There are a handful of keyboard shortcuts for special characters I routinely need but can never quite remember when I’m working on a PC. Because I split time between Mac and PC, I tend to confuse “alt” and “option” key shortcuts. I put together this cheat sheet of the characters I need the most, plus some other popular international characters.
Many people don’t know how great the font tryout tools are over at MyFonts.com. Here is a quick tutorial to show you just how easy it is to take a typeface or font for a spin, changing it’s size, kerning, and even sampling its extras like ligatures and fractions. It takes about 1 minute to drill down to exactly what you are looking for and start experimenting.
What would Helvetica look like if it wasn’t so perfectly stoic, so absolutely neutral? Perhaps it would look like “Smilevetica“, if it took a positive outlook on life. Helvetica, Helvetica, why so serious all the time? Have a chat with Smilevetica and brighten up!
Font choices can make or break a message. In the 23 examples we created below, we broke the message on purpose to highlight how on a conscious or subconscious level, poor typeface choices negatively affect the message in the copy.
Last month I posted an article called 19 top fonts in 19 top combinations which caught the attention of Jacob Cass and Smashing Magazine and quite a few other readers as a result of all the traffic that came in from Twitter. I also got a lot of correspondence over the article with a large dose of “THANKS” included, and even a free virtual beer. Why was this article so popular with some people? I know the topic had been covered before.
As the feedback came in, the answer became clear: graphics. Not just any graphics, but specifically the PDF chart attached to the post.
Grab your beveled pica ruler, Letraset rub downs, and your favorite browser. We did some fresh research to discover what the best typography blogs are, according to the top graphic design blogs. We went through our own lists (see Related Posts below) of top graphic design blogs, some other lists, and tallied up all of their recommendations, comments, and anecdotal data to discover the 28 top typography blogs. We sorted the list from “most recommended” down to “regular recommended”.
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Ikea, as many of you know, changed their typeface for all catalog, in-store, and online presence to Verdana. Yes, Verdana. The outrage by graphic designers and others with an intuitive design sense let out an immediate cry of digust. An online petition was started. I just got around to signing it. It’s up to about 6300 right now.
Their corporate identity for decades has revolved around the usage of such classic fonts such as Futura and Century Schoolbook on which they based their own typefaces, Ikea Sans and Ikea Serif, respectively.
If you like timeless typography and good design, you need to head over to the petition website and sign it right away! Please don’t wait…
I can’t imagine, as much as I like dill salmon, swedish meatballs, cool cheap lamps, hanging canvass storage units, maple plywood bookcases, and hot pretzels on the way out, I just can’t imagine 3 hours of being confronted with a never-ending stream of Verdana in my face. I can’t do it…
Latest update: April 5, 2016: Out of the huge number of fonts used by graphic designers, there really is quite a small pool of fonts consistently chosen over and over again by graphic designers as their “most used”. I took some time to search out as many “top fonts most preferred for graphic designers” search results (plus variations) that I had time to visit. I spent several hours visiting blogs, forums, magazine websites, etc..
We did the homework so you can pass the test!
We spent a bunch of hours weeding through the menagerie of great and not so great blogs and websites to see if we could come up with a nice cross section of agreed-upon, best font recommendations from sources the collective brain of the web has deemed reputable. The results to any seasoned graphic designer will not be surprising.
[Note: amended article to get rid of a spam blog that hijacked someone else’s article]
But first, an analogy.
I went to the Boston Science Museum as a kid in the 70’s and saw this huge wall full of ping-pong balls dropping from a hole behind a big sheet of plexiglass. In between the plexiglass and the wall was a grid of pegs forming a diamond shaped pattern across the entire wall. At the bottom of it all was a row of slots the size of a ping-pong ball. A ball would drop from the center and bounce all over the place and finally come to rest in a slot at the bottom. Over the course of several hundred balls, a perfect bell curve would form. Once it filled up, the balls would clear out and the process would start over.
I took my own 3 kids to the Boston Science Museum on Father’s Day. I was younger than my oldest son the last time I was there. I wondered if 2 things were still there: the ping-pong ball wall and the 1969 VW Bug that was flattened to about an inch thick. Well, the VW was gone, but that ping-pong ball was still there. And guess what? The bell curve the falling balls made was exactly the same, producing the same bell curve it did some several decades back.
What does this have to do with fonts? Everything.
If you could grab 1000 pieces of printed material and do a font count, I bet we’d see similar results to the list below. We went to umpteen sites (good and bad) and took the best “top fonts for graphic designers” lists and tallied up the top 10. When it came down to it, there were really only 6 websites which we felt were really indicative of what people were finding when they did the “top fonts” search. Yes, there were a lot more, and our decision to not tally this or that site was simply due to the law of diminish and return. A much larger sampling set would not have really altered the results. Our search was not looking for top new fonts, but rather the top classic fonts.
