How do I choose paring fonts ?

laurent's picture


I've come across this thread I found it really interesting but too short !

When I have to chose type for a project, I always rely on my feelings and lots of testing, wating for the love/hate Alchemy to happen and decide for me.
This method, mostly based on luck, is often time consuming, and I often found myself needing to ask for help on the forums.

Some kind of typographica best paring fonts 2007 would be great, but Give a man a fish...

I know that it's very subjective, but I'd love to learn more about how you experts decide to mix fonts.

Is there some kind of Do and Don't basic procedure ?

Any help or advice will be muchly appreciated.


David Rault's picture

Very basic:

- do not mix 2 typefaces from the same family: bodoni + didot, garamond + bembo, futura + gotham...
- do not mix 2 typefaces with a strong personality: antique olive + vendome, sansa + cooper black...
- do not mix 2 script types: mistral + bello, machiarge + kinescope...
- do not think that to look "modern" you HAVE to take recent types: you might look incredibly modern by pairing a gill sans with a baskerville, if done correctly.
- try to superimpose your faces to check if their x-height and kerning fit together, it helps giving a feeling of homogeneity.
- the odd couple sans-serif (titles-text) is very basic, though very efficient. in case of a doubt, stick to it. get away from it if you absolutely know what you are doing.
- check out the families of types containing serif and sans under the same name: fedra, meta, frutiger (new!), rotis... the problem: most of these types are actually rooted in a consensus, they are not expressing much. It's cool for a bank report or an informative brochure, but might be weak for a magazine.


.00's picture

You could rephrase the question and ask, "How do I develop my own personal typographic style"

While Paul's link will lead you to many threads, with many opinions, you really have to do the hard work yourself and over time you will develop your own personal style. That will allow you to be different from the other designers, and get you clients that appreciate your personal approach.

DavidR's advice above is basic, but I can think of many times over the years that I have seen type combinations on his "Do Not" list work well to the astonishment of most people.

Read the advice with a grain of salt and come to your own conclusions.

Remember what they say about opinions...


David Rault's picture

"DavidR’s advice above is basic, but I can think of many times over the years that I have seen type combinations on his “Do Not” list work well to the astonishment of most people.
Read the advice with a grain of salt and come to your own conclusions."

> absolutely... this is the essence of advice: follow it at your own risk :-)

we are all aware of exceptions which make the rule true.

blank's picture

The Easy Guide to Pairing Fonts
If you fail on any step, go back to step 1.

Step 1: Do you really need to pair fonts for this project?
Step 2: Pick two fonts. Do they look cool together?
Step 3: Will these two fonts allow you to meet the requirements of the task at hand?
Step 4: Start setting type.

Really, don’t overthink this stuff. If it looks good, do it. If it looks like crap, don’t.

Chris Rugen's picture

Yeah, I used to be a bit paralyzed by this set of choices, too. It really does boil down to a judgement call. Usually, pairing type is done to create contrast, so, as DavidR points out, a good general rule is to not pick two fonts that are so similar they can be confused for each other at a glance.

laurent's picture

First of all, thank you all for your interest.

David R, thank you very much for sharing your time.
These are the basic guidelines I try to follow without thinking too much about it, it's good to have that written down for memory.

Paul, thanks for the link, one always learn something in other's opinions.

James, You're right.
Maybe I shouldn't overthink that stuff.

Like Chris said, I am sometimes paralyzed by the search for the perfect choice. I've read somewhere that all the problem of men come from the choice. If they had no choice, they would be happy.
But that's another story.

oprion's picture

I often find myself using the "brute-force" approach. It's a disgraceful and barbaric process, but I find it very effective.

When simple reasoning and historical accuracy approaches fail to produce a desired result:
1. Select the primary typeface
2. Enable your core font collections that you think might have something relevant to the task.
3. Set the second line/paragraph.
4. Select the first font on the list, then rapidly scroll through the choices with the down button, looking at the changes on the screen, and backing up whenever you think you've seen something match. Copy the successful matches to the side, and proceed all the way to the end of the list. Once there, start scrolling up to the beginning. I usually repeat this 2 or three times, at different speeds, getting about 5-6 choices, that can then be compared and discarded until you find the best one.

Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov

David Rault's picture

And oh by the way, I didnt say it because it seems crudely obvious, but when I am in search of a nice pairing font, what I actually use is my eyes and my feeling of "it's working" or "it's not working". It takes time but if you have enough experience and good taste, it's pretty efficient. So, basically, everything written here is true. I guess there is no easy way, just give everything a try.


.00's picture


Nothing disgraceful about using the "Brute Force" approach. Until you use a typeface in situ its difficult to tell if it works.

In my former life as a magazine design director, before the Mac changed the business, I had the job of redesigning publications. The very first thing I would present would be typographic mixtures of heads, decks, text, subheads and callouts. It it was great fun putting together all sorts of strange type combos. At first sight some of them were unsettling. But it is amazing how sitting with them for a little while changes your point of view from revulsion to delight.


ilovecolors's picture

I often look at the inner form of the glyphs, whether the lowercase 'c' is open/closed; the 's', again, if it's open or closed, thin/thick; the 'g' loop, direction.
For example, you could match (first thing that comes to my head) Minion/Scala, or Century Schoolbook/Helvetica.

dbonneville's picture

I have a publication coming out shortly with font combinations created from the most popular classic fonts. It's basically a visual reference intended to help speed up the process of choosing combinations. You can get a quick look-see really fast without having to rifle through your font manager and activate faces and then change them in your application sample text. It will be out mid 2010.

I also created an iPhone app that creates over 2000 combinations from 45 top typefaces:

Nick Shinn's picture

Doug, your recommendations, if "19 top fonts" is anything to go by, are safe, easy and boring.
The typefaces you recommend were almost all designed long ago, (none this century) and are published by corporations.

I declare my bias: I am alive, design original typefaces, and own the foundry that publishes them.

Get with the tour!

Frode Bo Helland's picture

@Paul: An error makes those wiki links fail if there’s no text before it in a post. Typeface pairing. Another error is the fact that there’s no difference between wiki links and other external links, if you use the suggested coding.

dbonneville's picture

@ Nick: We have the same conversation going on over here:

I'll let that thread suffice as a reply...

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