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Design Basics: Fonts & Type Tools

Updated on August 2, 2017
Lee Hansen profile image

Graphic designer, digital artist and paper crafter. See 1000s of unique designs on her web sites (see Profile page) or Zazzle (imagefactory)

Et Cetera ...

Stylized, modified Chopin Script Ampersand
Stylized, modified Chopin Script Ampersand | Source

Cool Typography: Fonts, Lettering, Typefaces for Web Design and Print

Do you love fonts and typefaces? I like to play with type and lettering - I love fonts, especially the public domain and shareware kind. Look good in print and on your blog or web page with nifty typefaces, and learn to avoid typography mistakes when designing your own web site, blog or printed materials.

In this fonts article you'll find the best typography web sites and tips for working with type. You'll also learn graphic designer tricks of the trade, and how to create cool word art using dingbat fonts and clip art or manipulated typeface characters.

Too many fonts make a project look like a ransom note. Unless that's your intention, limit your design to include 1 or 2 typefaces. When in doubt, use an attractive sans serif font for headings and chapters, and a serif face for the text or body type.

Copyright applies to fonts, just as it applies to all creative works. Designers work hard to make the typefaces we use. Always check Terms of Use for any free fonts you decide to use to be sure they're okay to use without license, attribution or payment.

Photo: Typographers E gauge, font specification and layout tool by jeltovski, morguefile.com

Fun with Fonts Letterforms - Visual Communication & Type as Art

Type and lettering are vital methods for us to communicate visually. Artful use of typography enhances the meaning of displayed text. Letterforms perceived as images attract the eye and are highly compelling; they're important for communication in all languages.

History is filled with examples of typographic embellishment or graffiti on every markable surface - from walls to books, buildings, flags, clothing, jewelry, handbills, print media and packaging.

It seems like everyone loves fonts - you can find thousands of examples online by surfing the web sea of personal pages, DIY web sites, blog posts, and banner maker font toys. You can select and use a typeface for a specific project, or add it to your word processing and graphics editor.

One of the first things people try their hand at with any publishing tool is to change the typeface to another size, another style, another color ... then they progress to warping, or flashing, or outlines and special effects: shadows, curves, stretching, skewing, adding pattern fills, 3-D, making word art and animation.

What is it about type that is so compelling and makes us want to play with letters? Who knows, but there are many places to find fonts and typography toys, so read on and have Fun with Fonts.

Font Foundation

My first contact with a computer was because of fonts. It was in 1979, and I was working as a typesetting operator on a CompuGraphic machine. I sometimes miss the days of when you could really work with fonts as you laid out a page, tweaking the ligatures, kerns and other typographical technical adjustments.

But on the other hand, it's a lot easier to change fonts using my PC than it was for me to open a lid of a machine the size of a small automobile to remove a film strip that's spinning on a drum at thousands of RPMs just to change the font for a single headline caption.

I do still tweak fonts when they become vector art. I convert characters or phrases to outlines then modify the shapes and ligatures in Adobe Illustrator, but that's a whole different story.

Just for fun: learn the correct name pronunciation for popular European type faces we all know, love and use for our design work including Bodoni, Univers, Kabel, Palatini and Bauhaus.

Typography & Design Books

Designing with Type, 5th Edition: The Essential Guide to Typography
Designing with Type, 5th Edition: The Essential Guide to Typography

This is the type book we used as a textbook in design school.

 

Font Basics - Serif / Sans Serif

Those little curly things on a font are called serifs.

A serif is a calligraphic or typographic characteristic of a letterform. They appear on letters and symbols in a complete font. They're small extra curls or embellishments added to the strokes of letters to distinguish them or make them artistically unique. If a font doesn't have serifs, it's classified as a "sans serif" typeface. The term sans comes from the French word meaning "without." Sometimes typographers identify or name a sans serif with the terms "Gothic" or "grotesque" and a serif face might be referenced as a "Roman" font.

  • Popular Sans Serif Typefaces - Arial is the most well known sans serif font on Windows computers, but there are many others that predate computer fonts that have been updated for desktop publishing use. This article lists 10 classics generally used as text or body fonts.
  • Classic Serif Type Faces - Linotype presents classic and favorite serif typefaces, including history for some fonts, sample usage for more than a dozen, and a good explanation of the types of serif found on various serif typefaces (bracketed, slab, hairline).
  • Wikipedia - Learn more about serif, sans serif, Roman, black, slanted, oblique and various fontographer terms.

Design for Communication: Conceptual Graphic Design Basics
Design for Communication: Conceptual Graphic Design Basics

So you want to be a graphic designer ... you need to understand how to communicate.

 
Fancy font word art sample
Fancy font word art sample

Cool Font Tools

Bend me, shape me, glitter me, convert me ...

Perfect for scrapbooking and journals, a handwriting font makes the page seem more personal. If you love the look of handwritten text, you can get handwritten style fonts and even make one in your own handwriting.

Font Tools and Toys - fonts, word art makers, warpers and more.

Create Your Own Cool Fonts with PhotoShop - learn to create custom fonts using the path tool

What the Font - put a name to a face when you know what it looks like but not the font name.

Drop Caps & Manuscript Initials - Illuminata and Attention Grabbers

Drop Caps are handy devices for guiding the reader to important information. You can create them with graphics, or with HTML, or with a desktop publishing program's typographic controls and features.

This drop cap example utilizes HTML style controls - check out the linked articles below to find out how to add this feature to your manuscript, blog or web page.

Stylized drop cap with quote by H G Wells
Stylized drop cap with quote by H G Wells | Source
tom7 Public Domain Dingbats
tom7 Public Domain Dingbats | Source

Doodle Fonts, Ding Bats, Glyphs, Symbols

Type a key, get a picture ...

Cool Dingbat Collection Font Paradise ding bats collections

Tom 7/Divide by Zero Hand drawn and grungy dingbat characters.

Deliahs Doodles from Fonts for Peas Happy little doodle characters and caricature fonts, free for personal use

Dinosaur Fonts - no, not old and obsolete fonts but picture fonts with dinosaur characters instead of letters!

 Dingbat Font Halloween Monsters
Dingbat Font Halloween Monsters

Typeface Identifiers - What Font is This?

Forget the name of the font? You can figure it out with this nifty tool.

Have you ever forgotten the name of a font or typeface you used to design a project or spruce up a written document? It's frustrating, and also very common - even for professional designers. Well, don't pull out all those catalogs and sample sheets, just use an online identification program to figure out that familiar face. MyFonts offers a free service to help you get reaquainted.

What the Font is a neat online tool that can help you figure out what font you used. You can upload an image to the database or specify an URL that has the font and you'll get assistance from the font detectives at What the Font, a service of Myfonts.com.

MyFonts also offers many helpful tips and guidelines for submitting a font for identification. The best samples to submit are scanned images with characters about 100 pixels in height on a horizontal baseline.


Word Art - Font Graphics - Calligraphy, too

When you're designing a special print or online piece, you may need an illustration that's made from cleverly designed letters or characters. This section will guide you to my favorite word art and calligraphy type links and free resources. You'll find images to snag and ideas that will inspire you to use type and fonts to make your own art.

Stylized Word Art

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mom Gothic typography and ribbon band in purple and redCinco de Mayo word art with specialty color fillAutumn Stylized Lettering with Fall Leaves Fill
Mom Gothic typography and ribbon band in purple and red
Mom Gothic typography and ribbon band in purple and red | Source
Cinco de Mayo word art with specialty color fill
Cinco de Mayo word art with specialty color fill | Source
Autumn Stylized Lettering with Fall Leaves Fill
Autumn Stylized Lettering with Fall Leaves Fill | Source

© 2008 Lee Hansen

What's Your Type? - Say hi, tell me about your font or design lens, suggest a link ...

Submit a Comment

  • Lee Hansen profile image
    Author

    Lee Hansen 3 years ago from Vermont

    Hi there - this 20th century art director and graphic designer used to love U&LC also. I have no idea if it's still in publication, though. Thanks for stopping by ...

  • chezchazz profile image

    Chazz 3 years ago from New York

    Great job! When my wife was an art director and graphic designer a few careers ago, she used to get this great newspaper publication about typography, called U&LC for Upper and lower case. Do you know if it still exists? Would love to subscribe again.

