Choosing the right typeface to fit the style and mood of the printed word can be a daunting task for even the most seasoned and experienced designer. Using multiple typefaces adds even more complexity to the decision-making process. Where do you begin? Which ones do you chose? What should you consider when making a choice?

Today we will explore some points to keep in mind when selecting typefaces. I will show you some typeface combinations that go together well and provide you with links to free font resources. Let’s begin.

The anatomy of the printed page

If you look closely at a newspaper, magazine or website, you will notice a clear hierarchy of typefaces. The typical layout is comprised of the following three text elements:

Page Layout Hierarchy

Display: Ribbon  Sub-header: Melbourne   Body: Karla Italic

Let’s take a closer look at each element and see what types of typefaces are used.

Display typefaces are usually elaborate and eye-catching. While they are often beautiful and interesting, they are easy to read as a block of text. Keep their use to a minimum (i.e. headlines, callouts). Display typefaces should not be used for sub-headers or body text.

Sub-header typefaces are used to mark short summary phrases at the beginning of larger blocks of text. Sometimes these can be the hardest ones to choose. You want to choose a typeface that will stand out from the body text, but will not overpower the display type. It should grab the reader’s attention but also not be distracting.

Body text typefaces are the workhorse of an article, manuscript or paper. The reader spends to most time with this typeface so it is wise to choose one that is extremely legible and comfortable to read for long stretches of writing.

How to select a winning combination

Contrast and harmony are the two main factors that go into selecting appropriate typefaces for page layout. Contrast allows the components to be easily deciphered from each other. An easy way to create this is to combine serif and sans serif typefaces. Remember to consider the relationship between the two before pairing any old serif and san serif together. Try to find a pair that have something in common, like similar kerning or proportions.

Harmony ties the various typefaces together so that they all relate to each other cohesively. Pairing typefaces from the same family can create visual harmony. Typeface families are a group of related fonts that vary in width, size, orientation, etc. such as Gotham Black and Gotham Bold.

Below are 3 examples of sets of typefaces that work together well. All typefaces are available for download at the links!

Display: Lobster 1.4   Sub-header: Quaver Sans   Body: Merriweather

Lobster is an example of a typeface that can be used as both a display header or a sub-header. With the right color it can become a bit more subtle and compliment a strong, simple display font. While Quaver Sans works well as a sub-header, the g’s and long y’s and p’s would make it a bit too elaborate for a body text.

Display: Bemio   Sub-header: Bree Serif Regular   Body: Questrial

Bree Serif is a perfect example of a font that is ideal for sub-headings but would never work for body text. As it gets smaller it gets harder to read because of bold weight. Using it as a sub-header allows you to choose a slightly more conservative display font while maintaining a bit of fun.

Display: Homestead   Sub-header: Karla Italic   Body: Karla

By using Karla Regular in capital letters and Karla Italic in lower case letters, you can achieve the look of various fonts without having to worry about them clashing. When fonts are in the same family, they’ll (most likely) get along.

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