How to Choose Fonts for the Right Mood
Tips for Choosing a Font
I had never thought about it before, but there are so many fonts to choose from because each one conveys a mood and emotion. The problem is finding the right font for just the right mood you want to portray. This isn’t an easy job, believe me. The important thing to remember is that there is no cut and dry method to picking just the right font. Sometimes you just have to try a few to see if it will fit with your design and message.
You have to choose a font that is first, readable. The message is the most important thing or you wouldn’t be bothering typing a word in the first place. Therefore if you choose a font that is difficult to decipher, the audience will not bother to read it. Second is picking a font that fits the overall design. It won’t do to choose Bleeding Cowboy font to go for something romantic. Also the font needs to fit the message. A serious message doesn’t call for a playful typeface.
Serif vs San Serif
If you don’t know much about fonts, the very first thing to think about is Serif and San Serif. The Serif fonts have “feet” and other accents that make it look rather Roman. Most book type and newsprint is Serif.
San Serif has none of the feet and other accents. San literally means “without,” so it is without Serif. San Serif is used for more modern, no nonsense types of messages. It works great for advertisement and posters because of its readability and simplicity.
Serif and San Serif
Feelings and Mood
Notice the sample Serif and San Serif texts. They are both varied and individual but in small subtle ways. Some have the ‘a’s in round handwriting type and others have the traditional Roman a, with a little tail. Some have squished o’s and others have perfectly round o’s. Choosing the basic text font is a matter of personal preference.
Each font gives the added difference of subtle mood as well. The Serif round bookish fonts give you the feeling of a children’s storytime. The San Serif round fonts give the feeling of freedom, taking lots of space and even a little childish playfulness. The more squeezed concise Serifs seem serious to me and the more squeezed San Serif seem to feel tall and thin like a fairy tale beanstalk. I use the San Serif Chalkboard for children’s writing. It even looks a little like crayon when colored text is used.
There are several italic San Serif fonts that give an elegant romantic feel, great for wedding announcements or Valentine’s Day cards. Other San Serif italics like Apple Chancery are less romantic but have a feminine feel. After a while you get a sense of the feeling each font evokes, but at first I know I was so confused, I couldn’t figure out what the professor of the class was trying to tell me. They all looked alike to me. Remember that these fonts ARE similar, but the variations are small and subtle and you need to look for them.
When choosing a font for advertising you need to think about the firm as well as the mood. With the Financial Advisors logo I created, the first one is fine. It has a good bold feel but the rounded edges give it a more playful feel, almost laid back. Not really the mood you want for a Financial Advisor. The second one is much more sharp at the edges as well and firm in all the lines and corners. This gives a firm and sharp feel to the financial institution also.
Pairing and Decorative Headline Fonts
There are so many new decorative fonts being created every day it seems to me. Some are great but not very readable. Again it goes back to trying them out to see if you can read it easily and if it fits your design and mood.
Most posters, websites, magazine pages, etc., have more than one font style. Pairing two or three fonts, one for the body of the text and one for the headline and subhead is standard practice. This allows for serious text (Serif) along with a more playful headline (San Serif decorative). This is where all the creativity can come into play.
I will sometimes take two fonts and pair them in the same word. Using a really flowery, flowing capital letter from one font and a more script-like font for the rest of the word. These are fun for headlines and greeting cards. On the word Simplicity, I used the S from Taggettes Plus and the rest of the word from Taggettes Regular. On top of that, I didn’t like the way the t and y join, so I typed the y separately and moved it into the place I wanted it to join.
Does choosing Fonts make you confused so that you go back to the default fonts?
Ascenders and Decenders
How it feels to be Dyslexic
Ascenders and Descenders
These are the parts of lower case letters that extend above (in ascenders) the x-height, or below (in descenders) the baseline of the type. Ascenders include b, d, f, l and t. Descenders include q, p, g, and y. These are important to keep in mind because line spacing or “leading” keeps these apart for ease in reading, but when you want to get creative with lettering, you may want to decrease the leading. This means the ascenders and descenders could overlap and crash into each other, making it harder to read the text. I have seen cases where this is exactly what you want. The most intriguing poster was created for people to understand what it was like for people with reading disabilities like dyslexia by decreasing the leading so all the text crowded each other. It was indeed difficult to read for a good reason.
