Font Pairing: Understanding the Best and Worst Practices

Daniella Alscher
Daniella Alscher  |  May 15, 2019

There is nothing more refreshing than brushing your teeth and then taking a sip of fresh orange juice. Right?

Wrong. If you think that’s okay, I don’t know how you sleep at night.

The same goes for anyone who thinks it’s okay to pair any blackletter typeface with script in a brochure design. If you think that’s an acceptable combination, stop doing what you’re doing and keep reading.

A font pairing guide

Font pairing is one of the most difficult, yet overlooked tasks of design. It’s not just something that graphic designers need to worry about. If you’re putting together a PowerPoint for a sales presentation or typing up a contract to share with a client, you should be worried about font pairing, too.

Fonts have the ability to draw attention, convey emotion, and even be one of the most important brand elements a company can have. Since they’re so impactful, it’s important that the fonts you choose make sense together. 

Where are you supposed to pull all of these fonts from in the first place? Web font marketplace software lets designers find and purchase fonts for business projects or personal needs, and the choices seem endless. 

Find the best Web Font Marketplace software for your business. Learn more for  FREE →

If you want to focus on a certain aspect of font pairing, skip ahead to:

Font pairing practices to be avoided
Font pairing practices to engage in
Font pairing resources

Font pairing practices to be avoided

In design, there are no rules. There are endless color combinations, element placement options, and font pairing possibilities. But just because there are an infinite amount of good possibilities doesn’t mean that bad ideas don’t exist. 

In this article, we’re going to go over some things to avoid while pairing fonts so that your work makes people’s eyes tear up in a good way. Not a bad way.

Off balance contrast

You’d think that as long as you pair fonts that look similar, you’d be safe.

Just the opposite. 

Combining fonts that are extremely similar can cause conflict and confusion.

At the same time, fonts that have no relationship with one another aren’t going to be having kids any time soon. Font pairs that have nothing in common won’t translate into one, coherent feeling for the audience.

Instead, all of the excitement of these unique fonts translates to randomness and confusion. As a result, these pairs will deter viewers. 

contrast in font pairing
 

Is that a risk you’re willing to take?

Too many fonts

There are thousands of fonts to choose from when you’re looking for a few that go well together. Now isn’t a great time to be indecisive.

Rule of thumb is to pair no more than three fonts for your project. 

While many projects benefit from sticking to this rule, it’s not one set in stone. There are plenty of elaborate designs that use more than three, but there is such a thing as overdoing it. If you go beyond three fonts, be sure that they work in harmony, not in chaos.

too many fonts

Font pairing practices to engage in

I’m not going to just leave you with a few warnings. The following are tips for a little extra guidance.

Combine typefaces from the same family

A collection of related typefaces are called a font family. For example, Helvetica Neue is a font family. Within this font family, or any other, one could pair a couple of variations without any risk. 

font pairing in families
 

If your project doesn’t call for any obscure fonts, this is an easy way out of the font pairing stress.

Combine font types (carefully)

If you don’t want to restrict yourself to one typeface, or even one family, think about combining different font types. While pairing, remember that the contrast between typefaces is something to balance cautiously. 

Below are the general best practices for font pairing:

font type pairing

Pair distinct with ordinary

Fonts are exciting, but we can only handle so much excitement at once. If your main font has a lot of personality, make sure that your second font has more of a generic role. Decorative and script fonts should rarely be used for body text, if ever. If you choose to use them, save them for headers and display. 

distinctiveness in fonts
 

It’s important to remember that behind all of the wild fonts are the words that you want your audience to be able to read. If your font pairings get out of hand, the typography will overshadow the content itself. 

If everything is exciting, then nothing is.

Weight and size

The reasoning behind font pairing is to differentiate pieces of information from one another. While choosing a few fonts can make one part of your content look different than another, it’s often not enough.

typographic hierarchy
 

Playing with size and weight creates a typographic hierarchy that makes it easier for readers to understand what’s important and how you want them to read the information.

Font pairing resources

Font pairing can be exhausting, and it’s impossible for someone to memorize all of the different combinations that work.

Thankfully, we have the internet.

Font Pair is a typography website tool that assists and inspires designers with font pairs. You can scroll through their featured pairs or choose to get a little more specific with the different font types. Font Pair also lets you download the font pair you fall in love with, right from their website.

Typespiration features font combinations contributed by designers who have used them in their projects. Beneath every sample is a list of the fonts that the designer used, the colors implemented, and even the CSS code to use in your own website. 

Typ.io is a website that gives viewers access to some of the hottest landing pages and what goes on behind them, including the font choices the designers made and how they used them on the page.

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Font pairing is an art and a science; it has to be done precisely and with style. There isn’t a right way to go about it, but there is definitely a wrong way that you can avoid coming near. Don’t be shy if you need a little help; it’s better to ask for some and get your combination right rather than hold your head high and present something atrocious. Don’t be afraid to experiment and take your time. You may come across a combination nobody’s seen before!

 Being familiar with font pairing is just the first step in getting a more complete understanding of typography.

Daniella Alscher
Author

Daniella Alscher

Daniella Alscher is a Content Marketing Associate for G2. When she's not reading or writing, she's listening to murder podcasts or sitting on the couch. Or both.