Source

“The moment where you doubt you can fly, you cease forever being able to do it.”

— Peter Pan by J.M Barrie
Kerning
Kerning | Source

Kerning and Tracking

Kerning is the term used for selective letter spacing. Certain letter combinations would work better if the spacing were less than other letters. AW is a letter combination that can be squeezed a little closer together without any loss of readability. Letters like "ili" can be closer together also. Letters like "aobq" and all similar round letters need their space to keep readability. Tracking is different from Kerning in that tracking is spacing in entire blocks of text rather than just certain letters. Tracking can be applied to all the text or selected portions to make it fit into a block better.

With the sample, I typed the headline with Cooper Std Black Font. In the second one, I typed the greater part of the words with Cooper Std Black Font but used Herculanum Regular for the capitals and &. Having two fonts helps with the Kerning. I can move them close together.

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No-No’s

There are several things that most graphic designers are told not to do. These are not hard and fast rules never to be broken. However, it is wise to consider them.

  1. Don’t use too much drop shadow for long lines of text. The drop shadow will fill in the holes and curls of the letters and make the text more difficult to read.
  2. Don’t use too much stroke. For the same reason as the drop shadow, it is often overdone in the name of the artistic layout. But the larger the stroke, the more it fills in holes and curls in the letters and again, makes it more difficult for the audience to read.
  3. Don’t make vertical text. It seems artistic but again, most people have to struggle to read the vertical text. The rule of thumb should be that if it is a struggle for you to read it, you can be sure the average person won’t bother trying.
  4. Don’t overcrowd the leading (spaces between lines of text) and kerning or tracking (spaces between letters). When the spaces between letters and words are reduced too far, the ascenders (letters like b, d, f, and t) and descenders (letters like p, q, and y) begin to overlap and readability suffers.
  5. Don’t use more than 3 fonts on the same page or site. It starts to look crowded or haphazard when too many unrelated fonts are crowded together screaming for attention. This is only a suggestion. There are a few instances where 4 fonts are called for, but precious few. I would avoid it if possible.
  6. Don’t use Comic Sans. When my graphic design instructor said this I thought he was joking. But he failed anyone using Comic Sans in his class. The reason for this is because he said for the past 15 years Comic Sans has been overused. Perhaps in 15 to 20 years when it is avoided for a while, it will again come back into vogue. Since this is only a suggestion, I’m sure you may find just the place where this font is called for, but look at others first to see if something else may work better.
  7. Don’t disobey the rules of Hierarchy. This means the biggest words are the most important. They are usually at the top because they are meant to be read first. However, this rule can be broken when, as in advertising, the words like 50% OFF in the middle of a sentence are meant to be most important for the customer to know, making them bigger.

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

— Arthur Ashe
Serif vs San-Serif
Serif vs San-Serif | Source

What Does It Mean?

Having all that information still sends us back to “what are the best fonts to choose?” Sometimes I have the hardest time choosing a perfect font for a certain poster or headliner. It is a dilemma because there are so many to choose from. Do you want a feminine feel or a masculine feel? Do you want something looking official and corporate, or modern and easy-going? Do you want them to wear a 3-piece suit or a pair of jeans? It makes a difference in the message.

My rule of thumb is that Serif fonts (those with the feet like Times New Roman) are official and corporate and the San-Serif (without the feet like Helvetica) is modern and easy-going. The next rule of thumb is that italic and sweeping ascenders and descenders are feminine whereas the bold or standard fonts are more masculine.

Try to resist the really artsy fonts that look fun and flowery but are hard to read when you want something really legible. I’ve made that mistake before because I love the artsy fonts but I have to resist my creative side and make sure it is very readable.

Decorative Initials
Decorative Initials | Source

“The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”

— Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Ronald Dahl
Mock Movie Poster
Mock Movie Poster | Source

Finding and Loading Fonts

You can get many free Fonts to use at a variety of different sites. I like DaFont. Once I have downloaded a font that I love, I have to first load it into Photoshop or any of my other programs to use it.

In my Mac, I have a Font Book under Applications that will allow all my programs from Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to Microsoft Word to use the same fonts. I go to Applications and find Font Book. Double-clicking will open the Font Book and I can then drag and drop the new font directly into the Font Book. It can then be used in Photoshop and all my other programs.

Final Thoughts

It can be very challenging to choose just the right font for messages for cards or letters or resumes. I hope this was a little bit of help in making a decision. If you have suggestions or thoughts on the subject, please feel free to leave it in the comments below.

