10 Beautiful Font Pairings To Power-up Your Brand
We absolutely love pairing fonts here at Sendtiment Studio. Two typefaces create a solid foundation for any font system.
We also know that incorporating multiple font combinations into one’s design is a tricky business. If you get it right, your poster, website or flyer design will become so much more dynamic.
Get it wrong, and things start to look messy. So it does take a bit of deft touch and a keen eye to make the right pairing for your brand.
That said, here are some tips and tricks you can follow to ensure success with your font combinations for your brand and Squarespace website.
Know Your Classifications
Most typefaces can be classified into one of four basic groups: those with serifs, those without serifs, scripts and decorative styles. In this post, we will focus on the two most commonly used categories: serif and sans serif.
A serif typeface has features that resemble small ‘feet’ connected at the end of the strokes. A sans serif typeface does not have the ‘feet.’ The French word ‘sans’ means without.
Digging deeper, we want to take a look at four simple classifications within the serif category and four within the sans serif category. There are more, but four is a great place to get started.
Within the serifs category, there are four basic classifications.
Humanist Serifs typically have low contrast throughout the strokes. If the letterform looks like it could have been drawn with a pen with a 45-degree angle, it’s likely part of the Humanist class. Some examples of these are Garamond, Minion, and Bembo.
Transitional Serifs were established in the mid 18th century by English printer and typographer John Baskerville. These typically have a taller x-height than Humanist serifs and have a bit more detail, such as ball finials, curved tails on the lowercase ‘a’ and medium contracts throughout the strokes. Some examples of these are Plantin, Baskerville, and Caslon.
Modern Serifs have delicate details and high contrast throughout the strokes, with few or no brackets. Some examples of modern serifs are Didot, Bodoni, and Miller.
Slab Serifs became popular in the 19th century for advertising display. Slab serifs with no brackets have thick serifs that are typically the same weight as their main stems and strokes. Some examples of slabs are Boton, Archer, and Rockwell.
SANS SERIF CATEGORY
Within the sans serif category, there are four basic classifications.
Humanist Sans Serifs are based on the proportions of Roman inscriptional letters. Frequently, contrast in stroke weight is readily apparent. Typographic experts claim that these are the most legible and most easily read of the sans serif typefaces. Some examples of these are Frutiger, Optima, and Gill Sans.
Gothic Sans Serifs are space savers. Designed with varying widths, these typefaces have minimal contrast, vertical stress and a large x-height. Some examples of these are Franklin Gothic, Whitney, and News Gothic.
Grotesque Sans Serifs were designed in the 19th century and the first decade or two of the 20th and typically have uniform, upright characters and irregular curves. Some examples of these are Universe, Neue Helvetica, and Franklin Gothic.
Geometric Sans Serifs are built around geometric forms. Many of the letterforms look like shapes with circular bowls and triangular apexes. Some examples of these are Avenir, Futura, and Gotham.
Nobody Likes Conflicts
When combining fonts, you do want contrast, but you don’t want conflict. Generally speaking, typefaces that share a couple qualities — e.g. having the same x-height like in the example below — are more likely to look harmonious together, even if the overall appearance differs.
If you remember one thing from this blog post then remember this. A general rule of thumb is to combine a serif font with a sans serif font, like in the example above. Why? Because, the more contrast between your fonts, the better.
On the flip side, you’ll probably have trouble establishing a hierarchy because the fonts aren’t visually distinguishable from each other. Here’s an easy way to test whether two or more fonts might be too similar: Place them side by side on your screen, then sit back a little and squint. If the fonts look basically the same, then that’s a good indication that your design could benefit from turning up the contrast between your type choices.
Find Balance in the Details
Always look for font pairings that compliment one another. The last thing you want is for both fonts to be fighting for the viewer’s attention. The goal is to achieve visual harmony without risking being too similar. Finding similarity in the details of both typefaces will create rhythm and balance on the page with subtle notes. For example, as shown below placing two fonts of the typefaces on top of each other will allow you to further analyze the details.
Be sure that the overall personalities of your fonts do not clash, that one takes a leading role and the other a supporting role, and that they compliment each other in their details.
So What Is Right For Your Project?
There is an ongoing debate among designers – both print and digital – about what makes an ideal typeface for a project. We could pick sides here but we won't because it ultimately depends on the individual project.
Be inspired by everything around you and look for interesting dichotomies or contrasting elements in your brand as a starting point. For example, are you a chef who pairs tofu with oysters, a hip-hop artist who samples Kung-Fu movies (shout-out Wu-Tang Clan), or a museum with no physical location? These combinations should not work, but they do. So don’t be afraid to experiment a little.
The whole idea of using multiple fonts is to create visual diversity, so there’s no point choosing two that are broadly identical. In fact, the more similar they are, the more likely they will clash.
Equally, two very different fonts could be in danger of pulling your design in opposite directions. The idea is that, if you get the combo right, the viewer is almost unable to notice what you have done. Then you know you have found a pairing that rolls off the eye.
