mixing fontsLess is more

En­thu­si­asm for fonts of­ten leads to en­thu­si­asm for mul­ti­ple fonts, and then the ques­tion:How do I get bet­ter at mix­ing fonts in a document?”

Mix­ing fonts is like mix­ing pat­terned shirts and ties—there aren’t im­mutable rules. Some peo­ple have a knack for it; some don’t.

Bear in mind these gen­eral principles.

  1. Mix­ing fonts is never a re­quire­ment—it’s an op­tion. You can get plenty of mileage out of one font us­ing vari­a­tions based on point size, bold or italic, small caps, and so on.

  2. The rule of di­min­ish­ing re­turns ap­plies. Most doc­u­ments can tol­er­ate a sec­ond font; many fewer can tol­er­ate a third; al­most none can tol­er­ate four or more. (If you’re mak­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion, treat all the slides as one document.)

  3. You can mix any two fonts that are vis­i­bly dif­fer­ent. If you’ve heard you can only mix a serif font with a sans serif font, it’s not true. Much like mix­ing col­ors, lower con­trast be­tween fonts can be more ef­fec­tive than higher con­trast. Look at any Amer­i­can news­pa­per—typ­i­cally, the body text and the head­lines are both in serif fonts, but dif­fer­ent ones.

  4. Font mix­ing is most suc­cess­ful when each font has a con­sis­tent role in the doc­u­ment. In a re­search pa­per, try one font for body text and one font for head­ings. Or try one font for things in the cen­ter of the doc­u­ment (body text and head­ings) and one font for things at the edges (line num­bers, footer, and other mis­cel­lany). Or in bul­leted and num­bered lists, try one font for the bul­let or num­ber and one font for the text of the list item—a tech­nique I use through­out this book.

  5. It rarely works to have mul­ti­ple fonts in a sin­gle para­graph. Bet­ter to re­strict your­self to one font per para­graph, and change fonts only at para­graph breaks.

  6. While I’m re­luc­tant to en­dorse rote meth­ods, this one usu­ally works well: mix fonts by the same font de­signer. For in­stance, pair­ings of At­las and Lyon (both de­signed by Kai Bernau), Al­right Sans and Har­riet (by Jack­son Ca­vanaugh) or Con­course and Eq­uity (by me).

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