Using Fonts like a Pro: How to combine fonts to create a timeless, attention-grabbing design

Some artists dedicate their whole career to the study, creation, and use of various typefaces. Fonts are everywhere. From the takeout menu for your local Chinese food joint to the billboard you pass on the highway on your way to work, there is no doubt that text based art is all around us.

Why then are some font combinations way more effective than others? Why are some font combinations attention-grabbing and fresh while others look amateur and sloppy?

The answer lies in the creator’s understanding of type. You see, there are certain guiding principles that can be used to pair fonts in a dynamic, impactful way.

I’ll walk you through four of my favorite guiding principles for designing using more than one font.

Let’s dive in:

1. Combine Serifs with Sans-Serifs

Serif fonts are those where the letters have little feet. San-serif fonts (sans=without) do not have these little feet. The contrast that results from pairing serif and non-serif fonts is both clean and attention grabbing.

2. Pay close attention to the visual hierarchy

Professional designers understand this better than anyone: you have to pay close attention to the sizing, weight, and placement of fonts within your design so that the viewer knows what to look at and in what order. Visual hierarchies, when done well, ensure that the viewer is interacting with your design in a consistent, logical way.

3. Use fonts that are in the same font family.

Type creators are brilliant and have created what is known as “font families”. Font families are groups of typefaces that all share a similar base structure. Baskerville is an excellent example of a font family with a variety of variations. From italic variations to ultra-thick alternatives, this family is composed of several individual typefaces. Using font families is a safe bet because these fonts were created to work together and compliment each other. Just be sure to rely on visual hierarchies and contrast in order to maximize the effectiveness of your design.

4. Don’t pair fonts that are too similar (or use too many!)

This is where it gets a little more complicated. Combining fonts that are in the same font family is a great idea because these fonts were created to work together. If you pair fonts that are too similar (but aren’t in the same font family), however, the end result will likely look a bit off. Instead of guiding the viewer’s eyes across the piece, the will get stuck in a game of “spot the difference” where they are trying to make sense of these similar, but not identical fonts. Remember: it is often contrast and juxtaposition that creates truly compelling designs. Combining fonts that are really similar (like these two bold serifs shown below), will likely weaken your design and the impact it has on the viewer.

Also be weary of using too many fonts. A good rule of thumb is that a design should never contain more than three fonts and ideally only has two. This will ensure that your design isn’t overwhelming or eclectic to the point of losing the viewer’s attention. When it comes to font pairing, less is often so much more.

Are you feeling ready to combine fonts like a pro? I sure hope so. Click on a link below to check out some of my favorite sites to purchase, experiment with, and explore fonts!

Google fonts

Creative Market

Font Shop