Sunday, November 04, 2007

Font Basics for Branding

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Font Basics for
Branding Your Small Business

By Erin Ferree (c) 2007

There are many components of a brand identity: logo, color palette, font choice, and the Visual Vocabulary. There's a lot of information available about the use of logos, colors, and Visual Vocabulary, but not much on the effective use of fonts. So, here's some information on the creative, practical, and technical aspects of fonts.

  Font Basics

A font is a set of all the letters in the alphabet, designed with similar characteristics. This is also known as a typeface.

Fonts are usually designed to include several style variations. This can include styles like light, regular, bold, semibold, ultra bold, and italic. Some fonts also include "Expert" versions, which are fonts that include fractions and mathematical symbols.

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Font families are typically packages of fonts that include all of the different versions of a font. Using fonts with large families will give you a wide range of fonts to use in your materials, for variety and emphasis.

There are many basic classifications of fonts. Four of the most common classes of fonts are:

  • Serif fonts, which have little "feet," called serifs, at the ends of the lines that make up the letters. Some examples of serif fonts include Times, Palatino, and Garamond. These fonts are more traditional, elegant, and old-fashioned.

  • Sans-serif fonts don't have those feet. "Sans serif" means "without serifs." Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, and Helvetica are some of the most common sans-serif fonts. These fonts are more clean and modern.

  • Scrípt fonts are calligraphic or cursive fonts. Brush Scrípt and Nuptial Scrípt are two common scrípt fonts.

  • Display fonts are decorative and often used for logos or headlines.

There are other types of fonts as well, including handwriting fonts and all-caps fonts. However, the four listed above are the most common and useful in business communications.

  Creative Font Usage Guidelines

Each type of font has certain characteristics that translate into that font's personality. A font might be serious or light-hearted, traditional or modern, legible or decorative, or any number of other personality traits. The traits of the font that you use in your marketing materials and business communications should reflect and enhance your company's brand.

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Your company should have designated fonts to use in the following situations:

  • A logo font, which is typically not one of the fonts that come installed on Windows machines: it should be more unique and interesting. Some logos will have two or three different fonts in them. If this is the case, then consider using one of those fonts as the secondary font as well.

  • A secondary font, used for headlines, sub-headlines, taglines, special text such as graphics and captions, and decorative text such as pull quotes, which are the large quotes that are used decoratively in articles and documents. This can be the same font as is used in your logo. This is typically an interesting and unique font as well. This may also be used as the font for your contact information in your stationery, depending on its legibility.

  • A tertiary font is optional and may be used when the secondary font is not always legible, for mid-length texts such as pull quotes and contact information.

  • A serif text font, for lengthy printed documents. Printed materials are more easily read if they are in serif font rather than sans-serif font.

  • A sans-serif font, for shorter printed documents and on-screen use. Text on a computer monitor is easier to read in a sans-serif font than in a serif font.

  • A website font, which may be the same font as is used as the main sans-serif text font, depending on how that font translates for online viewing.

All of these fonts should have similar or contrasting characteristics. Choosing fonts with similar characteristics will make your fonts match and create consistency throughout your documents. Choosing fonts with contrasting characteristics will build visual texture and interest into your materials. For example, you could pick all thin, sans-serif fonts such as Arial and Frutiger to create a harmonious, matching suite of fonts. Or you could pick fonts with contrasting characteristics to create greater interest, such as using a serif font like Palatino for the headlines and then using a sans-serif font like Verdana for the text.

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Each piece of marketing material or document created should have a maximum of three or four families of fonts on them. (A font family includes all of the bold and italic variations of a particular font, so using bold or italic effects does not count as additional fonts.) Using more than three or four fonts is confusing, and it looks unprofessional.

  Practical Font Usage Guidelines

Fonts can require special consideration when you send materials to a professional printer for reproduction, use them on your website, or send Word documents to others. Here are some basics on using fonts and preserving their appearance in these cases.

  • In printed materials, it's easier to read long blocks of copy that is set in a serif font. Sans-serif fonts are usually used in print for short blocks of information, like headlines, pull quotes, or bulleted lists.

  • When sending your materials to be professionally printed, make sure to address your desires regarding the use of fonts. You can either include the fonts with the files you send to the printer (which might be considered a copyright license infringement), rasterize your artwork (convert it to pixels, so the font data is no longer needed), or outline your fonts (creating shapes out of the fonts, an option that's available in most vector art programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Macromedia Freehand), so that they can be printed accurately. Outlining the fonts is the best way to ensure that your fonts will remain accurate and sharp.

  • Online, in websites, emails, and HTML newsletters, sans-serif fonts look the best: they're clean, clear, and easy to read. There is one other trick to online font use: you have to make sure that you use fonts that will be installed on the computers of people reading your site. Otherwise, your text will appear in the default font selected by their browser, which is often Courier, a very plain font. That limitation does leave you with several fonts to choose from, though, including Verdana, Arial, Tahoma, and Trebuchet MS.

  • Serif fonts could also be used on websites; however, it's best to use them in limited quantities, such as for headlines and subheads. Some fonts that are available to use on the web include Times, Times New Roman, and Georgia.

  • Another issue that commonly arises with online fonts is the difficulty in controlling the size and appearance of those fonts. Standard font tags in HTML don't provide precise sizing control and need to be used several times throughout each HTML document, so making changes can be time-consuming. You can use Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, to precisely control the exact size of your fonts and to make site-wide font, size, or color changes with one simple alteration.

  • In Word Documents, you also want to make sure that the fonts that you use for the text will be available on the recipient's computer. Good fonts to use are the standard fonts that come installed on PCs, which include Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, Times New Roman, Georgia, Palatino, Courier, and Trebuchet MS.

  • In order to insert a small amount of customized text - such as your logo, tagline, or address information - create an image of that information and place it in the header and footer of the page.

  • Another way to preserve the appearance of text is to export your document as a PDF file and send it to the recipient; PDF files embed the fonts into each document so that they can be viewed on any computer and still look right.

  Some Technical Info About Font File Types

When you purchase fonts to use on your computer, you'll often be given a choice of buying a PostScript, True Type, or Open Type font. Here is a brief explanation of the characteristics and problems with each of these formats:

  • PostScript fonts are considered industry standard and are therefore preferred by professional printers. There is a format of PostScript fonts available for Macintosh computers and another format available for Windows computers; those fonts cannot be shared between Macs and PCs.

  • True Type fonts are often found on Windows machines. These fonts do not print as well as Postscript fonts.

  • Open Type fonts are the newest type of font. They are cross-platform compatible, but many fonts aren't yet available in this format.

With this information about the creative, practical, and technical aspects of font usage, we hope that you can make font choices that will enhance your brand.

About The Author
Erin Ferree is a brand identity and marketing design strategist who creates big visibility for small businesses. Through her customized marketing and brand identity packages, Erin helps her clients discover their brand differentiators, then designs logos, business cards, and other marketing materials and websites to reflect that differentiation, as well as to improve credibility and memorability.

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