Many people get confused when it comes to picking a font or typeface mostly because they lack understanding and knowledge of typography. As a designer, I have dealt with clients who love display fonts, usually the free ones that you find on dafont. Now, I don’t have any problem with display fonts. They are called display fonts for a reason and aren’t used as if they were DIN or Baskerville; however, there are still a set of rules that you should follow. I have listed the attributes that I believe make a “good” typeface below.
Typefaces Versus Fonts
What is a typeface? What is a font? Is there even a difference? I’m frequently asked to identify a font or told how much a friend likes a font. The reality is that they’re not usually referring to fonts but typefaces instead. Graphic designers and typographers understand that most people don’t know the difference between the two, so this is a good opportunity to explain it.
Typefaces are the design of the type or font family. Helvetica, Gill Sans, Baskerville, Din, and Bodoni are all different typefaces. Fonts, however, are merely what gets that typeface printed or on the screen. So a collection of characters that produces a typeface makes a font.
Here’s another analogy from Stephen Coles, a well recognized typographer who also writes for fontfeed.com. He says that “when you talk about how much you like a tune, you don’t say: ‘That’s a great MP3.’ You say: ‘That’s a great song.’ The MP3 is the delivery mechanism, not the creative work; just as in type a font is the delivery mechanism and a typeface is the creative work.”
What Makes “Good” Typography?
The definition of “good” typography is debatable. However one thing designers and typographers usually agree on is that typography should support the message of the text. Choosing the right type is not easy. It isn’t a simple math problem where there is only one answer. It requires explorations to find the right solution. In typography, as the saying goes, “one size does not fit all.”
Another point many designers agree on is that good typography has good kerning. Kerning is the space between letters. When a designer spells the word “CANDY”, the spacing between ‘A’ and ‘N’ must be balanced with the spacing between ‘D’ and ‘Y’. This is very important for legibility purposes.
Typography is intricate and, at most times, functional. Good typography is found in the details of the final product.
Benefits of Professional Typefaces Over Free Fonts
The benefits of professionally designed typefaces is that they are designed by typographers who have expert understanding of typography. They know what typefaces are the most legible, what families should be included, and where consistency matters. Another huge benefit is, as previously stated, the kerning and other details. When using a typeface, you shouldn’t have to worry too much over spacing issues. Lastly, professionally designed typefaces include characters (and sometimes glyphs) with the typeface. Many “free fonts” don’t include characters, glyphs, and even different families (italics, bold, light, etc.), so there isn’t much variety to work with.
Free fonts may seem great at first. But after a few uses, they prove to cost you your time and design. Surely, you will come across many limitations with free fonts, and the best thing to do is purchase well-rounded typefaces from professional type foundries.