And so, like the falling ping-pong balls, font usage falls into a bell curve, with the zany and crazy and all-but-useless on either end of the curve. But the middle the bell curve is piled high with results from the same core set of best fonts. I would venture it’s less than 100 faces that make up the bulk of all printed material (that print Roman characters, that is!).
Top 10 fonts for graphic designers
In alphabetical order, we have the following classics:
- Akzidenz Grotesk
- Franklin Gothic
- Helvetica / Helvetica Neue
- Lucida Grande
We culled this list from the following sites:
- Die 100 Besten Schriften
- Just Creative Design – Top 7 Fonts Used By Professionals In Graphic Design
- David Airey – 13 typefaces for graphic designers
- Typophile – Top 10 typefaces (a long list of user submitted entries)
- Spoon Graphics – 25 Classic Fonts That Will Last a Whole Design Career
- Smashing Magazine – 80 Beautiful Typefaces For Professional Design
The top fonts for graphic designers will change very little over time
The moral of the story is that while these sites may not be indicative of search results in 6 months or 6 years, if you do the search and matrices again at that period of time, my guess is that the results will vary little, if any. Garamond has made it 500 years so far. I suspect it has some legs left in it…
A few of my favorites didn’t make this list. A few of my favorites didn’t make my own list of top 10 fonts, so I could keep it to a nice number like 10. All said though, if you have these 10 fonts in your library, you will have 10 weapons of mass design at your disposal…
There are approximately 73 billion typefaces out there in the wild the last time I counted. 99.5% of them are either copies of classic fonts, totally useless in regards to real typography, or copies of classic fonts rendered totally useless for real typography because of poor construction of the font files like missing characters and incorrect kerning tables.
Where does that leave the budding young graphic designer looking for the right starting set of best fonts on which to base a career? Well, lets look at painting for a moment and find an analogy.
When you go to the art supply store, you can find a bewildering array of oil or acrylic paints to choose from. What exactly is Cadmium Red Light (Hue) and Phthalocyanine green? If you are an experienced painter, you know what those are. But if you are a new painter and have a good book or instructor, you were instructed to avoid those tubes and go for a classic “starter set”. You have a wise instructor. Put down the Dioxazine Purple, and pick up the 6 tube starter set like you were instructed.
Many painters use a limited palette. A limited palette is a set of colors from which many new colors can be mixed. For instance, my favorite watercolor artist Ray Campbell Smith only uses about 6 colors on many works. The core set of colors that make up the 6 color set is even smaller – only 3. Those three colors, a type of red, a type of blue, and a type of yellow, are combined to give a huge variety of hues. Adding the minimal use of a darker color (like a Payne’s Gray) further extends the hues created with the 3 primary colors, and same goes for the other one or two colors that might be used in limited circumstances. Where am I going with this?
To draw from this analogy, you only really need a very small sub-set of the most popular fonts to create a huge variety of work. Some people collect fonts and use them all over the place. Some designers have worked with a half-dozen fonts their entire careers and are quite well-off. They put the time they could have used looking for “that special font” into a solid grid-based layout, thought about content and white space, and became better designers for it.
So what are the top 10 fonts a graphic designer should have? This list by no means is definitive. However, if you find 20 other articles on the web suggesting an approach similar to this, you will find by and large the same typefaces showing up over and over. In fact, if you search for the top fonts of all time, or top favorite fonts, you will probably see about 20 fonts, out of the 73 billion available, showing up over and over. Not that you can’t grab something off the wall once in a while, but by and large the problem of good typography has been solved over and over, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel or look too hard in strange places for great fonts for regular daily work.
Here is my list of top 10 fonts for graphic designers, in no alphabetical order:
Top 10 Fonts for Graphic Designers
- Akzidenz Grotesk
- Gill Sans
- Helvetica / Helvetica Neue
- Trade Gothic
This list reflects what I actually use on routine basis. I actually use a few more, but I wanted to keep this list to 10. I would gather that other limited-font-user designers like me have 5 or 6 overlapping choices here, or use similar substitutes. For instance, Trade Gothic (which I love) is different but comes close to functioning the same way Avenir does. I own more faces (weights) of Trade Gothic, so I usually end up going with that when the need arises and the other sans serif fonts aren’t quite right. However, if I did own more faces of Avenir, I’d probably use it over Trade Gothic in most cases.
As a freelance graphic designer you might not have lot’s of cash to buy all the great fonts and faces you see and like, but the reality is you only need a thorough set of basics to get you quite far indeed. Remember, some of the greats only ever used a half-dozen fonts with any frequency!
If you focus on using a core set of fonts, like a core set of primary colors, you will be able to create an endless variety of styles, moods, layouts, etc., and not feel in the least bit slighted or hindered in your effort. Focus your work on getting a great layout, white space, grid, visual rhythm, and content, and you’ll be creating graphic design masterpieces in no time at all.