Picking the right font for a project is honestly difficult. Where do you even start? You have dozens or hundreds of fonts installed on your computer… And scrolling through them feels like a never-ending task that usually leads nowhere. So you go back to the same ones you’ve used before: probably Helvetica, Arial, Cambria, and Times.
Over the coming days, we’re going to look at a number of good typefaces so you can make an educated decision next time you’re looking for the right font.
Before we dive into the fonts themselves, we need to look at what makes a typeface ‘good’ in the first place.
Some will probably hear this and say that goodness is subjective—that there are as many opinions about goodness as there are people. Let’s dispel that myth right now. People may have different tastes and personal preferences—my favorite typeface, for example, is Akzidenz-Grotesk—but I still recognize all the other good fonts out there.
People can differ on preference, but there are fundamental characteristics that distinguish a typeface as technically good.
First, look out for features: a good typeface will have genuine small-caps and italics. It will also usually have multiple weights, old-style and titling numerals, and more. Poor faces usually lack several or all of these features.
Second, good typefaces feature even spacing and proper kerning. All the characters should have visually similar spaces on all sides, with the spaces between letters the smallest, the spaces between words a bit larger, and the spaces between lines of text the largest.
Also, for each group of three letters, the middle letter should look visually centered between the other two. The process of making sure every combination looks even is called Kerning. This extends beyond standard letterspacing because certain combinations need to have space added or subtracted to look even.
Third, the characters should all have consistent color. That is to say that none of the characters look heavier or lighter than the other (they all have consistent stroke weight and an equal ratio of black space to white space (or foreground to background).
Fourth, all the characters should have similar design characteristics. So, if some letters have short, unbracketed serifs, then all letters with serifs should look that way. If some letters have high stroke contrast, then they all should. You get the idea.
Fifth and finally, the type should be legible. This seems like it goes without saying, but some fonts are simply hard to read.
To recap, here’s what makes a good typeface:
- All the features (true italics, small-caps, OpenType, etc.)
- Even spacing and proper kerning
- Consistent color (ratio of black to white)
- Similar design choices
And here’s a list of all the typefaces I’ll cover: