Knowing how to use fonts effectively doesn’t need to be a daunting task.

When used with purpose, style and attention, fonts can make a design stand out, convey a brand clearly and get a message to jump off the page. Mastering the art of fonts is crucial for design success so take these tips about how to use fonts effectively.

01. Know your s’s

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First up, don’t confuse your serif, sans serif, and script.

Serif: A letter or character with an extra stroke, line or flourish at the ends

Sans serif: A letter or character without the extra flourish at the ends (sans means ‘without’)

Script: A letter with fluid stroke like cursive writing

Second up, know where and when to use them:

  • Always choose an easy-to-read font for body text. Generally, sans-serif is easier to read on a screen while a serif (particularly a Roman typeface) is easier to read in print.

02. Use fonts to create hierarchy

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Typographic hierarchy refers to the order that text is read. The eye is naturally drawn to large or dominant elements, so choose the largest font size for the most important message—the title—followed by the subtitle and body text.

Remember, some fonts look better in short sentences and some fonts work better for paragraphs and each font has a different width, height, thickness, style and size.

03. Use contrasting font styles

Fonts come in different shapes and sizes. Using one font family and making use of size, style and uppercase and lowercase can create contrasting titles and subtitles.

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The fonts in the Weekender image have contrast with lower case text for the heading and uppercase text for the subtitle. Font size enhances this contrast.

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The font Raleway has been used in two different styles in the Rainforests image: heavy for the title and regular for the subtitle.

04. Know when to use all-caps

Titles with all capital letters can really make your message stand out. They look elegant for short blurbs, titles and subtitles but a paragraph in all-caps can be difficult to read.

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Note that script and more elaborate fonts shouldn’t be used as all-caps, so use sentence case and lowercase letters when using those fonts.

05. Make it readable

Readability is essential for any design, especially for longer sections of text. Avoid using elaborate (script) fonts or uppercase letters for body, as it can strain the eye. Save these options for titles or headings.

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The graphic above uses a (subtle) serif font for the block of text and sans serif font the line underneath. Both are very readable. Using a white font over a dark background increases the readability.

06. Play with size and spacing

Play with the size of letters and the spaces in between for alignment and to create blocks of text.

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In this image, size and spacing have been adjusted so the text forms a rectangle shape and creates a geometric block of text.

07. Use fonts that suit the style and message

A font should always enhance the message (or vibe) you are trying to convey; and pairing up fonts with different personalities will catch people’s attention.

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For example, Yellowtail, a cursive font, suits the fun and casual content of the Waffles graphic. Raleway has been used for the subtitle to create balance.

Here are four more fonts that have a personality:

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Be elegant and sophisticated with a script or italicized font or an old style or calligraphic font.

Examples include: Parisienne (pictured)EuphoriaAlluraGreat Vibes.

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Have fun with a font with lively, recognizable or slightly retro characters.

Examples include: Lobster (pictured)Cody StarLondrina SketchSniglet.

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Be cool with an on-trend or timeless geometric sans-serif font.

Examples include: Helvetica (pictured)AntonArchivo NarrowRacing Sans One.

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Chill out with relaxed serif or italicized font, or a font with has a sense of being hand drawn.

Examples include: Satisfy (pictured)SacramentoPacificoYellowtail.

08. Know your audience

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Different fonts will appeal to different audiences so always think about who the design is for. For example, Economica might be too serious for a children’s birthday party but Crafty Girls is too young for an office memo. Remember that fonts can set the tone for design.

09. Use ascenders and descenders as playful accents

Ascenders are the rising stems of lower case letters (such as b, d and h) and descenders are the downward tails of lower case letters (such as g, p, and q). The create gaps and spaces you can have fun with such as filling these spaces with subtitles or small lines of text can enhance the way your design is presented.

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YOUR TURN

There are rules when it comes to using fonts, but then again, rules are made to be broken. So remember the font fundamentals and then get creative have some font fun.

Anna heads up several of Canva's content marketing projects, including her favourite: Design School. She's passionate about the way content can be used to create a meaningful synergy between businesses and their audiences. Say hello on Twitter @AnnaIsabella92.