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Type Talk

Type Talk


As graphic designers, many of our projects call for creative typographical solutions. How do we do this? How do we come up with the best type – typefaces and fonts – to make the project all come together? Let’s talk about it.

The Definition

First of all, let’s talk about the difference between a typeface and a font. A typeface is the entire family of a particular name of a font, such as Frutiger, that includes small caps, large caps, ligatures and the like. A font, on the other hand, is one size or type of a font that is used. An example of this would be Myriad Pro Regular at 10pt size. While the terms are used interchangeably, it is a good thing to know the deeper difference between them.

Another definition is that of serif and sans serif typefaces. Most of us know the basic difference, but a serif typeface has the little “feet” on the letterforms while a sans serif typeface does not. Serifs are usually used for body copy and longer sections of type and sans serifs are used more for headlines and captions or areas of small bodies of type. There are also display, blackletter, scripts, and decorative typefaces. These are more embellished and used for special typographical solutions.

What about readability and legibility? We’ve all heard about these two terms. Readability refers to whether an extended amount of text, such as an article or book, is easy to read. Legibility refers to whether or not a short amount of text, such as a headline, is instantly recognizable. It’s important to get these things down before laying-out any text.

How To Choose A Typeface

There are hundreds and hundreds of typefaces out there. How do we choose which ones to use for a particular project? First, think about the type of document or project you’re working on and whether you’re going to have a long, extended amount of text or short bursts of text. Think about the x-height of the letterforms as well as the ascenders and descenders of them. Play around with sample text to see how it looks on the page and, most importantly, how it looks when printed. If you have a font manager, such as those from Adobe or Extensis, you can have a great look at how the typefaces are and how the letterforms will appear. If you have a large inventory of typefaces, such as those from the Adobe portfolio of fonts, you may have more difficulty in picking which ones to use, but you should look at the large families which have a lot of variations such as small caps, large caps, and obliques. You may find that you use one or two typeface families on a regular basis. That’s OK, just don’t get stuck using the same ones all the time. There are some beautiful choices out there.

Is your document an invitation or a business card? How about an annual report or a book? Take time to consider what you’re working on so you can get the right “color”, or look, of the overall document. Once you choose the typeface(s) that you want – usually no more than two for any particular project – it’s time to lay-out the type that you need. Headlines and subheadlines are usually in the sans serif family, boldface or regular. Body copy is usually laid-out in serif typefaces and is in smaller type sizes in regular and sometimes italics.

How To Buy Typefaces

As mentioned earlier, there are so many typefaces out there to buy, usually online. is sometimes a good place to start as they offer many good typefaces from popular type foundries such as Monotype and Linotype. Remember to buy typefaces that have a large family and that are considered “good” ones. What does that mean? Well, sometimes there are typefaces out there that are less-than-adequate. These typefaces are sometimes not developed in ways that will print well in large or small sizes and can actually look a little pixelated when printed. Adobe is also a good site to find some typefaces. Try to avoid free fonts that are all over the Web. With free ones, you usually get what you pay for. Sometimes there may be a display typeface that looks OK and may work, but please be careful and try them out before using them on a project. Remember typefaces produced by type foundries are in business to make money, so please be advised that it’s not a good idea to share them with all your colleagues. You can get licenses for more than one computer so please look into that if you need to share.

A Final Thought

Typography and typefaces can be a beautiful thing. We usually know when a document has a great look. The typefaces used fit in with the message being conveyed and make the document come together. It’s worth it to take the time to get the right look and to make sure that you’re using the right faces for the overall project. Practice on this and you’ll soon come out as one wonderful typographer.

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