Get Noticed for Your Font Expertise

This Font Knowledge article series discusses how font awareness can increase revenue and involve your print company earlier in the project development cycle.

This is the fourth and final article in a series about the role of fonts and typography in the printing industry.  In previous articles, we provided some history on where fonts came from, the various categories of fonts, and how font choice influences readers.

In a world where anyone can get the tools to be a typographer, having the expertise to select and combine the right fonts lets you make the right impression.  Doing this expertly and effortlessly will make marketers and other customers take notice. 

We’re going to conclude our series by talking about font expertise.  What does it take to be an expert on typography, typefaces and fonts?

Fonts are Part of the Field of Visual Communication

Fonts are part of the field of visual communication.  The area includes all of the ways we convey ideas and meaning to others through their sense of sight.
 
It's a broad subject, but what concerns us here are the specialties of type design and typography.  Not everyone distinguishes between those two crafts. 

Typography is the art and craft of arranging type.  Most type designers specialize solely in creating new typefaces and fonts.  A great book on this topic is Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton.

A few do it along with selecting font sizes, line lengths and layouts for specific pages and publications, but this is more the role of a generalist typographer.  Similarly, a few typographers will occasionally take the time to design a custom font for a client or to fill a niche they’ve uncovered.

Typography Has Its Own Language

Designing fonts requires several skills.  Like every occupation, typography has its own language. 

Typographers discuss things like the baseline (the line on which they align the base of each character), the x-height (the distance from the baseline to the top of a lower case x in a typeface), the cap height (the length from the baseline to the top of the characters) and many more.

It’s one thing to know the broad groups of fonts, like humanist, transitional and modern, but it’s quite another thing to be conversant with the above details in dozens of individual typefaces and know them by name.
 
Just as wine stewards at fine restaurants know their cellar and precisely which bottles pair with each menu item, typographers have a repertoire of fonts to align with any message and access to sources where they can quickly find more.

Choose Fonts That Complement Existing Brand Assets

Typographers will look at existing brand graphics, such as logos and wordmarks.  They choose fonts that complement those existing brand assets. 

We discussed the case of Coca-Cola in our previous article.  Their wordmark was more than a century old, yet only recently have they adopted a custom typeface for all of their ad copy to complement it appropriately.

Amateur typographers tend to make one of two mistakes.  The more cautious ones have just one or two “go-to” fonts and are under the impression that it’s “incorrect” to use more than one font on a page.  There’s a great primer on typography principles for beginners at Freelancer.com.

The more creative amateurs get caught up in the freedom of choice we now have.  They tend to use far too many fonts with no structure behind their decisions.

Most Professional Typographers Will Combine Two or Three Fonts

Most professional typographers will combine two or three fonts on a page.  They do this by identifying hierarchies in the ways that writers organize their ideas.  They’ll locate the title and any subtitles within the work.

Then, they'll set up headings and subheadings to structure the layout of the text. They'll call the levels in their hierarchy Heading 1, Heading 2, and so on. That's why vendors set up word processors and HTML editors with numbered heading options.

Typically, they'll use one font family for the headings and a different font for the paragraphs.  Designers intend some fonts for use as headings only.

Choose a Heading Font that Contrasts and Yet Complements

The art in choosing heading fonts is to choose something that contrasts and yet complements the font used in the paragraphs.  Just as there are complementary colors, there are complementary typefaces.  Typographers know the rules around combining fonts, when to follow them and when to break them creatively.

Font choice supports page layout in other ways.  Typographers may adjust the spaces between specific pairs of letters.  They call this technique kerning. Quality fonts come optimally kerned from their type designer, so graphic designers do this with a light touch.  Even so, page layout applications include a kerning feature.

Graphic designers know when to use metric or optical kerning to make the text less awkward looking. They're most likely to do this if they've foisted unusual font sizes onto documents.

Graphic design also looks at how much space to leave between the baselines of the typeface.  They call this technique leading because typesetters used to insert bits of lead between rows as spacers. The rule of thumb is to space lines at about 120%.  The most common example is that a row of ten-point type gets a standard spacing of 12 points.

Designers can make the text look busy and dense by reducing the line spacing or open and light by increasing it. Some fonts lend themselves to a compact page, and others don't.

The Trend Today is Toward a Denser Look and Feel

The fashion used to be to leave plenty of white space.  The trend today is toward a denser look and feel with tighter lines condensed onto the page.

Typographers also take advantage of alignment options for the text.  Text can be centered, justified, flush left or flush right.  Amateur typographers tend to center everything or set everything to "justified."

Skilled designers know when to take advantage of all four settings, even on a single page. An apt font choice can emphasize a deliberate "ragged right" or "ragged left" alignment.

Another way that designers manage the structure of the text on the page is with captions.  These can provide road signs within the layout and facilitate skimming to locate specific paragraphs. Typographers can make innovative font choices with their captions, making them stand out from the body text without clashing with it.

When we find a picture that we cherish, we will take great care to get it properly framed.  Often, we will pay an expert to frame it for us.

The philosopher Derrida took an interest in frames. He said that, in our culture, frames seem to be separate from the work and yet necessary to make the work stand out from everyday things.  The frame gives the work identity.

Use the Typeface and the Layout Grid to Frame a Text Appropriately

In the same way, typographers use the typeface and the layout grid of a text to frame it appropriately. The framing entails how the font presents the characters and how the layout sets out the paragraphs.

Today’s online design tools make it easy to freely mix and match fonts, lines, columns, blocks of text, photographs and illustrations within the frame of a modular page grid.  Font choices, and effective font combinations, need to support the way designers take liberties with this new convenience.

As you can see, there’s more to the typographer’s craft than meets the eye.  With today’s online design tools, graphic design is much more versatile and freeform than ever before.  Printers need to offer typography and fonts that support this new normal.

That’s where Dr. FontZ and his COPI Font Team come in. They assist printers and mailers in providing the best in font technology for high-volume production environments. You can learn more at their website

We hope you’ve enjoyed this series of articles on fonts and that you’ll be able to find ways to apply what you’ve learned to drive your business forward.  We appreciate your attention.  Good luck!

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