Font Pairing: A Quick Guide

There is one important part of typography that has always eluded me and that is knowing which fonts to use together. Once I figured it out, though, it became a whole lot easier.

Like most things, there are a few rules or guidelines that should be followed when you are pairing fonts – I’ve demonstrated them below. Once you know these, feel free to experiment. Like Picasso once said, if you learn the rules like a pro, you can break them like an artist. And font pairing is most definitely an art.

(P.S. Scroll all the way down to see where I got all of the fonts I used.)

1. Contrast is everything

The most important thing about font pairing is contrast. Fonts that are too similar, simply don’t work when used together because the pair would be pointless. Contrasting fonts indicate hierarchy, which is an important element to have in design, especially when you’re trying to get a message across.

Univers Extra Black Extended & Univers Light Condensed Oblique

Examples of contrasting font pairs: A black font with a light font; a wide font with a condensed font; a script font with a sans-serif font.

2. Choose fonts that share some characteristics

Font pairing is a lot like relationships (sort of). For two fonts to go together, they have to be different enough to compliment each other, yet still have enough in common not to clash. For example, below I have paired Didot with Futura, both of which are modern and have geometric characteristics (note the perfect circles in both fonts, as well as the similar shapes of the S’s and A’s).

Didot & Futura

Featured on CTInsider.

3. Use fonts from the same family or super family

The easiest way to ensure that your fonts go together, is to stick with different weights from the same family. For example, Helvetica Neue Bold with Helvetica Neue Ultra Light.

Helvetica Neue Bold & Helvetica Neue Ultra Light

Super families are also a convenient way to pair fonts. (Super families are font families that include not just different weights, but different styles all grouped into one family. For example, Letterpress Gothic and Letterpress Script.)

Letterpress Gothic & Letterpress Script

4. Don’t let the fonts compete with each other

If your first font is very bold or loud (e.g. heavy slab serif), or has plenty of detail (e.g. a script or blackletter font), make sure you keep the second one as simple as possible. The fonts need to compliment each other, not compete for your attention.

Aptifer Slab & DIN Next
Rockwell Bold & Avenir

5. Sans serifs are the most versatile

When in doubt, use a sans serif. They are the simplest and can therefore be paired with serifs, other sans serifs, slab serifs, scripts and decorative fonts alike. But remember to still use your eye – not all sans serifs look equally as good when paired with other fonts.

Montserrat Semi Bold & Bodoni Bold Italic
Where to find all of these fonts:

In case you are wondering, I didn’t buy all of these fonts at their regular prices. I have a Monotype library subscription at fonts.com, which allows me to use them on my desktop for about $10 a month. If you are a designer or anyone who is looking for all the classic typefaces (plus some other nice ones), I totally recommend it!

Also, if you are still enjoying this month’s typography theme, perhaps you will find next Thursday’s post interesting – it involves a font that everyone hates. Come back if you are curious. ;)

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