  • MC Productions profile image

    MC Productions 4 years ago

    You can't beat a bit of kinetic typography. Thanks for sharing this lens and specially the free fonts they sure going to be useful! :)

  • profile image

    anonymous 4 years ago

    Thanks for sharing !

  • Lee Hansen profile image
    Author

    Lee Hansen 4 years ago from Vermont

    @markkeeler: Hey Mark that's a new font to me. I'll check it out!

  • markkeeler profile image

    markkeeler 4 years ago

    My favorite font is Hand Of Sean. I like to use it on my blog headers. It's beautiful and elegant.

  • HomeDecorKnight profile image

    HomeDecorKnight 5 years ago

    Great resource of nice free fonts, Nice lens, Thanks for this.

  • craftycollector profile image

    craftycollector 5 years ago

    Extensive, informative lens, very useful. I'll be back time and time again.

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    WOW, very useful info.

    I'm a graphic designer and sure love typography and it's always nice to keep the brain working and the info fresh about it. thanks

  • J-Nevil LM profile image

    J-Nevil LM 5 years ago

    Excellent lens, thanks!

  • radabad profile image

    radabad 5 years ago

    Great lens! Thanks for sharing!

  • Dimplefree profile image

    Dimplefree 5 years ago

    I love fonts, thanks for this lens

  • profile image

    chramakrishna 5 years ago

    dafont.com is nice with huge collection

  • profile image

    SDadmin 5 years ago

    nice to stay updated!

  • profile image

    undeadllama 5 years ago

    Holy crap! I hit the mother load!

    Excellent information. Thanks for collecting it up in one place.

  • ggalea profile image

    Gilberto Galea 5 years ago from Willemstad

    Wow!, is a great lens. Lot of info about types. Very useful for me.

    Thanks by share,

  • profile image

    anonymous 5 years ago

    Outstanding lens! I know I'll be visiting a few of those sites. Thank you.

  • Johanna Eisler profile image

    Johanna Eisler 5 years ago

    An absolute treasure trove! I'm in heaven!

  • profile image

    anonymous 6 years ago

    awesome resources thanks will check out this one above, blessed

  • profile image

    SuneXtra 6 years ago

    Double thumbs up (if I could)! lol

  • Diana Wenzel profile image

    Renaissance Woman 6 years ago from Colorado

    Fonts have beguiled me since childhood. And then, upon getting my first Mac back in the 80s, fonts became a full-blown love affair. Thanks for these great resources. Appreciated!

  • THNeto profile image

    THNeto 6 years ago

    Love your lens - inspiring (heading out to some of your links) & fun!

  • profile image

    ledouxrt 6 years ago

    I failed the quiz :(

  • Tagsforkids profile image

    Tagsforkids 6 years ago

    Passing back through again. My wife accuses me of having a font fetish! By the way, I do know what a typesetter is...but then again I'm a bit beyond 35! :-)

  • robinrags profile image

    robinrags 6 years ago

    Nice lens - I've bookmarked this so I can find these great fonts as I need them ... thanks!

  • profile image

    Donnette Davis 6 years ago from South Africa

    Apparently I cannot get enough of your lenses.. again outstanding, thank you.

  • profile image

    anonymous 6 years ago

    Great lens, even if I did completely fail at the quiz

  • BozMatthews profile image

    BozMatthews 6 years ago

    Awesome resource! Love the collection of free font sites.

  • profile image

    LensSeller 6 years ago

    Fascinating! I loved reading this lens even if I bombed at the quiz! My favourite part has to be the wordle section - that's going to be a bag of fun I just know it :-)

  • profile image

    jseven lm 6 years ago

    I love the script and kid fonts, thanks for the cool lens!

  • profile image

    anonymous 6 years ago

    Most excellent work. Thank You!

  • Fignewton37 profile image

    Fignewton37 6 years ago

    Great lens. You have put in a lot of hard work. I have been looking for sites to help me improve my lenses and you have a nice, informative tutorial. BTW I know what a typesetter does. I worked for a number of years as an editor at various newspapers. Thanks again.

  • UKGhostwriter profile image

    UKGhostwriter 6 years ago

    Excellent lens!

  • profile image

    mockingbird999 6 years ago

    I love the font mug. It's cute.

