The 5 Main Type Fonts and What to Do with Them!

12 August 2019

The 5 Main Type Fonts and What to Do with Them!

Typography plays a very important role in branding and everyday life – a simple font can possess a semantic memory which can influence our emotions. Here is why it is so important to be strategic when choosing the correct font for your next design project. 

Origins of typography

Typography is as old as the first scratches and marks on cave walls. Looked at with a certain eye, those marks begin to show some pattern from cave to cave indicating there might be some communication at work.

Eventually, folks were trading and traveling. They needed records and started developing standardized systems we now call “language.” By 3100 B.C.E., residents of the Nile River region from Nubia north to the Mediterranean had developed hieroglyphics, a consistent use of symbols still apparent in ancient architecture and records.

By 1600 B.C.E., North African Phoenicians and their navies were spreading their “new” idea—a system of symbols representing the spoken word. Those symbols (letters and numbers) were linked together to form words, and connected words formed sentences.

The Greeks embraced the system, spread it to Rome, and successive empires spread it east and west. Each culture finessed the symbols and revised the system to reflect their specific languages.

Technology and typography

Type has always been a product of imagination and technology. The first “styles” depended on chisels and hammers. Sumerians would introduce the stylus and wax pad—the first “Etch-A-sketch.”
Romans created capital letters; their tools committed to upper case with no punctuation. As human ideas became more complex, they turned to scriptures prepared by calligraphers, individualized, ornate, and graceful texts created in pen and ink valued by developing libraries, monasteries, and universities.

Calligraphic skills spread, and people used them to record lessons, bureaucratic transactions, and private correspondence. And, then, machines took over.

Printing technology

Johannes Guttenberg usually gets credit for introducing moveable type and the printing press at the peak of the 15th-century. It first served its paying customers: organized religions from Rome to Germany, new empires spread by Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal, and developing economic and trade demands.

Typeset relied on individual lead pieces arrange in series left to right (by European standards). Inked with rollers, the set up pressed against paper. Guttenberg would improve the system with some automation to expedite the process to print multiple copies.

Using lead, the crafters could create a wide variety of forms and faces. They learned to kern or space between the letters and lines to improve readability, create visual interest, and/or introduce illustrations, designs, maps, and more.

The late 19th-century saw the invention of the typewriter which homogenized typestyles with a universal keyboard. It also introduced the linotype which allowed typists to create text on strips of metal to print complete lines. This did not discourage the 0[-creation of new type designs used heavily in book publishing.
And, the invention and spread of computer software technology have made font use and choices available to the masses. Any individual user has access to thousands of type fonts, sizes, and effects.

The history all leads up to challenging decisions for designers and clients. Because fonts deliver messages and moods simultaneously, it’s important to choose well when creating your logotype.
Making it easier for you!
Almost all type fonts fall into one of five categories. Each category has characteristics. And, each has room for the introduction of even more designs. If you can wrap your brain around these five types of fonts, you are better prepared to talk things over with your designer.

You probably remember that lined paper you used in the first grades of elementary school. You learned to print letter and numbers and maybe you learned cursive. They told you to write on the straight baseline. Anything that went below the line is a descender like the tail on “y” or “q.” Some letters extend above the ascender line like “h” or “d” and upper-case letters. In addition, to the ascenders and descenders, letters have weight, the thickness of the shape.

The difference between fonts and a typefaces:

The many different font fall under categories which are called Typefaces. The most common example of this would be a Serif is a typeface, and Times New Roman is the font which is part of the Serif family.


5 categories of type fonts:

#1 - Serif Fonts

Times New Roman has been one of the most commonly used fonts. It mimics the Roman lettering of old. The Romans were left to use chisels to form their letters, and they did so with little flairs, feet, or brushstrokes at the top and bottom of their forms. If you look at the “T” and “N” in the preceding sample, you should see the tiny extensions. If you look at the lower case “m” and “n,” you see the little feet.

Readers are used to serif fonts. For a generation, MS Word defaulted to Times New Roman. And, it has become the font of record on legal documents, newspapers, and magazines of choice.
Other serif fonts include those shown here: Century Gothic, Bookman Old Style, Garamond, and many more. It’s a plus when the typestyles are readily recognizable and classic. It’s a minus when you need something bolder and original.

#2 - Slab serif fonts

Clarendon is a modern tweak on serif fonts. The feet are more pronounced and sometimes vertical than classic serif fonts. They are bolder and make bigger statements on signs and sales materials. Slab serif fonts continue the vintage feel of their ancestors, but their weight makes them more engaging and easier to read from afar. Other slab serif fonts include many in development like Andada, Bullpen, Chelsea, and Typodermic. lab fonts do not appear in typical printing. They are bold, trendy, and aggressive and found mostly in logos, signage, headlines, or anywhere you want attention. Slab serif fonts are modern enough to be unique, so readers won’t find them dull or unimaginative.

#3 - Sans serif fonts

Calibri is a very common sans serif font. Sans serifs are without (sans) those little feet, and they pretty much rule modern typography. They came into their own during the age of Art Nouveau and Art Deco, the great architecture of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright, the artworks of Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. There was an emphasis on lines and geometrics and a rejection of things Renaissance and Classic.

