We know how typography can be a challenge to designers, especially those with less experience, or a natural taste for type (like type designers). So knowing how to font pair effectively can seem like a bit daunting. It takes time, it takes some hits and misses, and courage to tackle it straight on.
Even though there are no specific rules to follow, here are some guidelines that can help you master it and, hopefully, reduce the stress of it.
Actionable tips to font pair effectively
Keep your main goal in mind
The first thing with any project is to make sure you know everything about it. This includes content, context, and goals.
A good place to start is to write everything down, including where – printed, digital, or mixed – and how is it going to be seen – paper, outdoor, desktop, smartphone, or others.
On top of that, add, not only the tangible goals – how many people is it going to reach, how are they supposed to digest the information and what are they going to do with it – but also, the intangible part of it – should they feel surprised, curious, worried?
Choose the main typeface first
While keeping in mind the first step, you should now focus on defining the typeface for the biggest chunk of text – the body text.
Choosing this type first will help you achieve two things: 1) setting the tone for the piece aligned with its goals, content, and context, and 2) having a reference point to decide on the rest of the elements.
Do your research
At the time of choosing the typeface, consider researching it before making a decision.
Most typefaces were created to solve a specific problem, whether they are intended for display or optical purposes. You can achieve better results by understanding how they perform best.
If you can’t find direct information, try looking at its usage in similar contexts. See if it works and why.
Once you make your final decision, you can now choose between two paths. One is safer than the other, but both produce effective results.
One typeface, several weights
There’s nothing wrong with using the same font with different weights. Maybe you just need a light font version paired with a regular or bold contrast to make it work.
However, while it can serve its purpose, it won’t cause as big of an impact as going with different fonts.
Stay in the same family
While not being much of a risk ether, using type families can give that extra boost to your project.
Families can differ from only a few variations to superfamilies that include sans serif and serif versions, which is a lot to work with.
Opt for close similarities (historically or anatomically)
On the other hand, if you want to choose a second font, you can opt for two types from the same historical period.
As an alternative, you can also check for fonts with similar anatomy. A similar x-height will make the design flow better by giving it a vertical rhythm.
A third solution might be to choose fonts from the same type designer.
Or go for contrast
If none of the previous solutions appeal to you, try using contrasting fonts to your project stand out. That’s perfectly valid and fun!
However, keep in mind that if you go too overboard, and choose two very different fonts, they will compete for attention and make the design seem disconnected. So go crazy, but make sure only one of the fonts stands out.
Pay attention to Legibility
As we’ve seen in the research phase, fonts are created for different purposes. So to ensure legibility, you need to make sure you don’t deviate from that intent.
For instance, display fonts won’t work well on large pieces of text.
When in doubt, ask someone else to read your text and analyze their reaction.
Review your overall composition
This last step has more to do with the composition of your project, and less about font pairing effectively.
It’s a good practice to step back from your computer and evaluate density, balance, and harmony.
If necessary, to abstract you from being focused on the text, flip it horizontally, and see how it feels. Does it serve its purpose?
Lastly, whenever possible, take a break. Go for a walk or focus on something else for a while and then come back with fresher eyes and restored energy
Some tools to help you with font pairing
Here are some additional tools to help you font pair effectively with some of the tips we’ve discussed in this post.
Font Combinations by Canva
This tool will help you choose the perfect pair for your preferred font.
Font Pairing by Fontjoy
With Fontjoy, you can preview your text and be sure you’ve got the right combination.
If your choice relies on Google Fonts, than FontPair, is your best ally.
Fonts in Use
Need to see examples of a certain typeface in action before committing to it? Use Fonts in Use to search by topic, formats, or typefaces.