How to find the perfect typeface for your brand

Image showing differently classified typefaces

By Nine Blaess | 04:02 min

In this article
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    Choosing the perfect typeface for your brand can be overwhelming. I this article, I would like to give you some tips to help you with this challenge.

    Are you wondering why I use the term typeface instead of font? A typeface refers to an entire family, while a font is only one style of that family. For example, Helvetica is a typeface and Helvetica Regular is a font.

    For your branding, you should find a typeface to allow for flexibility. That may be for different uses right away or your brand’s future growth. Be sure to look for a typeface, not a font.

    Before you even think about typography, make sure you have a clear picture of the brand personality you want to convey. Do you want to come across as funny or established? Edgy or approachable? And so on. Next, you can find typefaces that fit the traits of your brand.

    To explain how typefaces can express different personalities, I’ve broken them up into the following attributes:

    • Serif vs sans-serif
    • High contrast vs low contrast
    • Vertical stress vs diagonal stress
    • Low x-height vs high x-height
    • Condensed vs extended
    • Rounded letterforms vs angular letterforms

    Let’s have a closer look at each of these groups.

    Serif vs sans-serif typefaces

    There are many more (sub-) classifications for typefaces, but I only focus on serif vs sans-Serif for now.

    shows the difference between Serif and Sans-serif typefaces by comparing Garamond with Helvetica
    Serif vs Sans-serif typefaces

    Serif typefaces

    Serif typefaces date back to the 18th century when stonemasons carved letters into rocks. You can recognise serif typefaces by their decorative flourishes at the end of their letterforms, called serifs.

    Due to their history, serif typefaces are perceived as elegant, trustworthy and established. Law firms, wineries or newspapers might use a serif typeface to come across as reliable and sophisticated.

    Yet, there has been a trend to a more playful application of serif typefaces in recent years.

    Some well-known serif typefaces are BaskervilleTimes New Roman and Garamond. Open-source alternatives include Playfair Display and Lora.

    Sans-serif typefaces

    Sans-serif typefaces emerged around 1800. But, they only gained popularity in the 1920–30s through the Bauhaus movement.

    Sans-serif typefaces are modern and clean. We often use them in everyday, approachable designs. You will see sans-serif typefaces in a range of industries, from sport to tech companies.

    FuturaUnivers and Helvetica are popular sans-serif typefaces. If you are looking for open-source alternatives, consider RobotoOpen Sans or Source Sans Pro by Google Fonts.

    Tip: For font pairing, don’t choose two typefaces of the same classification. Pairing a sans-serif with a serif is a better choice because they contrast one another, not compete.

    High contrast vs low contrast typefaces

    The contrast of a typeface describes the variation of the stroke width within a character. High contrast typefaces convey classiness, while low contrast typefaces communicate sturdiness and trust.

    You will find high contrast typefaces used for luxury fashion labels or hotels to imply exclusivity and high prices.

    Bodoni is a classic example of a high contrast typeface. Check out Prata as a free alternative to Bodoni.

    Illustrating the contrast between low and high contrast typefaces by comparing Bodoni with Helvetica
    High contrast vs low contrast typefaces

    Tip: Don‘t use high contrast typefaces for body text. Their delicate strokes make them illegible in small sizes.

    Vertical stress vs diagonal stress

    The stress of the axis refers to the angle at which the contrast occurs in letterforms. Look at the letter O to determine the stress of the axis.

    Typefaces with diagonal stress originate from the calligraphy in old-style roman typography. They come across as warm and more human.

    Garamond is an example of diagonal stress, while Bodoni shows vertical stress.

    Difference between Vertical stress vs angular stress explained by using the typefaces Bodoni and Garamond
    Vertical stress vs angular stress typefaces

    Tip: For font pairing, use two typefaces with similar stress to match them up.

    Low x-height vs high x-height typefaces

    The x-height refers to the height of a lowercase x. A low x-height can come across as delicate and luxurious, while a larger x-height looks strong.

    Be careful with x-heights in body text. Fonts with small x-heights read poorly in small sizes. Their counters (the opening in a letterform, such as c) optically close. It makes a c read as an o. Their apertures (the spaces enclosed in letterforms, such as o) start to fill in.

    Very high x-height typefaces read badly, too. When we read, our eyes recognise the shape of a word rather than individual letters. In typefaces with a large x-height, the eye cannot recognise these shapes so easily. They become illegible.

    Mr Eaves is an example of a low x-height, while Helvetica has a high x-height.

    Illustration of low vs high x-height typefaces by comparing Mr Eaves and Helvetica
    Low x-height vs high x-height typefaces

    Tip: For font pairing, choose typefaces with a similar x-height to make them feel harmonious.

    Condensed vs extended

    Condensed fonts got often used in newspaper headlines to fit more words in one line. That’s why we perceive them as precise and reliable. But they also carry tension, which makes them suitable for the design, such as athletic brands.

    Wide or extended font styles, in contrast, are perceived as spacious and make the design breathe. We use them to communicate positivity and lightness.

    illustrating the contrast between Akzidenz Grotesk condensed and Akzidenz Grotesk extended
    Condensed vs extended typeface

    Tip: Some typefaces, often superfamilies, come with narrow and extended weights. Combine both weights to create tension.

    Rounded letterforms vs angular letterforms

    Humans prefer round forms, as they suggest safety, stability and femininity.

    A study showed that people associate positive qualities like sprightly, sparkling, dreamy, and soaring with curved, light and possibly sans-serif typefaces.[1]

    Rounded typefaces make an excellent choice for brands that stand for safety, such as infant nutrition or car brands. Angular typefaces communicate a threat. They would make sense in the visual identity design of an adventure park, for example.

    Typography is a vast topic. I wasn’t able to cover everything in this post. But hopefully, I could give you an overview of what goes into choosing the perfect typeface for you brand.

    If you enjoyed this article, you might also want to learn about what goes into choosing the perfect colour palette for your brand.

    References

    [1] The study was conducted in 1968 by psychologists Albert Kastl and Irvin Child, source: “Why do we find circles so beautiful?” by Science Focus

    This blog post was inspired by “Typography 01” by The Futur and the “Flawless Typography Checklist” by Typewolf. I highly recommend both.

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