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What Type is Your Type?

What Type is Your Type?

Mike Lenhart

Many times, in our designing lives, we come across making the decision about the typeface(s) we need to use to put our copy to effective use. Sometimes this entails using a simple, tried-and-true serif face. Other times, we need to use a sans serif. Still, there are those times when only a display face will do – especially for headlines. With all the multitudes of typefaces out there, some good and some bad, how do we choose the type to type? The overall rules of thumb: usually, for copy that calls for long lines of text, such as in paragraph or book form, we should use some sort of serif that’s easy to read. It’s also a good idea if the chosen face has large x-heights.

When the copy you’re flowing is to be used for simple, single lines of type, say ad copy, we’d use a sans serif that helps to convey the overall ‘color’ of the message. And when we’re placing copy for headlines or other unique, bold statements, a display face will also do. Now, how to choose. No matter what type of type you’re placing, you’ll undoubtedly find a font for every needed use. It’s usually best to stay away from Truetype fonts, as those are usually of low-quality and may not reproduce that well – especially in print. I’m sure you’ve heard about Postscript and Opentype (remember Multiple Maters?) fonts, which are usually best to use.

These come with virtually all styles of the face, from regular to bold to all caps. It’s always good to find a face that has all the styles you may need for a particular project. When calling for italics, bold, or all caps, please be sure to use those included with the face – NOT the computer-generated styles you could use by clicking the “I” or “B”. These may look fine upon first glance, but trained eyes will see that the slant of the italic isn’t consistent, the bold is a little to thick or rough around the edges, and the all caps have x-heights that just don’t look right. In fact, they’re just plain bad. Postscript, and particularly Opentype fonts, are complete with all of these styles, and more, and were designed to be used as part of the overall typeface. Where to get them? In my view, it’s always best to purchase, yes purchase, typefaces from reputable foundries – not fonts-in-a-book or those from “free” font Websites. Although, while some of the faces may be considered expensive, especially those with large families, they’re worth the investment and will stand the test of time. Make sure to do some research on those faces that are staples in most designers’ toolkits and purchasing those, before looking into the more unique, and less used. Remember, the “good” fonts come with licensing agreements and, just like photography, need to be adhered to.

The reputable foundries have just as reputable font designers and should be compensated accordingly. Some good foundries I can recommend are Adobe, Linotype, TypeTrust, P22, T26, and Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Some of these foundries’ typefaces are simply beautiful and, for a type geek like me, almost make my eyes well-up from that beauty. I tend to get sensitive a lot. One last note There’s always been some controversy in design schools as to what the difference between a typeface and a font is. Is there a difference? In my view, a resounding YES. A typeface is the overall family that includes all of the various versions of that face while a font is one of those versions of the typeface at a particular point size and style. It’s a pretty simple difference, but so many people use the terms extremely interchangeably. Ask your instructor the difference and see what he or she says. Most people have different opinions. It’s not a big deal but it’s always nice to be right.


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