Contrast, Harmony, Personality: Pairing Fonts
Choosing a font that works can be a tricky endeavor, even for an experienced designer. It can be a challenge to select the right font for your type palette from the huge variety available. Getting three or more fonts to coordinate and work together toward a common goal is even tougher. So to keep things simple, let’s focus on some broad methods for pairing up just two.
One tried-and-true option is to look for fonts that contrast with each other without causing visual conflict. Probably the simplest way to do this is by pairing a serif with a sans serif. Another option would be to combine a font having a geometric design with one that is more organic in design or feel. You could also try mixing styles (Humanist against Old Style), weights (a thick, heavier design against a hairline), or forms (flowing and decorative against a more structured design). A good example of contrasting fonts is our work for Miller’s Dry Goods.
Alternately, you could look for fonts that harmonize with each other. Concordance is the key here, meaning you want to find traits shared between your pair, such as the same x-height, similar design features, or equivalent proportions. You could also try pairing up fonts by the same designer, as they often sport comparable mannerisms. Another way to achieve font harmony is by selecting fonts from the same historical period. For Amish Door, we paired up fonts that were stylistically quite different, but each had condensed forms.
Sometimes you just need to find typefaces that speak the same language. This is a more subjective method, but it often works. If your project is an elegant dinner invitation, look for fonts that exude that elegance. If you’re designing a lighthearted brochure, look for more playful fonts. Or, for a more complex palette, try to combine complementary moods. Pair up a font that feels edgy with a font that seems full of energy. Put an elaborate, decorative font alongside a sophisticated one. We combined a typeface that hints at tradition with one that spoke to no-nonsense refinement in our materials for the Hardwood Furniture Guild.
These are just suggestions to get you started. They are by no means rules. And speaking of rules, feel free to break them if it makes sense. Also, don’t be afraid to go with your gut feeling; if a font pairing feels like it’s working, it likely is! On the other hand, if it feels wrong, it probably is wrong. The best way to brush up on your font pairing skills is to see how others have solved the problem. Look at book covers, magazines, printed materials around you; watch the credit sequences in movies, pay attention to webfonts on nicely designed sites, and see what fonts are used in news and sports tickers on television. Practice! The more you work with different typefaces, the better you’ll be at combining fonts.