  • TapIn2U profile image

    TapIn2U 6 years ago

    What makes a brilliant message really stand out? Beautiful fonts! I love the creativity and usefulness of this lens! Finally, something to help me with my writing. Great job! Sundae :)

  • EdTecher profile image

    Heidi Reina 6 years ago from USA

    Great videos and font collections. Blessed by a Squid angel ~

  • profile image

    anonymous 6 years ago

    There was a time in my life when I spent w-a-a-a-a-y too much time messing around with fonts. Since I have begun writing professionally, I normally stick to just one or two typefaces. Sometimes I will use drop caps, but not often. Very nice article; I LOVE the videos.

  • PromptWriter profile image

    Moe Wood 6 years ago from Eastern Ontario

    So addicting. Why is that?

  • profile image

    AmbrosiaPopsicle 7 years ago

    I use fonts heavily and I love the near limitless varieties and designs one can make or discover. Thank you for this informative article!

  • profile image

    WriterBuzz 7 years ago

    Very nice lens. Thanks. I gave you a thumbs up, because it's a nice lense.

  • profile image

    ssomu007 7 years ago

    Thanks for info. I like beautiful fonts. it make the letter looks finer.

  • girlfriendfactory profile image

    girlfriendfactory 7 years ago

    Lee ~ I love fonts and long ago I had no idea that they were licensed...now I do, so I tend to avoid the "free" sites because many times you will find fonts on them that shouldn't be there. Plus, I need to be able to use them commercially and only a few people will license free fonts for commercial use (but I have found some and you have one on your list). My favorite place to go is MyFonts because you have to register before you can download anything, even the free ones (and they have quite a few). The other thing about it is that the font owner or foundry must be the one to post the fonts with them since they also do sales and the owners get paid. Often they have great sales and I've even bought a few fonts. For people who use fonts for personal reasons, the repercussions aren't as steep if they're not legitimately free, but for those of us who need them commercially, it is. Great job!

  • profile image

    anonymous 7 years ago

    Hi,Thanks for the great lens to share with us.I like this lens and I ll share this lens with my all friends so that they can also read this lens.Now our Best Website Designers team connect with your lens.More power!

  • profile image

    anonymous 7 years ago

    this is really cool! and very reliable. as a part of Las Vegas Web Design, i really appreciate this..

  • profile image

    anonymous 7 years ago

    Hi nice to meet you

  • Lee Hansen profile image
    Author

    Lee Hansen 8 years ago from Vermont

    Julie - great question. You can use WTF - What the Font to figure out typefaces from any image sample or URL. I've just added this resource to the lens. Thanks for asking!

  • profile image

    julieannbrady 8 years ago

    Lee -- is there some type of tool to be able to identify what a font is? I've sometimes done a design with a particular font, but then can't remember which font it is!

  • profile image

    enslavedbyfaeries 8 years ago

    This is a very helpful resource! Adding to my faves for future use because I am always looking for fun new fonts for school projects and scrapbooking. :)

  • profile image

    ThomasC 8 years ago

    A great lens! I found some new fonts to use! Thank you and keep up the great work! Angel blessing for you!

    ThomasC

  • profile image

    Aika 8 years ago

    Very interesting. I have only a few font style, definitely I'll downloads some of these.

  • profile image

    GrowWear 8 years ago

    Thank you for this great font resource! I love typography! 5*Fave and a Tweet. :)

  • Signhappy profile image

    Signhappy 9 years ago

    Another great resource. Thanks for again pulling so much useful information into one spot. 5 Stars!!

  • profile image

    anonymous 9 years ago

    Hi! Very informative lens about fonts. I shined your stars up. Good luck to you!

    Thom

    Blue-ray Players

  • profile image

    julieannbrady 9 years ago

    Gosh, I think you are reading my mind! I was looking for some free font downloads last week or the week before and here I find your cool lens. Favoriting it so I can check back. 5*****

  • Music-Resource profile image

    Music-Resource 9 years ago

    Hi Pastiche: Nice Free Fonts lens :) ~Music Resource~

  • SusanDeppner profile image

    Susan Deppner 9 years ago from Arkansas USA

    Ooh, fun fonts! Great job!

  • Teddi14 LM profile image

    Teddi14 LM 9 years ago

    Nice lens. I love different types of fonts. Great links here! 5 *'s !!!!