Step Up Your Design Game By Using Fewer Fonts

More fonts isn't usually better

Close up of alphabet on letterpress

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Consistency and readability are important to good design, and too many font changes can distract and confuse the reader. Make your font choices carefully and consider how many typefaces will be seen together. Long multipage publications, such as magazines, can often support a greater variety of typefaces. For brochures, ads and other short documents, limit font families to just one or two.

What Is a Font Family?

Font families usually include a regular, italic, bold and bold italic version of the font. For example, the Times New Roman family, a popular serif font that appears in many newspapers, usually ships with Times New Roman Italic, Times New Roman Bold and Times New Roman Bold Italic. Font families are multitaskers designed to function together as one font. Some type families even include light, condensed and heavy versions.

Display fonts that are designed specifically for headlines and titles don't always have italic, bold and bold italic versions. Some of them don't even have lowercase characters. However, they excel at what they are designed for.

Picking a Number of Fonts

A generally accepted design practice is to limit the number of different fonts to three or four. That doesn't mean you can't use more but have a good reason to do so. No hard and fast rule says you can't use five, six, or even 20 different fonts in one document, but it may end up running off it's intended audience unless the document is skillfully designed. 

Tips for Choosing and Using Fonts

  • Be consistent in your design. Using a different font for every headline, for example, is confusing and gives your design a cluttered look. You can usually get away with using more fonts in long documents with many different design elements (such as newsletters or magazines) where only two to three different fonts appear on any one-page spread.
  • Select a font family for body copy and use bold, italics and different sizes of the font family for captions, subheadings, and other design elements. Serif fonts are easier on the eye in print, while sans-serif fonts are better for web use. 
  • Choose a second display font for headlines or titles.
  • Depending on the design, you might use a third font for initial caps, pull-quotes or graphic treatments. You might add a fourth font for page numbers or as a secondary body font for sidebars.
  • Don't make sudden typeface changes within a paragraph. Use the same typeface for body copy, using the bold or italics of the font to add small amounts of emphasis.
  • If greater emphasis is required, create a pull-quote, set the copy in the margin, or create a sidebar using a different font to completely set the information apart.
  • Don't be afraid to mix serif and sans-serif fonts. They complement one another.
  • Using fonts from the same font family is a safe bet; they were created to work together. Look for families that include different weights (light, bold, extra bold) and styles (condensed, expanded) in addition to the normal bold and italic variations.
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