What the Helvetica?

All up in your type(face)–a blog series exploring type and the art of typography by The Look & The Feel, custom full service branding

Do you know your font types?

Learn the basics of font type classification and when to use which type of font in your branding.
 

All Up In Your (Type)Face

In this blog series, we’ll review the basics of font type classification and when to use which type of font in your branding. Next up, we’ll discuss font pairing. Stay tuned!

When it comes to branding, typeface choice is a decision that should not be taken lightly. Before you consider which typeface you want to incorporate into your branding, you’ll want to learn the basics of type classification. The majority of typefaces can be classified into one of four style groups: those with serifs, those without serifs, scripts, and decorative. But what actually is a serif or sans-serif font? What does it mean for a typeface to be handwritten? You may hear designers toss around terms like display font and sans-serif, and it may leave you thinking that you have no idea what they are talking about. You are not alone. Reference this blog post the next time you need to choose between typefaces for your branding.

What the Helvetica?

But, before I jump into the specifics of the art of typography, which I’ll explore in my next blog post, I want to explain the seven different categories of type, so that you can have a better understanding of these terms.
 

Blackletter

Blackletter fonts were the first fonts ever invented. This is the type of font used in one of the first books ever printed, the Gutenburg Bible. You’ll recognize this font by the contrast in the weight of different strokes, and its antiquated style. In this modern age, it’s mostly used for headlines due to it’s challenging to read small point size. One familiar use of Blackletter fonts are newspaper headlines such as The New York Times.

 
Blackletter fonts are one of the first fonts ever invented. | What the helvetica? | All up in your typeface | How well do you know your fonts?
 


Serif

Times New Roman is likely the most well-known example of a serif font. A serif typeface is widely considered to be classic and timeless. In fact, serif fonts have been around since ancient Rome, which may likely explain why this category of typeface has such a distinguished reputation. A serif is the little “hat” or line attached to the end of a stroke on a letter.

 
A serif typeface is widely considered to be classic and timeless. In fact, serif fonts have been around since ancient Rome, which may likely explain why this category of typeface has such a distinguished reputation.
 


Sans serif

Sans, French for without. So a sans-serif font is a font without a serif. Sans serif fonts have a more modern and minimalistic feel. These have recently risen in popularity and are well-favored in the age of computers since it’s easy to read a sans-serif font at a small size. Easily recognizable, sans-serif letters don’t have any serifs attached to them. Helvetica is one of the most widely-used sans-serif fonts.

 
Sans serif fonts have a more modern and minimalistic feel. These have recently risen in popularity and are well-favored in the age of computers since it’s easy to read a sans-serif font at a small size.
 

Display

A display font is typically reserved for large headlines and titles to draw attention and appeal to the reader. Think, restaurant sign, magazine cover titles, or posters. Display fonts are often a more elaborate than a serif or sans-serif, and they have a strong personality to them. There are many, many different types of display fonts. A display font can be a serif or sans-serif font. However, you should never use a display font for paragraphs of text. Since there is a wide variety of what display fonts can look like, when determining if a font is a display font or not, just look for anything decorative about the font. Below is an example of a display font with serifs, and one without.

 
A display font is typically reserved for large headlines and titles to draw attention and appeal to the reader. | What the helvetica?
 
 
Display font without serifs
 


Monospaced

Lettering in monospaced fonts has a fixed width, meaning that each character takes up the same amount of space. Monospaced fonts were actually invented to meet the mechanical requirements of typewriters. Nowadays, monospaced fonts are commonly used in computer code, as it is clean, non decorative, and helps programmers stay organized. We advise against using monospaced fonts for long passages of text, however, because they are fairly challenging to read.

 
Lettering in monospaced fonts has a fixed width, meaning that each character takes up the same amount of space. | All up in your type(face).
 


Script

A script font is based on the fluid strokes of handwriting or cursive. Script fonts can look very ornate or simple depending on your needs. The more formal script fonts look like traditional calligraphy as most formal script fonts are often derived from established calligraphers. You’ll most likely see formal script fonts on wedding invitations, official certificates, and for any situation that calls for a touch of fancy or ceremony. You can also find many script fonts that are intended to seem very casual as if crafted with a brush or pen. In both circumstances, we recommend that you use script fonts for headlines, and never for long paragraphs of text. Below you’ll see an example of a traditional formal script, and then a casual script.

 
Learn the basic font classifications. How well does your knowledge of fonts stack up?
 
 
You can also find many script fonts that are intended to seem very casual as if crafted with a brush or pen.
 

Handwriting

Yep, you guessed it–handwriting fonts are fonts that appear to be handwritten. They can be in a cursive or traditional print style, and they have a lot of character and personality. You can use these fonts when you are aiming for a handwritten look. Since they have a such a wide variety of styles, they can be used for body text as well as headlines. This just depends on the specific font. When using a handwritten font for body text, just make sure it’s very legible at a small size.

 
Example of a handwritten font.
 

There you have it, your seven main categories of typefaces. I hope this helps clarify any questions you have about how we designers identify and classify different styles of fonts.

Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll explore the art of typography, and share some rules to follow when it comes to pairing fonts together.

Have questions about this post? Comment below and I’ll be happy to address them!

 
Callie Cullum | Creative Director and Web Designer