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10 Types of Fonts Every Professional Designer Needs to Own
Kevin Whipps September 2, 2021 · 8 min read
free, you get them — never know when you’ll need one, right? Yeah, fonts are fun. But there are some types that you need, even if they’re ones you don’t necessarily want. If you were a mechanic, you wouldn’t expect to get by with just a socket set. No, you’d have a toolbox full of wrenches, hammers, screwdrivers, and specialty tools because a good mechanic knows that their tools are their livelihood. The same applies to your fonts, and so, to hammer (see what I did there?) that metaphor home, you need to fill up your toolbox with certain types of fonts to succeed. What are they?
DisplayI mean, we’ve got to start with the obvious stuff here, because, well, it’s obvious. A Display font sets the tone of your webpage, article, or design. It’s the flash and style that grabs attention. And who doesn’t like a good Display font, anyway? Nobody I want to get a chocolate milkshake with, that’s for sure. My personal tastes with Display fonts range the board, but I’ve had a thing for fonts with a steampunk-y or handwritten vibe. Heartland being a good example of the latter, and Java Hertitages for the latter. And you know what will always swing me toward one font over another? Bonuses. Extras. Fancy goodies. Give me a layered font with all sorts of stylistic alternates and I’m all over it. It’s an addiction I’m not willing to kick.
Symbol & Glyphic FontsThe beauty of a font that falls into the Symbols category is its specificity. Let’s say that you’re putting together a collection of every state in the United States, and all of them have an additional graphic element. You could get the vector files, or just buy a font that has them all, like MapGlyphs. Maybe you need some arrows for your next project — Hand Drawn Arrows has your back. Or say you just want icons, there are fonts like Listicons that have everything you need and more. So yeah, while every font has its intended use, many are quite flexible in their applications. A Symbol or Glyphic font has a very narrow usage, but one you might find yourself needing. It happened to me just the other day. I was working on a project for my company when I realized that instead of reinventing the wheel and doing a bunch of work myself, I could purchase a font that did the job for me. Easy peazy.
BlackletterBack when I was a rookie designer, I lumped almost all Blackletter fonts into a category I called “Old School.” I used to build custom cars and trucks, and back then I had this love of traditional lowriders — 1960s cars and trucks, typically — with whitewalls and four-pump setups. But the big thing was that plaque in the back window, typically done in a Blackletter font of some type, designating who they were with. I never did build a lowrider or join one of the clubs, but for me, that was what a Blackletter font was all about. Today, not so much. Take a look at our Blackletter category. See anything that would look at home under the back glass of a ’59 Impala? Sure, maybe a few. But for the most part there’s a wide variety of different styles that fit into the mold. Look at Dramaga, for example. If I played in a metal band, I’d heavily consider this font for our logo. Nordica? Perfect for a comic book project I’ve got brewing around in my head. If you had a closed mind about Blackletter fonts like I did for a long time, get over it. They’re here and they’re awesome.
HandwrittenA good Handwritten font is worth its weight in gold. You can use them as an accent, for branding purposes, in a killer design, for a title, and the options just keep going from there. You can break them down into Handwritten fonts done with a marker, like Have Heart. Bonjour looks like it was done with watercolors and a fat brush, while Serendipity looks more like a thin marker or paintbrush. And there are so many other variations that you could get lost in a sea of them if you’re not careful.
BodyThis is going to seem dumb to say, but you need a good body font. It seems obvious, right? Of course you want a body font, because it’s what you use in the bulk of your website or design’s copy. But far too often designers focus on the flash and flare of the headlines, pull quotes, or auxiliary designs, and ignore the rest. Don’t do that. Instead, get yourself a good collection of body fonts that you can have the flexibility to do what you want with the copy you have. Need suggestions? I like two: Proxima Nova and Optima. Proxima Nova is a nice sans-serif font that I’ve used in print for a long time now, and I love it for its flexibility. It’s modern, but not overdone, and there are a ton of variations so I have lots of choices. Optima is a funny one because I found it when I wrote an article about the death of Hermann Zapf. I’ve since used it on everything from body copy to to-do lists, and now my wife uses it for her CAD work. Fun fact: in case you hadn’t noticed, Creative Market just switched to Averta as the site’s body copy. This typeface was designed by shop owner Kostas Bartsokas.
Slab SerifI’m a sucker for a good Slab Serif. They’re flexible, and they have such a clean look. Take Hudson, NY, for example. Blocky, chunky, and super simple. Or then there’s Old School, which has that thick look with thinner lines, forming this weird dichotomy. And even though I find myself using these types of fonts a lot, I still never get tired of them. Weird.
Sans SerifThese next two are going to seem kind of obvious, and that’s because they are. You need some kind of Sans Serif fonts in your collection, and since a lot of the ones I’ve listed so far fall into that category, you’re probably covered. Which type of Sans Serif? Well, I like using Sans Serif fonts all over the place, from logos to body copy, so I might be a bit biased. Some new favs of mine: Aquawax, which has some of the sexiest Ws I’ve ever seen, and more flexibility than a gymnast car salesman. Brooklyn is also super clean, and another one that I’m going to have to add to my collection.
SerifObviously Serif fonts are necessary parts of a good font collection, even though there’s some debate about their readability. But, c’mon, you need some of them in your toolbox, right? So let me throw out a few cool ideas. Take a peek at Metropolis. That bad boy makes me want to create a logo for an architecture firm right now. Victorian Parlor hits on all my favorite steampunk-y things. (And, for the record, it’s kinda weird that I was able to use the word “steampunk-y” twice — wait — three times in the same post.)
ScriptI like things with a little bit of flourish to them — not all the time, but sometimes. And when that occasion hits, I want to go big. It’s all about the more flare and panache that a font has, and how dynamic I can make it work in the piece. Love it.Aurora Script — just rad. I love the swoops and swirls that make everything looks so pretty. Did I just say that out loud? No, obviously, because I’m writing this. Geez, I’ve got a problem.
Color FontsThat’s right, I saved the best for last. You’ve probably read about our love of Color Fonts before, but let me refresh your memory if not. Although yes, you can already color fonts, it wasn’t previously possible to use multi-color fonts right out of the box. Meaning you couldn’t just type “Frog” into your app of choice and have a multi-color design pop out. But now that Open Type-SVG and SBIX are a thing, you can integrate color fonts into all of your work. Just look at some of the amazing options at your disposal. Crazy, right? Now go get some.