Too many fonts in one poster!
Too many fonts in one poster! | Source

Questions & Answers

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      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        5 days ago from Fresno CA

        Cynthia,

        Yes. I couldn't believe that art colleges had whole classes just on fonts and their uses and their hierarchy. (Hierarchy is the rule that the biggest headlines are on top and lesser subheadings are beneath them with text beneath that... all in different fonts and sizes.) Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        5 days ago from Fresno CA

        HighPriestess,

        I absolutely understand. I'm a bit of a perfectionist too and when I first took a class on this subject I felt like a total disaster trying to make up my mind. There are SO MANY choices. I hope I helped a little.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        5 days ago from Fresno CA

        Rochelle Frank,

        Haha, you make me laugh because that's exactly what I do. I get mixed up about what comment I'm leaving where. We could be sisters!

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • techygran profile image

        Cynthia 

        5 days ago from Vancouver Island, Canada

        Very interesting! While I did grow bored with Comic Sans, I had no idea there was so much of significance about choosing a font. Thank you! I will look at them with a different eye from now on.

      • Engelta profile image

        HighPriestess 

        5 days ago from Albania

        Choosing the right font is always a struggle for me, especially because I am a perfectionist and I just can’t make up my mind. I love the fonts in your article, and the tips are great!

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 

        5 days ago from California Gold Country

        Actually , though I appreciated this article, my comment was supposed to be in response to your comment on my garden gnome hub. Cheers!

        Don’t try iPad typing when sleep deprived.!

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 

        5 days ago from California Gold Country

        Thanks, Denise. This is one of my personal favorites. In my opinion it is not read often enough.

        So many people could use this information.

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        6 days ago from Fresno CA

        Linda Crampton,

        You are so welcome. I wish I knew more. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        6 days ago from Fresno CA

        Rochelle Frank,

        I'm with you. I kind of like the Comic Sans but back in the day, it was so overused that the graphic designers and teachers all scream DON'T use it. It's overdone and out of favor. There are others too that are overused so they say don't use them like Papyrus. Wouldn't you know? I like Papyrus too. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        6 days ago from Fresno CA

        Linda Lum,

        I know that is true about some fonts not reading well on handheld devices. Most websites have their suggestions for the text, headings, banners, and other hierarchy. The suggestions are helpful because they identify those that will work for any device and still gives you a wide variety to choose from. Mostly they say you have to keep the size standard (10, 12 or 14 pts) so that it will read. Some larger (18 to 22 pts) sizes just don't read well on handheld devices. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        6 days ago from Fresno CA

        Mary Norton,

        I know most people just rely on the default font and don't really look for any others that are available. But when you do you have to think about the use before choosing. Who will see it, and why? Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        6 days ago from Fresno CA

        wiz350,

        Good question. I don't mean variations within one font like italic or bold. I mean completely different fonts like Comic Sans or Times New Roman or Helvetica. Each one of those has a completely different feel and dynamic. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        6 days ago from Fresno CA

        Eric Dierker,

        The rule among graphic designers is to never use more than 3 different fonts on the same document. If you are using one for the heading and different one for the body that sounds fine as long as it is readable. I'm glad you asked. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

        Denise McGill 

        6 days ago from Fresno CA

        RTalloni,

        I'm glad you think so. I know I've chosen totally inappropriate fonts because I liked them and found they just didn't work because they weren't readable. It makes a difference. Thanks for commenting.

        Blessings,

        Denise

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        7 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is an informative and very useful article. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of graphic design, Denise.

      • Rochelle Frank profile image

        Rochelle Frank 

        7 days ago from California Gold Country

        I used to love doing page layouts for the college paper. The fonts and type sizes were pretty limited and standard. I always hoped that I could have used Comic Sans for my humor articles-- because that seemed funnier.

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        7 days ago from Washington State, USA

        Thank you so much for putting this together. My younger daughter has a degree in Journalism and worked for several years as a layout editor so what you say resonates loud and clear.

        Thank you for making the use (or non-use) of Comic Sans a separate topic--that needs to be shouted from the rooftops.

        One more thing--are there specific fonts that are recognized on hand-held devices? I'm thinking that some fonts (especially the more elaborate ones) may not be available on some readers and so those character sets come out looking garbled.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        7 days ago from Ontario, Canada

        There are good pointers here on what fonts are more useful for various uses. I have not really given this much thought but now I will be more conscious of what fonts are more appropriate.

      • profile image

        wiz350 

        7 days ago

        Do you mean variable width fonts?

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        8 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Ms.Paintdrips/Denise I sped read this right out of the shoot. (Do not laugh my mom put me in an Evelyn Wood class. She thought I was spending too much time reading and not enough working - she is still right) Cool I get paid for nowadays. But I read it again and then again.

        So that brings me to the point. I am working on a legal brief, an MOU and a nasty hard contract. Should I use varying fonts or does that make me look weird. I can see the emphasis use that might work to take it "out of the box" no matter how cliche' that sounds.

        No matter thank you much for this. I like thinking about it.

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        8 days ago from the short journey

        Resisting the creative will to be artsy with fonts sometimes seems futile but your are right, work at the project until the suitable font does the project justice. Thanks for sharing what you've learned.

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