Sans serifs are fonts that lack the little serif feet. They started popping up in the mid-19th century but truly hit the big time in what’s known as the “Modern” era, in the twenties and thirties. They were considered new and flashy, like shorter skirts and the Charleston dance craze. (Fun fact: you will still see sans serifs with the word “grotesque” in their name owing to people thinking they were crass and only good for advertising.) In the mid-century German designers ran away with the footless forms and created some of the fonts that remain popular and iconic to this day, like Futura and Helvetica.

Sans serifs are still considered the most economical, efficient, clean and modern choice. They are also readable at a large range of sizes and their less-detailed shapes have lent themselves incredibly well to digital screens. Sans serifs are bold and a little bossy—while they work well for long paragraphs text they have always shone in larger uses like headlines and logos.
Sans serifs appear clean and efficient. They seem “modern” because they are so commonly used. They are almost everywhere you look. More importantly, they lend themselves to the technology of digital printing. Other popular sans serif fonts are Arial, Helvetica, and Tahoma.

Readers move more quickly through sans serif fonts because there are no little feet to slow the eye. However, tests also indicate reading fast produces less memory retention. And, adjusting font weights affect the tone with thicker sans serif being tough and assertive and thinner san serif looking more delicate and graceful.

#4 - Script fonts

Marketing Script is a script font, not something you should confuse with Italics. Italics simply slant the type font, but script fonts imitate cursive writing styles. Marketing Script is one of the handwritten fonts trying to duplicate human script. They seek to imitate the flow and natural movements of handwriting. They are sans serif but difficult to create in software.

  • Formal scripts mimic classic and courtly handwriting, the sort you see on wedding invitations. They have serifs, swirls, flourishes, and the fancy elegance you might attribute to mannerly correspondence. Edwardian Script, Freestyle Script, and are used for different occasions and different purposes. They have enough flourish and style to catch attention, but their touches of romance and history do not fit with many contemporary products and services.
  • Casual script fonts are less delicate with fewer swashes, swirls, and curlicues. You’ll such type on signs, logos, menus, and websites because they have a modern flair to the classy calligraphy. You might check casual script fonts like Brush Script MT, Oleo Script, and Quintessential Regular. They are new and unique enough to make your text stand out. The handwriting script effect only works with full words, not compressed letters in logos. Other handwritten script fonts include Bradley Hand IT and Lucinda Handwriting. Other scripts are erratic and uneven just like humans write. They can be used to suggest fun and spirit but are not always easily read.

#5 - Decorative styles

Decorative type styles are rarely used in blocks of copy or full paragraphs. Often individually constructed, these fonts will be found on signs, in headlines, and on anything needing strong engagement like menus, posters, or flyers. They may induce or evoke imagination, moods, and motivation.

Decorative styles challenge the status quo to surprise and jar the eye. They may remind you of a past era or launch you into a future context. And, they can be seasonal, regional, or ethnic. The downside is that they are temporary in appeal. MS Word includes some decorative fonts like Algerian. Broadway, and Goudy Stout.

Some final tips:

Ask about the time –

Most type fonts connect to some historical or social memory. They can be pretty universal, timeless even, but if that era doesn’t suit your image, you should look for something else. It’s also true that choosing something very contemporary can get old. So, you must consider how appropriate the font is to your organization’s message and purpose.

Remember, it’s not all about print –

A good logo works in every medium. It will appear on office paperwork, letterhead and envelops, labels and stamps, brochures and slide presentations, and so on. It must work well across the board.

It must also work well on computer screens. It will be on your website, laptop, smartphone, tablet, and more. It must be as effective online as it is offline.
And, it must work with the audience. Sometimes, your opinion is less important. You need the type font to engage your targeted market. You must consider their context, their needs, and their tastes.

Mix them up –

There’s absolutely no reason not to mix and pair type fonts. Some fonts appear markedly different in upper case, lower case, bold, and italics. You might lead a word with a decorative upper-case letter like hand-drawn medieval manuscripts. It’s a challenge to pair the right elements, but that’s why you need help.

You can suggest using complementary fonts from the five font families explained here. A headline in a heavier weight and larger type size with subheads in lighter weights and smaller size. Or, you may choose headlines in one font category and the following text in a different category but related style. For example, with enough research, you can see similarities between some serif and non-serif fonts. But these judgments need professional input.

When you need help?

It may be a generalization, but few business owners are positioned to prepare their own logo and branding image without help from an expert. Even those of you are creative and artistically-minded may not have enough perspective on your own work.

You may, however, be positioned to study what your competitors are doing. You are well-positioned to spot those competitors whom you want to beat and those whom you want to be like. This narrows down the world you want to enter. But you need the expert help to stand out in that competitive environment.

Hexi Design reaches those experts!

Hexi Design's platform allows you to post a brief with the specifications you have in mind. Within hours our pool of designers will start creating solutions to meet your expectations.

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