Font Choice And Kerning – Do’s And Don’ts For Effective (And Money Savvy) Print Design
When designing for print, whether it’s a business card, leaflet or letterhead, the type of font you choose and the spacing between the letters and words (kerning) make a world of difference.
Choosing the right font can help you create a good first impression. It will make your design stand out, as well as engage your audience and get your message across. Kerning makes typography-focused projects look polished and is important for titles, headlines, banners, and images with text and logos.
For effective and money savvy print design, here are the do’s and don’ts for choosing a font and kerning:
Choosing a font
- Pick a font that already has good kerning or spacing between letters to save you some work.
- Choose a font that links the text with the graphics (if any) to achieve the objective of the page/design.
- Pick a font that suits your brand/image or project, e.g. for a traditional brand/image/project, choose serif fonts (has feet at the ends of the letterforms), and for a modern brand/image/project, choose sans-serif fonts.
- Choose a font that is the most appropriate for the target audience, e.g. a modern font with a clean or edgy look to the text is most appropriate for a high-tech audience.
- Pick a legible font with conventional letterforms and consistent design characteristics (e.g. serif fonts) so the reader can distinguish one letter from another. Look at font shapes, counter sizes, width, weight, length of ascender and descender, and stroke contrast.
- Choose a quality font as it will have built-in kern pairs to make kerning easier.
- Pick a font that doesn’t overpower the text so it’s easy to read and doesn’t distract from the message.
- Choose a font with variations in height and weight to highlight certain text, to express a range of voices and emotions, or to focus on the typography of the page/design, e.g. Helvetica Neue can come in bold, italic, light and ultra light.
- Pick Geometric sans-serif fonts if you want to convey text that is clear, objective, modern and universal. Examples: Univers, Futura, Avant Garde, Akzidenz Grotesk, Franklin Gothic and Gotham.
- Choose Humanist sans-serif fonts if you wish to convey text that is modern yet human, and clear yet empathic. Examples: Gill Sans, Frutiger, Myriad, Optima and Verdana.
- Pick Old Style fonts if you wish to convey text that is classic, traditional and readable. Examples: Jenson, Bembo and Palatino.
- Choose Transitional and Modern fonts if you want to convey text that is strong, stylish and dynamic. Examples: Baskerville (transitional), Bodoni and Didot (modern).
- Pick Slab Serif fonts if you wish to convey a sense of authority, friendliness, or something specific yet contradictory, e.g. the thinker vs. the tough guy, the bully vs. the nerd, the urban sophisticate vs. the cowboy. Examples: Clarendon, Rockwell, Courier, Lubalin Graph, Archer.
- When combining two fonts, choose fonts from different families for greater contrast and compatibility, e.g. Helvetica from Geometric and Bembo from Old Style. More specifically, choose two fonts that are different but have one thing in common, e.g. similar height or weight, or both modern or traditional.
- Pick Display fonts with lots of personality only for headlines and subheadings to make it stand out and to make the rest of the text easy to read.
- Don’t choose a font that is hard to read, such as a very fancy Display font.
- Don’t pick a font that is too open or too tight.
- Don’t choose a font just because it looks the best and is the most space efficient.
- Don’t pick two fonts from the same family as the difference between them will not be obviously noticeable.
- Don’t choose fancy Display fonts for the body text as this will make it hard to read.
- Don’t pick a font until it’s clear who’ll be reading the text and what message you’re trying to convey.
- Don’t choose fonts that use more ink than other fonts, such as Comic Sans, Helvetica, Courier New, Calibri, Times New Roman and Garamond.
- Kern each letter individually to ensure they look evenly spaced even if they aren’t actually spaced out evenly. Focus on visual or perceived space rather than actual space.
- Alternatively, kern three letters at a time until you reach the end of the word in order to save time, e.g. for a word like ‘folder’, first kern ‘fol’, followed by ‘old’, then ‘lde’, and finally ‘der’.
- Kern only certain words in a text such as titles and subheadings to also save time.
- Look at the space between straight and curved letters to determine the right amount of spacing, e.g. ‘II’ should have quite a bit of space between the letters, ‘IO’ needs less space, and ‘OO’ even less.
- Pay attention to capital letters with horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines like AKVWYFTL, which create large negative space and is mistaken as bad kerning, and try to make the perceived space between them and the other letters look even.
- Kern again when you change the size of your font (a bigger font will look heavier and a smaller font will look lighter). The change in visual weight will affect the visual space between letters.
- View the letters differently to make kerning easier, e.g. flip the word upside down or blur the letters (try squinting or viewing them from a distance) to spot any spacing problems you didn’t notice before.
- Surround tricky letters with straight and curved letters to make them easier to kern, e.g. for a tricky combination like ‘YA’, surround it with letters as shown in this example: ‘IIYAII’, ‘OOYAOO’, and ‘IOIYAIOI’.
- Also consider the space between words. There should be enough space between each word so they stand out on their own, but also close enough so that your audience can see the natural flow of the sentence.
- Don’t rely on design programs to do automatic kerning as the space between the letters may actually look uneven.
- Don’t place an equal amount of space between each letter as this could also make them appear uneven.
- Don’t rely on your kerning for letters like AKVWYFTL to kern the rest of the word, and when kerning body text or other text that needs to be readable and legible.
- Don’t kern just the first or few letters and then ignore the rest, as this will make the space between them look uneven.
- Don’t kern too tight or it’ll be hard for your audience to read the text. The space between letters must be tight enough to form coherent words, but loose enough that each letter can be recognised. In print design, tight kerning can lead to ink bleed.
Armed with these tips, you should be able to create a design that not only looks amazing, but also saves you time and money.
For assistance with the print management of your business, contact the experts at Strategic Flow Management today.