You’re starting a project, and you want the design to look seamless down to the font choice.
And, maybe you’ve realized already that projects created with multiple fonts can both be visually appealing and help to differentiate your designs from others’.
However, using any font pairs at random may not be the best way to go about this. Even in the design world, there can be conflict; some fonts play nicely together, while other fonts should stay in separate rooms.
Luckily, there are some guidelines that outline which fonts work well together and which don’t!
In general, fonts pair well together when there’s a significant amount of contrast between the two – but we’ll talk more about this below.
Here are 11 tips to help you combine fonts that belong together.
1. Pair Two Fonts From the Same Font Family
If you want to make font-pairing easier on yourself, this is the way to go.
Font families (serif, sans-serif, cursive, fantasy and monospace) were created as a way to classify fonts that are meant to complement each other. Sticking with fonts from the same family not only helps you to narrow down your font choices, but also ensures you have a cohesive look across your work.
When you’re choosing a family (any fans of The Blind Side here?), make sure to look out for ones that have varying style options across fonts. Try to find a font family with a range of weights (light, bold) sizes, and cases (caps, lower, upper).
2. A chunky font pairs well with a skinnier one
As we mentioned above, fonts pair well together when there is a certain amount of contrast between them. Here, font weight (i.e. thickness or thinness of letters) is the point of contrast; stout, chunky fonts can often work well with taller, skinnier ones.
This is because it’s easy for onlookers to distinguish between the two fonts, and understand that each plays a different role in the document or project. Both carry their weight (see what we did there?) while serving different purposes – creating a complementary design overall.
3. Try tight kerning with looser kerning
Kerning, in design terms, refers to the spacing between characters in a font. This is another great way to differentiate sections of your text, creating a hierarchy between fonts and showing your readers that they are looking at two distinct parts of the document.
Be creative, but don’t be too creative – a large amount of text with really loose kerning, for example, may cause a reader to lose interest, while too much tight kerning could make the text look like it’s overstuffed.
Choosing font pairs that change up the spacing, on the other hand, will help balance out the piece.
4. Two fonts with complementary moods
While this is more of a subjective call, there is something pretty intuitive about the way fonts feel to us when we look at them. You know what reads as professional and what comes off as funky, or even just plain silly.
For example, the font you use for your son’s birthday party invitation – perhaps a rounded, bubbly typeface – is not going to have the same feeling as the one you use to head a business proposal.
As you think about pairing fonts, try to pick ones that have the same moods – they may look somewhat different from one another, but they are ultimately conveying the same message.
5. Use serif and sans serif together
Serifs, like Times New Roman, have decorative flourishes or “feet,” at the ends of many strokes. Sans serif fonts, such as Arial, comprise a typeface whose name literally means “without feet” – i.e. without these flourishes.
Pairing serifs and sans serifs is a classic and easy way to come up with a great design contrast – ideally at distinct sizes.
However, you’ll still want to make sure that the serif and sans serif pair you choose has different weights and overall styles, so that the fonts don’t come across as too similar (see Tip #8).
6. Try a traditional heading with a decorative body
It is easier to pair fonts when you first assign them different categories or roles, so that you can establish a sense of hierarchy between them.
Headings are usually meant to attract the most attention – often claiming the font with the largest size and the most weight. They also set the tone for your publication, as they are your readers’ first introduction to the document.
In this case, using a traditional font in your heading tells your readers they are to expect a more traditional or serious subject. Then, contrasting this with a decorative body text will create a visually appealing effect and move your readers’ eyes along.
7. Use a decorative heading with a more traditional body
This is similar in concept to the above tip, but in reverse! If you’re working on a more fun, festive or light project, a decorative heading will set that tone for your readers.
Again, changing up the font between headers and body text (this could also apply to size and bolding) creates the type of contrast that keep a document looking interesting.
Also, just a sub-tip: Decorative headings tend to work better with shorter headlines.
8. Don’t use fonts that are too similar
Contrast, contrast, contrast – this should generally be your focus when pairing fonts. This is one of the main reasons that serif and sans serif pair well together (see Tip #5) – the two font groups contrast.
If you’re unsure which elements you should be looking at when choosing font pairs, consider contrasting the following:
But, how do you know if your font pairs are “too similar”?
Well, if you can’t tell where one ends and one begins, you know that you’ve chosen incorrectly. Fonts that are too similar in style, weight and size will lose their roles in the text, because the reader won’t be able to differentiate between them easily.
And, the overall effect just isn’t pleasing to the eye.
9. Avoid pairing fonts that are too different
Fonts don’t need to be from the same city, but they do need to be from the same general design planet.
While contrast is certainly important (see, well, every Tip), too much difference causes discord between the two.
So how do you know which font pairs have the right amount of contrast, and which are so different from one another that they’re incompatible?
The easiest way to tell is with your naked eye – but, if you like to live by concrete rules, your best bet is to choose typefaces that have some elements in common and others that contrast.
This could mean picking two fonts that both have thin lettering, but differ in terms of their sizes, or choosing fonts with distinct weights but similar styles.
10. Three is key
Translation: Avoid clutter.
Limiting any work to three fonts is a general rule that many designers live by, because it helps to create a balanced, cohesive design.
And, while some would argue that rules are meant to be broken, only break this rule if you see good reason to – like a wedding invitation with several distinct parts, or for a project that’s meant to be particularly showy.
Take the time to think about the fonts you’re going to use together, and ask yourself why each font you’ve chosen benefits the overall design of the work. If you can’t convince yourself, you certainly won’t convince your audience!
11. Make sure they’re legible
Fonts are meant to enhance content. They make your text look visually pleasing, and ideally send some sort of message that encourages your audience to read what you have to say.
That said, if your readers can’t make out your text, they’re not going to spend a heck of a lot of time struggling to understand it.
Check how your font pairs measure up against the context in which they’re found – can you read the pair on a mobile screen? How do the fonts pair together in print?
Over to You
Now that you know how to pair fonts, it’s time to get started on your next project!