There are countless fonts in a diverse range of classifications and unless you're trained in typography, it’s hard to know if you’re choosing the right font type for your project or composition.

Serif Fonts

Serif typefaces came into vogue in the 15th century and held court for three hundred years. The most classic, original fonts, they are named for the little feet at the top and bottom of the letterforms.  Even within this designation, there are tons of smaller classifications (Old Style, Classical, Neo-Classical, Transitional, to name a few).  

Old Style
This category includes the first Roman types, originally created between the late 15th and mid 18th centuries, as well as typefaces patterned after those designed in this earlier period. The axis of curved strokes is normally inclined to the left in these designs, so that weight stress is at approximately 8:00 and 2:00 o’clock. The contrast in character stroke weight is not dramatic, and hairlines tend to be on the heavy side. Serifs are almost always bracketed in old style designs and head serifs are often angled. Some versions, like the earlier Venetian old style designs, are distinguished by the diagonal cross stroke of the lowercase e.

Examples for this are:

  • Adobe Garamond

  • Centaur

  • Bembo

 

Key Features are:

  • Left inclined axis

  • Low stroke contrast

  • Angled head serifs and bracketed serifs

 

Transitional

English printer and typographer John Baskerville established this style in the mid 18th century. These typefaces represent the transition between old style and neoclassical designs, and incorporate some characteristics of each. While the axis of curve strokes can be inclined in transitional designs, the strokes normally have a vertical stress. Weight contrast is more pronounced than in old style designs. Serifs are still bracketed and head serifs are oblique. This typeface was the basis for the very familiar Times New Roman.

Examples for this are:

  • Baskerville

  • Times New Roman

  • Georgia

 

Key Features are:

  • More vertical axis

  • Higher stroke contrast

  • Flat sharper serifs

 

Neoclassical (Modern or Didone)

These are typefaces created within the late 18th century, or their direct descendants. The work of Giambattista Bodoni epitomizes this style of type. Contrast between thick and thin strokes is abrupt and dramatic. The axis of curved strokes is vertical, with little or no bracketing. In many cases, stroke terminals are “ball” shapes rather than an evocation of a broad pen effect. These are typically clean and elegant typefaces that aren’t generally suited for large body text due to their high contrast and vertical nature.

Examples are:

  • Didot

  • Bodoni

  • Walbaum

 

Key Features are:

  • Very dramatic contrast in stroke weight

  • Vertical axis

  • Minimal bracketing of serif, ball shape terminals

 

Square (Slab or Egyptian)

Slab serif typefaces became popular in the 19th century for advertising display. These typefaces have very heavy serifs with minimal or no bracketing. Generally, changes in stroke weight are imperceptible. To many readers, slab serif type styles look like sans serif designs with the simple addition of heavy (stroke weight) serifs. These faces were meant to scream from the paper and really draw the viewers attention. A sub category of the Slab Serif are the Clarendons. Clarendons followed the same look and feel of the Slabs but were a bit more restrained to make them more appropriate for body text.

Examples are:

  • Rockwell

  • Serifa

  • Clarendon

 

Key Features are:

  • Heavy slab-like square serifs

  • No bracketing

  • Very low stroke contrast

 

Glyphic

Glyphic typefaces are those that try to mimic typefaces that have been chiseled or engraved into a surface instead of those that have been drawn by pen. Contrast in stroke weight is usually at a minimum, and the axis of curved strokes tends to be vertical. The distinguishing feature of these typefaces is the triangular-shaped serif design, or a flaring of the character strokes where they terminate. In some type classification systems this category is sub-divided into two groups: “glyphic” and “latin.” “Latins” are faces with strictly triangular-shaped serifs.

Examples are:

  • Friz Quadrata

  • Albertus

  • Elan

 

Key Features are:

  • Low contrast stroke weight

  • Flared triangular serifs

  • Vertical axis

 

 

Sans Serif Fonts

Sans Serif typefaces are those that do not have the little feet on the ends of each stroke. They feel much more contemporary and friendly. Sans Serif typefaces are often used at a large scale to have a straightforward big and bold impact.

