29 Principles for Making Great Font Combinations

This post, from Douglas Bonneville, originally appeared on the bonfx site on 8/11/10. There’s some excellent guidance here for anyone laying out a print publication.

When it comes to making font combinations, there are principles and methods, but no absolutes. You can’t apply all the principles or ideas listed here at the same time. Just peruse this list of ideas and see what strikes you as interesting, and then pursue creating your own interesting typeface pairs!

In no particular order of importance…

  1. Combine a serif and a sans serif to give “contrast” and not “concord”. The farther apart the typeface styles are, as a generic but not infallible guideline, the more luck you’ll have. Fonts that are too similar look bad together. Go for concord or contrast but avoid the murky middle ground where all you end up with conflict. Put Garamond and Sabon together to see what “murky” means. Or try Helvetica and Univers together, which is just as bad.
  2. Don’t choose two serifs or two sans serifs to create a combination, unless they are radically different in some way.
  3. Avoid choosing typefaces from the same categories, like Script or Slabs. You won’t get enough contrast, and will end up with conflict. For instance, Clarendon and Rockwell together is not a good thing at all.
  4. Get enough difference in point size between the various fonts to make contrast.
  5. Assign distinct roles to each font and commit to them without variance.
  6. Try finding fonts from different categories that have similar x-heights and glyph widths. For instance, Futura with Times New Roman just doesn’t work that well because there is too much contrast between x-heights and widths, but in this case, mostly widths. However, if you are going to work with a condensed font, you can overcome this problem because now you’ve gone for an extreme contrast.
  7. Find some kind of relationship between the basic shapes. For instance, look to the letter O in upper and lower case. Round letter O’s and taller oval O’s, in general don’t seem to like each other when creating pairs.
  8. Contrast the overall weight of the fonts. For instance, Didot and Rockwell look really bad together for many reasons, but one clearly because they both have a heavy presence and just look mad at each other on the same page.


Read the rest of the post on bonfx.

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