So you want to get a handle on the main types of fonts used by graphic designers and typographers every day. We have a list of 17 of the most used kinds of typefaces in general order of their usage and popularity. The most elementary and different kinds of fonts are here listed for you, so look no further!
We’ll look at all our examples using the same format: the name of the font, a basic description, and an example so you can see each one in action. Here we go!
Serif fonts are typefaces composed of lines with their ends embellished with small marks or strokes making them easy to read. Serifs originated in the Latin Alphabet. An example of classic serif fonts are Times Roman, New Century Gothic, and Palatino.
2) Sans Serif
Sans Serif fonts are fonts composed of simple lines. They do not have the small embellishments that the Serif fonts do on the end of each character. The term comes from the French word Sans, meaning “without” and “serif” (Dutch) with the meaning “line”. Some popular sans serif fonts are Helvetica, Avant Garde and Geneva.
Display type is also known as headline type and is meant to draw and hold a viewer’s attention. They tend to appear in advertisements on billboards, posters, book jackets and packaging. Type usually set larger than 14 point is considered “display” and sets the tone for a design piece.
4) Slab Serif
The Slab Serif is about a 200 year old letterform that came from Britain and quickly became very popular, with their geometric and beefy block-like serifs plastered all over everything from crates to pamphlets. Until this time, the usual font of the day had been used for long sections of type, but as the printing industry grew, advertisers were in need of a bold call-out type. Slab fonts carry a certain typographic authority, that demand the viewers attention.
5) Hand drawn
Hand drawn fonts are a great way to add a little character and charm to your design. Some are created completely by hand, while others are sketched and scanned into Illustrator or Photoshop. Some are very clean and easy to read, while others may have a natural sketchy flow giving a piece a particular personality or mood. There are endless possibilities in creating hand drawn fonts by combining qualities found in various styles of type such as Art Deco, historic display, thin, and thick slabs, etc.
Script fonts come in many styles from casual to highly organized and elegant. They are based on the fluid strokes that are created by handwriting. Script fonts are popularly used for formal invitations such as wedding or concerts, as well as informal gatherings.
Retro type is used to carry a viewer decades into the past achieving an “old fashioned” look to creative pieces. Retro fonts are found in serif, sans serif, and script typefaces and are often used as bold headlines in vintage and classic posters, logos and packaging.
Dingbats, also known as printers characters or ornaments, are fonts that have shapes and symbols in the place of the alphabet and numeric characters. There are many varieties: Pictograms, design elements, user interface elements, buttons, illustrations, and bullet lists. One of the main advantages is the ability to create various sizes and colors without having to do any special editing. Dingbat types of fonts are eminently useful and should be a part of your basic type library. Find a good one, learn what’s in it, and keep it handy.
Monospaced fonts were created in order to meet the requirements of the typewriter. They are referred to as being non-proportional fonts, or fixed-width fonts. Meaning, that all of their characters occupy the same amount of horizontal space as opposed to variable width fonts that have different spacings and widths–they are proportionally spaced. Some examples of these fonts are Courier and Monaco. They are not defined by their beauty, and are often more difficult to read than proportional fonts. Monospaced types of fonts are always useful, though, in particular situations where you need things to line up.
A Novelty font is considered to be any typeface that does not fall into one of the major categories of type – serif, sans serif, Old English, script or cursive. Often they are attention-grabbers and are used in headlines or call-outs and commonly define the personality of your piece. Novelty types of fonts are fun to look for and collect, and there is a novel typeface for any mood or aesthetic you can think of. The possibilities are simply endless, as there are no rules to break when designing a novelty typeface.
Comic fonts are usually friendly, easy to read and most popular for use in comics and cartoons–there’s lots of alternatives out there these days to choose from (in order to avoid the infamous Comic Sans) if you’re looking to find a comic book theme. In making your font choices you should consider ultra-legible fonts that are easy on the eyes and brain for all age groups. You’ll also want to be aware of suitability in whatever project you’re working on, ie., you don’t want the usual light-hearted comic font if you’re interested in relaying a more serious subject matter. Generally comic typesetting has a very specific task in comparison to other typography. With cartoons and speech bubbles, the font carries the mood of the strip and is not secondary to the overall design as most other typography is. The lettering will highly influence the feel and impact of what is being communicated. Remember, comic style types of fonts are pretty overused. If you can pick something else, do it.
The Stencil fonts were invented in 1937 by R. Hunter Middleton. They consisted of capital letters with rounded edges and thick main strokes with breaks in the face.The invention was for the Ludlow Typograph Company in Chicago where he worked. The letters were set with hand-assembled brass matrices for their linecasting machine and were created mainly to set newspaper headlines. Over the years, stencil use has not only been customary for newspaper headlines, public signage and crate labeling, but also very artistically used on posters, graffiti or street art.
Here’s a great resource for beautiful modern stencil fonts.
This typeface is also referred to as Gothic, or Old English and was used to set the Gutenberg Bible – the first book printed with movable type. It is characterized as having black texture and very decorated caps, with dramatic thick to thin strokes and serifs. The Blackletter typeface is highly stylized with elaborate swirls, and yet is very readable.
Calligraphy is based on an ancient writing technique using flat edged pens to create unique and artistic lettering. The movement and the direction of the pen determined the thickness of the lines. This stylistic writing is a form of fine art and is commonly used for typesetting formal invitations or letters.
Typewriter fonts were created to resemble the classic mechanical typewriters, which were used for composing old letters and documents before the digital age. The varieties available are perfect for projects that require a retro or vintage look. 1913 Typewriter designed by Gilles Le Corre is a great example of this type of font. Often these fonts take on a grungy characteristic in order to represent irregularities and erosions similar to the old well-worn books of poetry and literature. Typewriter fonts are great for poster design and scrapbooks, as well as designs incorporating snippets of old letters and stories. These types of fonts never quite go out of style.
Pixel fonts, also known as Screen Fonts, were created solely for the purpose of display on a computer screen and looks perfectly sharp because it’s structure is based on squares. These fonts have become popular for their clarity and saved the day for designers in the past, who would attempt displaying fonts in small sizes. Pixel fonts are crisp and usually displayed in high contrast colors such as black and white. Not grays or other shaded in-betweens. These types of of fonts seem to be out of style with high resolution screens being the norm now, which contributes to a lessoning of the awareness of this aesthetic.
Grunge fonts are represent a style of dirty, loud and irregular design elements often used to characterize a portion of the 80’s and 90’s disgruntled, rebellious generation. Certainly in typography a growing discontentment with clean, neat and crisp design emerged. The design of the day was heavy, messy and emotionally charged. David Carson, the acclaimed graphic designer who created Ray Gun magazine, was known as the Godfather of grunge and promoted methods of rule-breaking and constant change in design rather than the clean and timeless form which was previously taught. Eventually trends of the chaotic began to fade away as the grid and simplicity made it’s way back onto the scene.
And there you have 17 different types of fonts which are more than enough to get you through a life-long career in graphic design. Now go design something cool!