So when it comes to font combinations, the golden rule is as follows: compliment or contrast, but never conflict.
10 Beautiful Font Pairings
Lato + Plantin
Lato is a sans serif typeface family started in the summer of 2010 by Warsaw-based designer Łukasz Dziedzic (“Lato” means “Summer” in Polish). The semi-rounded details of the letters give Lato a feeling of warmth, while the strong structure provides stability and seriousness. “Male and female, serious but friendly. With the feeling of the Summer,” says Łukasz.
Plantin is a Transitional serif typeface originally designed by Fritz Stelzer and Frank Hinman Pierpont in 1913. The design was based off a sixteenth century typeface by Robert Granjon and named after Renaissance book printer Christophe Plantin. Fun Fact: Plantin was one of the main typefaces that inspired the design of Times New Roman.
Why we love this combo: Plantin has such an old world playfulness that it only makes sense to balance it out with the ultimate sans serif Lato to stop things getting too crazy.
Orpheus + Twentieth Century
Orpheus is a serif typeface originally designed by Walter Tiemann in 1928. The typeface features a beautiful, flowing italic design that takes on a calligraphic feel, especially in the huge collection of ornate ligatures, alternate and swash characters.
Twentieth Century is a geometric sans-serif typeface designed by Sol Hess and published through Monotype in 1959. This is a face based on geometric shapes which originated in Germany in the early 1920s and became an integral part of the Bauhaus movement of that time. Although similar to Futura, it has a slightly larger x-height which might make it more suitable for body text. One of our favourite sites, Kinfolk makes good use of the Twentieth Century typeface.
Why we love this combo: While Orpheus has a very distinct attitude, the keywords in describing the Twentieth Century type are form and function - no unnecessary decoration here - making it the ideal pair.
Acumin + Freight Text
Acumin by Robert Slimbach is a new type family from Adobe that does for book (and ebook) designers what Helvetica has always done for graphic designers. Namely, it provides a robust yet water-neutral sans-serif, in a full suite of weights and widths. And unlike the classic pressing of Helvetica that comes on everyone’s computers—but like Helvetica Neue—Acumin contains real italics for every weight and width.
Freight Text is a serif typeface designed by Joshua Darden and published through GarageFonts in 2005. Freight is an extremely versatile superfamily with many different versions available, making it suitable for a wide range of typographic challenges.
Why we love this combo: Acumin works anywhere a clean, modern aesthetic is needed and Freight Text pretty much goes with everything. So you really can’t go wrong with this duo.
Futura + New Caledonia
Released in 1927, Futura is a geometric sans-serif typeface designed by German type designer Paul Renner. It was a revolutionary design for its time, as most books in Germany were still being printed in heavy blackletter scripts. Although it started life with some very eccentric letters, particularly 'a' and 'g', the lower-case alphabet of Futura is now a shade less eccentric and more polished. Fun fact, Futura is the favourite typeface of directors Wes Anderson and Stanley Kubrick!
Caledonia was designed in 1938 by Dwiggins who made this modern design for the Linotype Company, and Caledonia soon achieved the popularity it deserved. There was a time after World War II when it was hard to find any magazine in the United States that was not set in New Caledonia. Just as Times New Roman was the most used Monotype text face, Caledonia was the staple of Linotype users. Caledonia, you will remember, is the poetic name of Scotland made famous perhaps by the couplet of Sir Walter Scott that says, "Oh Caledonia, stern and wild, meet nurse for a poetic child"!
Why we love this combo: The appealing spikiness of Futura makes for clean-looking headlines and text as easy to read as any sans serif face can be. Pairing it a crisp and sprightly modern type like Caledonia strikes just the right amount of balance for many use cases.
ITC Avant Garde Gothic + Bookman
ITC Avant Garde Gothic is a font family based on the logo font used in the Avant Garde magazine. Herb Lubalin devised the logo concept and its companion headline typeface, then he and Tom Carnase, a partner in Lubalin’s design firm, worked together to transform the idea into a full-fledged typeface. The alternates for this logo include really cool sloped A and V that are great for logos. Avant Garde is famously used in the Adidas logo. Avant Garde is a tricky font to pair as it’s all too easy to go too far with the alternates—Ed Benguiat once said, “The only place Avant Garde looks good is in the words Avant Garde.”
This is why a transitional serif typeface like Bookman works so well here. The original design was called Old Style Antique and was created by Alexander Phemister for the Miller and Richard foundry in 1858. Since then there have been many copies and revivals. It was a commonly used font in the seventies, so it can have a retro feel to it, especially with the ornate swash alternates making it an ideal pair for Avant Garde.
Neue Haas Unica + Glypha
An expanded, digital revival of the long-lost Haas Unica, Neue Haas Unica has been described as “sharper than Helvetica, warmer than Univers, cleaner than Akzidenz.” Neue Haas Unica is a neo-grotesque sans-serif typeface that when compared to Helvetica has slightly looser spacing and letterforms that are a touch narrower.
