Make Condensed Fonts Stand out in Your Designs

Font Families Often Include Condensed Versions of Their Standard Fonts

Condensed fonts are narrow versions of standard typefaces in type families. Often a condensed font has "condensed," "compressed" or "narrow" in its name. For example, you are probably familiar with the font Arial. The Arial font family includes Arial, Arial Bold, Arial Condensed and Arial Bold Condensed among other variations of the font. The Arial Condensed font is the same height as the Arial font, but it is much narrower, which means more characters fit on a line of type. 

Some fonts that are not part of a larger family are also described as condensed when they are much taller than they are wide. ITC Roswell is a good example of this. Although there are several versions of Roswell, all of them are condensed and dramatically taller than they are wide. 

Metal Letter and Number Blocks for Printing Press
Kris Krüg / Getty Images

Why Use Condensed Fonts

Condensed fonts exist to save space. The narrow width allows more characters to be packed into a line, headline, paragraph, column or page. The downside is that condensed fonts are harder to read because the letters are thinner and more closely spaced than in standard fonts.

Condensed fonts work best in small doses such as for subheadings, captions or pull-quotes, especially when paired with standard fonts of the same type family. They can also work for decorative headlines and text graphics when individual characters are intentionally spaced out so that you get the tall, thin letters but without the cramped letter spacing.

Condensed fonts are also available in display faces — those that are designed for use as headlines, not text. In situations where column width is fixed, such as in newspapers, condensed display typefaces can be used to set larger headlines than are attainable with standard faces. 

Condensed fonts have a style of their own, one that some people feel is more modern than the standard font, and they can be used to add contrast with a standard font or in a design. 

The list of condensed fonts is so long, they can't all be listed here, but a few examples are:

  • Myriad Pro Condensed
  • League Gothic
  • Futura Condensed
  • Generica Condensed
  • Helvetica Condensed
  • Soho
  • Avant Garde Gothic Condensed
  • Frutiger Condensed
  • ITC Garamond Narrow
  • Arial Narrow

Why Stop at Condensed?

There are extra-condensed fonts out there, but in most cases, you should stay away from them for any use other than as headlines. Unless they are used at a large size, they are almost unreadable. Extra-condensed fonts include:

  • Franklin Gothic Extra Compressed
  • Proxima Nova Extra Condensed
  • Facade
  • Runic
  • Monotype Grotesque Extra Condensed