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Elements of Design

Choosing Fonts

Fonts (type or typeface) are the characters of a single design, all the letters in the alphabet, upper and lower case, numerals, and symbols.  Each font belongs to a family whose design tie them together.  There are thousands to choose from but they fall mostly into three categories—serif, sans serif, and script.

·       Serif     small finishing strokes on a letter     Example: T

·       Serif fonts are typically used for text-heavy publications such as books and newspapers

·       Sans serif     no serifs (sans means without in French)

·       A bold sans serif font makes an arresting headline

·       Sans serif subheadings in smaller sizes create pleasing contrasts

·       Script     designed to make letters look connected, to imitate handwriting.  

Fonts are also grouped by their impact or function.  Body fonts are for the text of documents.  They are designed to be readable up close and for long stretches.  Impact fonts are designed to be striking and to be used for titles, signs, and headings.  Display fonts are extroverts.  They are designed to amuse, surprise, or add pizzazz.

Designing with Fonts

Using fonts and white space can be very effective in a publication.  Think about the old books you have seen with drop cap, fonts and the effect that the style has on the reader. 

·       Try to stick with two distinct fonts.  This establishes visual identify and minimizes confusion.

·       Mix fonts for contrast.  This helps to organize your publication.  Maximum number of fonts 3.

·       Don’t mix two serif or sans serif fonts.  One from each category but not two from the same category.  Safe rule—serif for the body and sans serif for the headings.

·       When in doubt, stay in the same font family and create contrast by font size, spacing or level of heading.

·       Consider font color especially in web pages. 

·       Body text fonts

·       Body text between 10 and 12 is the norm.

·       Shorten lines to increase readability

·       Consider typographical measurement

·       1 inch = 72 points

·       1 inch = 6 picas (typographical measurement)

·       72 points divided by 6 picas = 12 points to 1 pica

·       Most art stores carry precision rulers.  By knowing how typeface measurement works you can check the look of your electronic publication in the printer’s format.

·       Spacing between characters

·       Adjust (kerning) between individual characters or between the characters in a section of text (tracking).

·       Adding space makes small fonts easier to read

·       Decreasing makes text fit into a finite space dictated by the publication size

·       Spacing between lines and paragraphs

·       Traditional look—indent the first line of each paragraph. 

·       Customary not to indent the first paragraph after a heading

·       Contemporary look—put space between paragraphs instead of indenting.

·       Aligning text

·       Should enhance the readability

·       Impact fonts

·       Titles, headings, headlines

·       Demand attention

·       If you must bread a headline, try to find a natural break or balance the lines visually

·       Limit all caps—short headlines and never in script!

·       Display fonts

·       Special text like drop caps

·       Use with care

·       Drop caps should be scattered on a page not consistently used

·       For captions or callouts use a font that is in the family of the body text or display font

·       For pull quote, use different font from body text and make it at least six points larger—keep it short!

·       Sidebars should be near the text they relate to in the article.  Interesting information that is related but a sidebar is not vital to understanding the text of the article.


·       How can a graphic help convey the message of the publication?

·       How well does the graphic work in the overall design?

·       Can a picture clarify the message?

Be careful about copyright

·       Attract the eye to support your publication’s message.

·       Charts, graphs, and maps can simplify a complex subject.

·       Captions—adds emphasis to the reason or meaning of the graphic to your text

·       Complement the text with the graphic

·       Keep the caption short but convey your point

·       In formal publications, place caption consistently throughout the total document


·       Can evoke emotions

·       Contributes to style and personality of the publication

·       Establish as color scheme and stick to it

·       Monochromatic (variations of the same color) scheme unifies

·       Complementary (opposites, green and red, orange and blue) scheme grabs attention

·       Analogous (related colors, blue, green, and yellow or yellow, orange and red) scheme produces harmonious look

·       Contrasting (dark and light, red, yellow and blue or green, purple, and orange) scheme creates balance


Microsoft Publisher 98 Companion.  Microsoft Corporation.  1998.

This page was updated on:  04/10/02