Type pairing can be daunting for the beginner and seasoned designer alike. The relationships between fonts often seem abstract and hard to grasp. In this post I will give you four different pairing techniques that you can use right away. With these techniques in your repertoire you will approach typographical conundrums with confidence!
Font or Typeface?
Before I start I will give a quick explanation of the difference between a font and a typeface so that the rest of this post is more easily understood. A typeface is a design created by a typographer, and includes all the type of that particular design. Helvetica is a typeface. A font is a single weight, width, and style of a typeface. 12pt Helvetica Bold Condensed is a font. So the fonts are a subset within the typeface.
This font pairing is easiest when you use two different weights of the same typeface. This is a very natural pairing technique that is used by designers everywhere. It’s easy to achieve and takes almost no thought, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Almost everyone has paired a bold header with regular body text, but not everyone has smashed bold and thin fonts together within a single word.
You can also use bold to distinguish particular words in a paragraph in order to write two messages at once.
Thick/Thin is a good place to start for those who aren’t confident in their font pairing abilities but it’s also a solid technique that the pros use every day.
2. Huge & Light/Small & Dense
I think of this pairing as an extension of the Thick/Thin pairing. It’s like taking Thick/Thin and turning it up to ELEVEN! I find that this technique is most pleasing when you have one word (usually a short one) set in a super thin weight of a typeface at a huge font size, paired with another word (usually a long one) set in a fairly thick weight of a typeface at a small font size. You can use the same typeface for this technique but I usually try to use two different typefaces that share similar characteristics.
Isn’t that cool?
3. Curvy/ Geometric
This technique can be a little difficult to pull off but the rewards of a successful Curvy/Geometric pairing are great. First, find a handwritten or cursive typeface that you like. Don’t be shy – I find that the curvier the first typeface the better the contrast overall.
Then, find a fairly geometric typeface. Most geometric faces are sharp and modern looking with perfect circles for O’s. I often use Helvetica as well, thought it isn’t technically a “geometric” typeface. You’re just looking for a typeface that intimates modernity and precision. I think this pairing is even more striking if the second typeface is sans serif.
Once you have your two typefaces you will most likely have to play with their weights, sizes and the overall spacing (leading and kerning) quite a bit before you find your perfect fit. I find that making the curvy font a bit bigger than the geometric font works best, but try anything and everything.
4. Friendly/ Severe
This last pairing technique is a little abstract and can be harder to recognize. First let us define ‘friendly.’ A friendly typeface is one which feels light and approachable. Often it will have soft and swooping curves, and big interior spaces which give it an airy feeling. Also, typefaces with rounded ends feel friendlier than those with sharp ends. Omnes is a pretty friendly typeface.
What I consider a ‘severe’ typeface is one which is feels angular, highly structured and mechanical. Titling Gothic is a severe typeface.
When these two types of type are mixed interesting things can happen. There is often an ephemeral contrast that is hits you emotionally but often not consciously. This is especially true if the two fonts used are different in ‘attitude’ but similar in other ways.
Go Off and Pair Type!
So those are the four techniques for perfect type pairing. The Thick/Thin pairing is a good starting point, which leads naturally to the Huge & Light/Small & Dense pairing. The Curvy/Geometric pairing can be more of an art than a science, and the Friendly/Severe pairing may be a bit abstract but can make a huge emotional impact. A fun way to learn more about type pairing is by playing Type Connection: A Typographical Dating Game: http://www.typeconnection.com/
I hope you liked this post. Please feel free to share your experiences with font pairings in the comments section.