Fun with fonts and typefaces.

I love playing with fonts. There are designers who have made careers simply by designing fonts. Fonts can make or break a design or stand alone to evoke a mood. There are hundreds of thousands of fonts to choose from but only a relative few that are in common use.

Whats the difference between a typeface and a font?

Examples of script, sans-serif and serif fonts.

The Business Dictionary definition of a typeface is:

“Letters, numbers, and symbols in consistent type-weight and typestyle that make up a complete set (type family) of a distinctive design of printing type such as Ariel, Helvetica, Times Roman and thousands others.”

And a font as:

“Complete set of all characters that comprise a given typeface in a specific point size: capital (uppercase) letters, common (lowercase) letters, small caps, numbers, and mathematical and other symbols.”

Comparing fonts using pangrams:

A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet in a given language.
In English the sentence best known and most often used is:

“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

Examples of fonts.

(My French isn’t fluent but I’m told that the French equivalent is:

“Buvez de ce whisky que le patron juge fameux.”

which translates to: Drink some of this whiskey, which the boss finds excellent. )
French Pangram

Serif and Sans-serif.

All fonts can be broken into two groups Serif – such as Times and Sans-serif such as Ariel.
Serif and Sans-Serif fonts
A serif is the small line,decoration or “curly que” that is at the end of an individual letter. Fonts with out serifs are called sans-serif (without serif).

Usable fonts.

The font you use depends on your medium, print and/or the web,and your good or bad taste.

Conventional wisdom is that a sans-serif font is easier to read on screen and serif fonts are easier to read in print but it’s generally agreed you should never combine the two.(However rules are made to be broken.)

There is a growing number of overused fonts that Graphic Designers love to hate. You will find numerous blogs on why you should never use Comics Sans MT, or Papyrus but I bet you can’t go a week without seeing one of the “Terrible Ten” which are:

Overused fonts.

(OK, so “Chiller isn’t on the list, that’s my own personal peeve!”)

  1. Comics Sans MT
  2. Papyrus
  3. Courier
  4. Impact
  5. Curlz MT
  6. Bradley Hand, (infact almost all script fonts hit someones hate list)
  7. Frankenstein
  8. Trajan
  9. Bank Gothic
  10. Garamond

The other two fonts that nearly always hit peoples lists of overused and most hated are:

  1. Ariel (in all its various forms)
  2. Times New Roman

The trouble with Ariel and Times is, if you are designing for the web you almost have to use one or other as a default.

Fonts on the web

If you want to make sure that your text appears exactly the same way on all browsers, and platforms you have to make an image. Otherwise, you are at the mercy of your audiences browser and have to guess how your text will appear. Guess? Well yes. It is an educated guess but let me explain.

Back in the early days of HTML the only way to place your text where you wanted it was to use a table.(This practice is now frowned upon.) Then the W3C (The World Wide Web Consortium) decided to split content from design. HTML takes care of the text content and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) takes care of the text design or “style” of your text. (For many reason I won’t go into here this was actually a good thing.)

Style (for web typographical purposes) covers:

  • font
  • color
  • spacing
  • positioning

So what’s the problem? I don’t know what fonts my audience has installed on their devices! I’ll say that again.

“I don’t know what fonts my audience has installed on their devices!

I can specify what ever font in whatever size I like but, if for whatever reason your computer/tablet/phone doesn’t have that font installed, your browser will render its default serif or sans-serif font.

For just that reason CSS allows you to choose a list of alternatives. Having said that even two very similar fonts can display dramatically differently on two different devices. This is why you see so much of Ariel and Times, they are safe because almost all computers have both fonts installed. You will have plenty of pre-installed fonts on your computer but if you’ve been installing your own you can run into problems.

Slightly geeky bit over.

Fonts for Photography, and Images.

If none of the fonts on your device convey the image or message you want or you just want to have fun playing there are lots of places to find fonts. Many are free but some specialty fonts you will have to pay for.
Here is a list of places to start looking:

not to be confused with…


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11 thoughts on “Fun with fonts and typefaces.

  1. WOW! So much fun information! I really did not know most of this. Looks like I’m going to make myself a cup of mint tea and re-read your article a number of times! Thanks so much for sharing the links as well!

  2. Love this, fonts play a great role in perception of the content and it is so important to choose the right one. Thank you so much for sharing, bookmarking your article right now!

  3. Great primer on fonts. I confess–I am a font addict. So many people have no idea how to put fonts together or how to use them for best effect.

    My font cringe is coming across a blog that is written in a handwriting font. So hard to read. Ugh.

    I currently have 1100+ fonts on my computer. Way too many, I know, but I just have been too lazy to take out all the ones I don’t like and don’t use.

  4. This is a great tutorial on fonts and typefaces! I love playing with fonts and have a pretty large collection of them from over the years. Not as big as Marie’s 1100 but close. 🙂

  5. I am a font junkie, and I have used all the 10 hated fonts, and I don’t care who hates them.

    I think it depends on what you are trying to use them for. I wouldn’t use them on a website, but I think there are legitimate offline uses for them.

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