Common Font Types and When to Use Them

Font choice is an important part of web and graphic design. Regardless of whether you’re designing a logo, a brochure, a business card, product packaging, a website, or anything else, typography will have a huge impact on the end result. The look and feel of the design will change significantly with different fonts. Likewise, the impression and mood that the design creates with viewers will vary with different fonts.

Because typography is such an important part of design, it’s critical to understand the various font types and when you should use them. With some basic knowledge in this area, you’ll be able to create much more effective designs that get the intended results.

This article will cover the main font types, how they differ from each other, and the best uses.

Font Types

Serif

Font Types - Serif

Serif fonts are classic, elegant, and highly versatile. The distinguishing characteristic of serif fonts is the dashes or feet at the tops and bottoms of the letterforms.

See our list of the best free serif fonts.

The use of serif fonts is extremely common for many different purposes. Serif fonts are especially popular for body text in printed materials but can also be used for titles, logos, online, and just about any other type of text.

One of the main reasons why serif fonts are incredibly common is because they are generally easy to read. This is true whether we’re talking about small amounts of text or a full page of text.

Although we’re lumping serif fonts together in one category, there are actually several different types or classifications of serif fonts. If you’re not a type nerd, you probably won’t care about the differences.

Popular Serif Fonts:

Serif

When to Use Serif Fonts

Serif fonts can be used for a wide variety of purposes, but they are especially useful for body text in printed materials. Serif fonts are also appropriate for headlines and logos.

Sans Serif

Font Types - Sans Serif

Sans serif fonts do not have the small dashes or feet at the tops and bottoms of letters. Instead, they feature crisp edges. While serif fonts present more of a classic and elegant feel, sans serif fonts are more modern and clean.

While serif fonts have a long history, It was within the last 100 years that sans serif fons gained popularity. Like serifs, sans serif fonts are very versatile and can be used for just about any purpose. They look good in large sizes and are also readable in smaller sizes, partly because of the lack of serifs (dashes).

When you’re designing for the web or anything that will be read on-screen, sans serif is the common choice for body copy or large portions of text. Sans serif fonts are also very effective for headlines, especially in a heavy weight like a bold or black font.

Popular Sans Serif Fonts:

Sans Serif

When to Use Sans Serif Fonts

Sans serif fonts are highly versatile, but the most common uses include body copy for screens (including websites and apps), headlines, and logos. Serif fonts and sans serif fonts can be used in many of the same situations, so the choice between the two comes down to the style of the design or the mood that you want to create. If you’re looking to create something more modern and less classic, go with a sans serif.

Slab Serif

Font Types - Slab Serif

Slab serif fonts could be considered a sub-category of serif fonts, but we’re breaking them out into their own classification because there is an important distinction, and because they are extremely popular.

The distinction between serif and slab serif fonts is that the feet or dashes on slab serif fonts are blocky. Also, the feet are often larger than what you’ll normally find with serif fonts.

Slab serif fonts are also popular, but they’re not quite as versatile as serif fonts. In general, slab serif fonts are not the best choice for body text as they’re a bit harder to read as compared to serif or sans serif fonts.

As far as style and mood are concerned, slab serifs are more rugged and less elegant the serif fonts.

Popular Slab Serif Fonts:

Bondie

When to Use Slab Serif Fonts

Slab serif fonts are appropriate for headlines, logos, and areas with large text.

Display

Font Types - Display

Display fonts, or decorative fonts as they are sometimes called, don’t necessarily have a common theme or style. Of all of the categories covered in this article, this is the biggest, broadest category because so many different fonts can fit within the definition.

Display fonts are not intended for large amounts of text. You wouldn’t use a display font for a full page of text, and probably not even for a paragraph of text. They’re intended to be used for short amounts of text, like headlines, advertisements, or within branded images.

They can be playful or elegant. They can be thin or heavy. But display fonts are generally intended more for looks and style and less for readability.

Popular Display Fonts

There are so many different types of display fonts and they are used for such different purposes that it’s harder to say which ones are most popular. But here are a few beautiful display fonts:

Display

When to Use Display Fonts

Display fonts are appropriate for short amounts of text. This includes headlines, logos, and advertisements. It’s also best to use display fonts in large sizes as they can be difficult to read in small sizes.

Script

Font Types - Script

Script fonts generally use cursive letters and resemble the look of handwriting. They can be elegant and stylish, but also challenging to read. Script fonts are not appropriate for body copy or other large amounts of text since they are more difficult to read.

Popular Script Fonts:

Script

When to Use Script Fonts

Script fonts are ideal for logos and branding as well as with advertising, wedding invitations, packaging, labels, and other areas of short text. When you’re looking for some style and elegance, a script font could be the right choice.

Handwritten

Font Types - Handwritten

Handwritten fonts can be similar to script fonts, but there are a few distinctions. Most significantly, script fonts typically use cursive letters while handwritten fonts may or may not be in cursive.

Also, while script fonts resemble handwriting, they are not usually intended to completely replicate handwriting. Handwritten fonts are intended to look like the text was actually written by hand, rather than simply inspired by handwriting.

Like display fonts and script fonts, handwritten fonts will not be appropriate for body copy since they are much harder to read than serif or sans serif fonts.

Examples of Handwritten Fonts:

Handwritten

Blackletter

Font Types - Blackletter

The last of the font types that we’ll cover is blackletter or gothic. While blackletter fonts are not as commonly used as the other types of fonts today, they still serve a purpose in the right situation. They typically contain a combination of thick and thin strokes.

These fonts are based on medieval calligraphy and are very ornate. They are very difficult to read, so they’re only appropriate for single words or very short lengths of text.

Examples of Blackletter Fonts:

Blackletter

When to Use Blackletter Fonts

Blackletter fonts can be used for very short amounts of text when the design style calls for a medieval type of font. Blackletter fonts are often used in tattoo design and occasionally in logo design.

Final Thoughts

Choosing the right fonts is a critical part of the design process. By understanding the differences between the most common font types and when they should be used, you’ll be able to drastically improve the quality and effectiveness of your design.

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