Grotesque

These are the first commercially popular sans serif typefaces. Contrast in stroke weight is most apparent in these styles, there is a slight “squared” quality to many of the curves, and several designs have the “bowl and loop” lowercase g common to Roman types. In some cases the R has a curled leg, and the G usually has a spur. This category also includes more modern, sans serif designs patterned after the first grotesques. Stroke contrast is less pronounced than earlier designs, and much of the “squareness” in curved strokes has been rounded. Normally the most obvious distinguishing characteristic of these faces is their single bowl g and more monotone weight stress.

Examples are:

  • Univers

  • Helvetica

  • Franklin Gothic

 

Key features are:

  • Squared off curves

  • Some stroke contrast

  • Two story “g”

 

Square Sans Serif
These designs are generally based on grotesque character traits and proportions, but have a definite and, in some instances, dramatic squaring of normally curved strokes. They usually have more latitude in character spacing than their sans serif cousins, and tend to be limited to display designs.

 

Examples are:

  • Eurostyle

  • Cachet

  • Neo Sans

 

Key features are:

  • Dramatic squaring of curves

  • Little stroke contrast

 

Humanist

As the name suggests, Humanist sans serif have a more friendly human feel to them and their varying stroke weight is meant to be reminiscent of the handmade calligraphic letter. These typefaces tend to pair well with Old Style serifs due to their shared base qualities. Edward Johnston (1872-1944) was a British craftsman who developed the typeface Johnston which was one of the first Humanist typefaces in 1916.

Examples are:

  • Optima

  • Verdana

  • Frutiger

 

Key features are:

  • Calligraphic stroke variations

  • Angled terminals and connections

  • Oval shapes and open counters

 

Geometric

Geometric sans serifs attempt to further simplify letterforms by basing them entirely on geometric shapes like circles, squares, and triangles. Their structure makes it a bit difficult to read when set in large body text and letters like the circular ‘o’ and single story ‘a’ have a tendency to get confused with each other at a small size. Herbert Bayer, Jakob Erbar, and Paul Renner were the pioneers of this style. Fun fact – Paul Renner’s Futura is the typeface used for the plaque placed on the moon by Aldrin and Armstrong.

 

Examples are:

  • Futura

  • Erbar

  • Avant Garde

 

Key features are:

  • Geometric shapes

  • Low to no stroke contrast

  • Single story “a” and “g”

 

 

Script Styles

Script typefaces are meant to mimic handwriting almost exactly. This includes writing with a variety of different tools (nibs, markers, pens etc.). They can all be classified into Casual, Formal, and Blackletter. Due to the nature of typefaces, the natural variation between each letter that occurs while writing by hand is difficult to translate to the computer. Some classic examples include Mistral and Zapfino. Contemporary foundries like Underware have created typefaces that have varying letterforms for repeated letters and feel closer to the organic experience.

Formal Scripts
These typefaces are derived from 17th century formal writing styles. Many characters have strokes that join them to other letters.

Examples are:

  • Bickham Scriot

  • Young Baroque

  • Elegy

Calligraphic Scripts
These scripts mimic calligraphic writing. They can be connecting or non-connecting in design. Many appear to have been written with a flat-tipped writing instrument.

Examples are:

  • Mistral

  • Vivaldi

  • Belltrap

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blackletter & Lombardic Scripts
These typefaces are patterned on manuscript lettering prior to the invention of movable type.

Examples are:

  • Monmouth

  • Agincourt

  • Goudy Text

 

 

 

 

 

Casual Scripts
These typefaces are designed to suggest informality, as if they were written quickly. Many times they appear to have been drawn with a brush. Normally, character strokes connect one letter to the next.

 

Examples are:

  • Brush Script

  • Freestyle Script

  • Limehouse Script

 

 

 

 

Decorative

This is a far-reaching category that covers almost everything that does not fit under any of the previously mentioned categories. These typefaces usually have a lot of character and each individual typeface can convey a very specific mood. These are usually best used for display text. 

 Typography 

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