Glypha is a slab serif typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1977 based off Serifa, an earlier slab design from Frutiger. Glypha works well in both text and display applications. It is unusual for a slab serif in that the stroke weights vary slightly. Glypha is highly legible and its relatively condensed proportions make it usable for magazine work or other projects that have space restrictions.
Why we love this combo: Glypha follows the shapes of Univers, similar to but better than Helvetica, and tends to pair well with neo-grotesques like Neue Haas Unica.
Proxima Nova + Skolar
Proxima Nova, designed by Mark Simonson, bridges the gap between typefaces like Futura and Akzidenz Grotesk. The result is a hybrid that combines modern proportions with a geometric appearance. Proxima Nova is an extremely popular typeface to the point that it is starting to feel a little overused. It’s still a very reliable and excellent font though, so there’s a reason for its popularity.
Skolar was designed to address the needs of serious typography and is an extremely complete family that is suitable for even the most complex typographic use cases. We love Skolar because it pretty much accomplishes the goal sought after by virtually every text face: to make its mark with a distinct personality and yet remain effortlessly readable by letting that personality slip secretly and silently into the background.
Why we love this combo: Pairing Skolar with the most popular font was so obvious almost to the point of being a cliche.
Domain Display + GT Walsheim
Domaine Display is the display version of the Domaine family designed by New Zealand-based designer Kris Sowersby in 2013. The typeface has its origins in the logotype Sowersby designed for the Australian wine company, Hardys. The display version of Domaine is more flamboyant than the text version, with higher contrast and more prominent hook terminals. To sum up Domaine’s style: contemporary, curvaceous Latin detailing on a Scotch skeleton.
Inspired by the lettering of Swiss poster designer legend Otto Baumberger from the 1930s, GT Walsheim is a friendly but precise typeface. Unlike other geometric sans-serifs, it sports warm curves and wears a broad smile.
Why we love this combo: Curves on curves on curves!!!
Aktiv Grotesk + Arnhem
Aktiv Grotesk is a grotesque sans-serif typeface that has been described as a “Helvetica killer.” The designers of Aktiv Grotesk wanted to create something in between Helvetica and Univers by removing the quirks from Helvetica and adding a bit of warmth to Univers. Aktiv Grotesk takes an authoritative but neutral position, lending any message just enough support without overpowering it.
In Erik Spiekermann’s list of favourite five typefaces, Arnhem comes in at No.5. He writes “I love it for newspapers, magazines, etc. Not so keen on the headline weights, they look too Dutch for my use (perhaps too Ungerish, but then Fred is also from Arnhem). But the text weights are a superb modern interpretation of a legible serif with an edge.” This sums up the essence of Arnhem—a very legible serif with an edge.
Why we love this combo: Unlike many other grotesque fonts, Aktiv Grotesk was specifically designed to stay true to the grotesque tradition. Aktiv is an ideal choice for branding exercises that require a diverse use of type in headings and short copy at mid-to-large sizes. Arnhem was created with editorial usage in mind, and so excels in setting long passages of text, making a nice pair with Aktiv.
Garamond + Gill Sans
Adobe Garamond was designed by Robert Slimbach and released in 1989. However, the Garamond typeface has a long history spanning many centuries. The original versions were based off the designs of Claude Garamond dating back to the sixteenth century. Garamond is commonly used for setting type in printed books but has also started to become a popular font used on the web.
Gill Sans is a humanist sans-serif typeface designed by British designer Eric Gill in 1926. The design was inspired by Edward Johnston’s Johnston typeface used for the London Underground. Gill Sans was famously used on the classic, minimal Penguin Books cover designs.
Why we love this combo: These two fonts bring back childhood memories of curling up to read a Penguin Book.
Combining fonts is a risky business, but one that can pay off with great rewards. These are just ten of our favorite font combinations that are sure to delight in a variety of contexts.
All these fonts we recommend are either Adobe or Google fonts that are compatible with Squarespace. The cool thing is that every Squarespace site already includes a selection of Adobe and Google Fonts to bring you high-quality and web-friendly typographic choices. All fonts are available in any template, and you can change fonts at any time.
If you are feeling bold, and you want to create your own font combination, just follow our guidelines:
Know your classifications - A blog about medieval manuscripts might look good in Arial, but a serif font is probably truer to its character. If you’re writing a blog about modernism or technology, a sans serif font creates a tight, contemporary mood.
Steer clear of conflicts; compliment or contrast - When it comes to typography, less really is more. Two complementary or contrasting choices make your website readable, while tastefully highlighting the key points.
Find Balance in the Details - just like how not every wine pairs well with every cheese, every typeface adds its own personality and voice to the conversation, so selecting the right combination can be the difference between a harmonious duet and a shouting match.
Bear these rules in mind, or use one of our favorite font combinations as inspiration, and you will be well on your way to typeface mastery.
At the end of the day it really is about what makes the most sense for your brand.
Let us know in the comments below what some of your favorite fonts are.