First, typographers will sometimes speak of a font as creating a certain
The second meaning is the usual one—
In a page of text, nothing draws the eye more powerfully than a contrast between light and dark colors. This is why a bold font creates more emphasis than an italic font. (See also bold or italic.)
The perceived intensity of colored type depends not just on the color, but also the size and weight of the font. So a thin or small font can take a more intense color than a heavy or large font.
I’m not saying it can never be done well. But when someone puts colored type on a colored background, I usually wish they hadn’t.
At typical body-text sizes, color isn’t effective as a form of emphasis. Letterforms don’t cover much surface area on the page, so colored text isn’t noticed unless it’s loud.
Professionally printed documents (e.g., letterhead, business cards) can include text set in color, but use it judiciously. Multiple shades of one color are usually better than multiple contrasting colors.
In laser-printed documents, avoid white text on a dark background, known as
The horse may be long out of the barn on this one, but on the web, the same rule of restraint applies: less color is more effective. When everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized.
But consider making body text on screen dark gray rather than black. Screens have more severe contrast than paper, and thus are more tiring to read at full contrast. This is because screens produce color by emitting light directly, whereas paper produces color by absorbing and reflecting ambient light.
Color remains the idiomatic way to denote clickability on the web. So feel free to use color (with or without underlining) for hyperlinks. But be careful using it on non-clickable text, as it may confuse readers.
PDFs are read on both screen and paper, so which set of rules you follow depends on how you expect the PDF to be used. If there’s a reasonable chance the PDF will be printed, don’t bother with dark-gray body text—it’ll look gritty and strange when printed.
Color in presentations is covered in that section.
The human eye can more easily distinguish light colors than dark. This is why a paint store will have 50 shades of white and only two shades of black. So if you’re using light colors, make gentle adjustments; dark colors need bigger adjustments.
rubricsare so named because they were originally printed in red. Red has been the favored second color in typography for hundreds of years. To get the most vibrant-looking red, use an old printer’s trick—make it slightly orange.
Color on a printed page is made by two techniques. With
spot color, one ink is used to make the color. With process color, four inks are combined (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black).
Spot color is traditionally preferred for projects that involve one or two colors, like letterhead and business cards. Spot color produces the most pure and saturated colors. It also permits special ink effects (e.g., fluorescents, metallics, varnishes).
Process color is used for printing color photographs and other continuous-tone images (jobs for which spot color is ineffective). Process color used to be an expensive technique, mostly restricted to commercial magazines and catalogs. But internet printing services like MOO and 4by6.com have made process color available to anyone.
So why not print everything in process color? The problem is that process color works by layering multiple colors, and changing the balance of those colors by applying a
halftone patternto each. The halftone pattern isn’t visible in color photographs. But it’s visible in type, because it’s a solid color. Halftone patterns also create a gritty edge on small text, which affects legibility. Therefore, process color isn’t ideal for letterhead or business cards.
Pro designers sometimes unfairly malign
gradient fillsas a signifier of amateur design. As with any design tool, they can be used well—or poorly. In the physical world, most of the color we see is essentially a gradient, because any directional light creates a change in brightness. So with type, a background gradient that gently changes brightness can give a naturalistic sense of light and dimensionality.
In a previous era, web designers were encouraged to confine themselves to a palette of
web-safe colors . These colors were “safe” in the sense that 8-bit monitors could produce them without dithering. But that era, and those monitors, are long gone. Today, every color is safe.