Improve your type in 10 (or more) easy steps!


The most common problems I see in young designers is a lack of knowledge regarding type.

So here goes:
1. Delete your grunge fonts
Just get rid of them. They are over used, they don’t look good, and why drag and drop when you have the ability to overlay a texture on them, or mask texture out of them.

If you want your designs to look professional then you will stop using them.

2. Delete your fonts that are weird
Essentially all art and design is based upon simple shapes (circle, square and triangle) and every letter should reflect one of these simple shapes. The closer the type is to these simple shapes the easier it will be to read, and thus the more effective it will be in communicating what you are saying.

3. Choose font families
If I only have Helvetica bold, then when I am done with my title I have to choose a thinner point font for my body. Mixing fonts can be dangerous for your health and is a hazard to all who read your copy. To be safe, pick a font family which has your bold, thin, medium, italic, light, and condensed already included. This will enable you to be sure you maintain continuity in your design.

4. Stop putting drop shadows on everything!
A sure fire way to make your design look amateur is to use drop shadows. How often have you seen a drop shadow on poster for a multi-million dollar opening weekend movie poster? Some subtle shadowing isn’t always bad, but to be safe, forget it all together, especially when your text is on a wide-open space like clouds, or space. How often have you seen an object in the sky create a shadow on the clouds behind them? It is un-realistic. Just cut if from your toolbox.

5. Make sure your font has all the symbols you need
This should go without saying, but cheaper/free fonts will not always include special characters leaving you no option but to use a different font for the character or to change the font mid-design.

6. Use left justified unless you have a reason to do otherwise.
We as English readers read from left to right. It is easier on the eye when there is a standard place for your eye to come back to at the end of each line.

7. Watch out for “rivers”
These are lines in your text when you decide to justify your copy on both sides.

8. Watch out for orphans.
These are last lines in paragraphs that have a single word hanging on the

9. Quit bulls-eying your title
Study the rule of thirds for titles, or if a graphic piece is your main visual, then don’t be afraid to place your text smaller and off to the side.

10. KERN!
If you are using a cheap font you will have to do this much more, but even great fonts (futura is my favorite) have to be kerned. This means making sure that each space is equidistant from the next.

11. Visual size is something that great fonts take into consideration.
For instance, O is normally a bit larger than the other letters in great fonts. But our eyes read them as the same size. If your font does not take visual size into consideration then chances are you are using a poor quality font, and your work will reflect that even if most people can’t pin-point why.

12. Avoid mixing serifs and sans serifs
Don’t mix them unless you really know how to pull it off. If anything in here has already helped you, then I suggest being safe instead of sorry.

13. Don’t mix more than 2 fonts in a composition
Again, rules are meant to be broken, but you shouldn’t break rules until you have a reason to back it up.

14. Make sure your type has breathing room!
Make sure your titles are not too close together, don’t feel you have to fill your composition. Breathing room and white space is a good thing.

15. Don’t mix alignments
If you disregard the rule of left justification, don’t mix alignments in a single composition.

16. Avoid extremely thin type. Avoid extremely fat type.
But… When using thin type, make things tight. When using fat type give it more breathing room. Think of titles like people. If you stick a small sweater on a large guy, he looks goofy, if you stick a baggy sweater on a skinny person it looks goofy. If you stick a small purple v-neck on top of diesel’s you have me.

17. HIERARCHY hierarchy hierarchy.
First of all, make sure you have it. I know your pastor or boss thinks that each letter is as important as the next in your flyer, but it isn’t. Just look at a restaurant menu and argue with me otherwise. The fact that all meals come with 2 sides and a drink is important, but not as important as the bold “Bacon Avocado Burger” or the medium text next to it that says “with your choice of grilled onions or onion rings.”
Secondly, don’t use more than three or four established hierarchies. Too many just makes things muddy.

Type is the one thing that crosses all branches of design. Just because your text looks cool in 3d with reflections and lighting, does not mean that you don’t have to kern. Just because you have a cool banner on your site that rotates images doesn’t mean that the text on the images shouldn’t be paid their due attention. Design is about communication, if you are not doing due diligence to make sure that your type looks good, then it won’t be read, which means you won’t be communicating, meaning you won’t be designing.