Kerning and Tracking
Kerning is the term used for selective letter spacing. Certain letter combinations would work better if the spacing were less than other letters. AW is a letter combination that can be squeezed a little closer together without any loss of readability. Letters like ili can be closer together also. Letters like aobq and all similar round letters need their space to keep readability. Tracking is different from Kerning in that is tracking spacing in entire blocks of text rather than just certain letters. Tracking can be applied to all the text or selected portions to make it fit into a block better.
With the sample I typed the headline with Cooper Std Black Font. In the second one I typed the greater part of the words with Cooper Std Black Font but used Herculanum Regular for the capitals and &. Having two fonts helps with the Kerning. I can move them close together.
Caps vs. Mixed Case
Studies have shown that mixed upper case and lower case are easier to read than ALL caps, especially when you are in a hurry, as in billboards on the freeway. This doesn’t stop people from using all caps in posters and advertising. The reason is probably because with all caps you don’t have to worry about ascenders and descenders in certain letters. All the letters in caps line up fairly smoothly, with the exception of Q. Still if it cannot be read as well as mixed case, there is that.
In my sample, I used Hoefler Text Ornaments and Orial Bold for the capital letter with Lucida Handwriting Italic for the rest of the word.
Masculine vs. Feminine
So it isn’t exactly “sugar and spice and everything nice” vs. “frogs and snails and puppy dog’s tails,” but it’s close. A masculine font would be sharper and grungier, vs. feminine softer and rounder. Masculine would have a rugged, even Western feel, whereas feminine would have a flowery, homey feel. I have found a few examples to show the difference. What you want to think about when choosing these fonts is your audience. Are you trying to appeal to men or women? With that in mind, choosing should be easier.
There are several things that most graphic designers are told not to do. These are not hard and fast rules never to be broken. However it is wise to consider them.
- Don’t use too much drop shadow for long lines of text. The drop shadow will fill in the holes and curls of the letters and make the text more difficult to read.
- Don’t use too much stroke. For the same reason as the drop shadow, it is often overdone in the name of artistic layout. But the larger the stroke, the more it fills in holes and curls in the letters and again, makes it more difficult for the audience to read.
- Don’t make vertical text. It seems artistic but again, most people have to struggle to read vertical text. The rule of thumb should be that if it is a struggle for you to read it, you can be sure the average person won’t bother trying.
- Don’t overcrowd the leading (spaces between lines of text) and kerning or tracking (spaces between letters). When the spaces between letters and words are reduced too far, the ascenders (letters like b, d, f, and t) and descenders (letters like p, q, and y) begin to overlap and readability suffers.
- Don’t use more than 3 fonts on the same page or site. It starts to look crowded or haphazard when too many unrelated fonts are crowded together screaming for attention. This is only a suggestion. There are a few instances where 4 fonts are called for, but precious few. I would avoid it if possible.
- Don’t use Comic Sans. When my graphic design instructor said this I thought he was joking. But he failed anyone using Comic Sans in his class. The reason for this is because he said for the past 15 years Comic Sans has been overused. Perhaps in 15 to 20 years when it is avoided for a while, it will again come back into vogue. Since this is only a suggestion, I’m sure you may find just the place where this font is called for, but look at others first to see if something else may work better.
- Don’t disobey the rules of Hierarchy. This means the biggest words are the most important. They are usually at the top because they are meant to be read first. However this rule can be broken when, as in advertising, the words like 50% OFF in the middle of a sentence are meant to be most important for the customer to know, making them bigger.
You can get many free Fonts to use at a variety of different sites. I like DaFont. Once I have downloaded a font that I love, I have to first load it into Photoshop or any of my other programs to use it.
In my Mac I have a Font Book under Applications that will allow all my programs from Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to Microsoft Word to use the same fonts. I go to Applications and find Font Book. Double clicking will open the Font Book and I can then drag and drop the new font directly into the Font Book. It can then be used in Photoshop and all my other programs.
I don’t claim to be an expert but I did take some classes and learned a couple of things. I hope these tips are helpful to anyone confused about fonts and typography. If I got anything wrong or you disagree with anything I have said here, I encourage dialog. I would love to hear what you think about this and any helpful hints would be most welcome.