mixing fonts

Less is more

Enthu­si­asm for fonts often leads to enthu­si­asm for mul­ti­ple fonts, and then the ques­tion:How do I get bet­ter at mix­ing fonts in a doc­u­ment?”

Mix­ing fonts is like mix­ing pat­terned shirts and ties—there aren’t black­let­ter rules. Some peo­ple have a knack for it; some don’t.

Keep these prin­ci­ples in mind:

  1. Mix­ing fonts is never a require­ment—it’s an option. You can get plenty of mileage out of one font using vari­a­tions based on point size, bold or italic, small caps, and so on.

  2. The rule of dimin­ish­ing returns applies. Most doc­u­ments can tol­er­ate a sec­ond font. Few can tol­er­ate a third. Almost none can tol­er­ate four or more. (If you’re mak­ing a presentation, treat all the slides as one doc­u­ment.)

  3. You can mix any two fonts that are iden­ti­fi­ably dif­fer­ent. If you’ve heard that you can only mix a serif font with a sans serif font, it’s not true. On the con­trary, much like mix­ing col­ors, lower con­trast between fonts can be more effec­tive than higher con­trast.

  4. Font mix­ing is most suc­cess­ful when each font has a con­sis­tent role in the doc­u­ment. In a research memo, try one font for body text and one font for head­ings. Or in a motion, try one font for things in the cen­ter of the doc­u­ment (body text and head­ings) and one font for things at the edges (line num­bers, footer, and other mis­cel­lany).

  5. It rarely works to have mul­ti­ple fonts in a sin­gle para­graph. Bet­ter to restrict your­self to one font per para­graph, and change fonts only at para­graph breaks.

  6. Though I’m typ­i­cally reluc­tant to endorse rote meth­ods, this one works reli­ably: com­bine fonts by the same designer.