6 essential typography do’s and don’ts for your print design

Recently we shared a couple of articles on colour in print design; how to use colour symbolism and colour combinations for more effective print marketing.

But colour is just one of the many facets of graphic design. Today, we’d like to offer up a few tips and share some of the terminology surrounding one of the most essential elements of any print advertising or marketing campaign – typography.

Typography VariationsWhat is typography?

Typography is all about designing the appearance and layout of text.

Good typography is important for making text both easy to read and attractive (or at least interesting) to look at – but great typography can also evoke emotions in readers and influence their buying decisions.

Typography encompasses not just typefaces (aka fonts) and the design of each letter, number and punctuation symbol (collectively known as ‘glyphs’), but also their arrangement, styling, size, letter and line spacing, line length, colour and more.

You don’t need to know everything about typography to be able to create engaging, legible text for print; but there’s definitely a few common mistakes you’ll want to avoid when crafting your print artwork. Let’s go over just a few of the do’s and don’ts of typography design.

DO: give your text room to breathe

Have you ever had trouble reading a paragraph of text because the text looked too cramped? The most likely suspects could be any combination of these:

Poor leading: In a body of text with more than one line, leading is the distance from one line to the next. More specifically, it’s the distance between the ‘baseline’ of each text line which the letters sit upon

Poor kerning:This is the space between two particular adjacent letters. Extra kerning may be required if certain pairs of letters appear to blend in or overlap with each other.

Poor tracking: This is similar to kerning, but it refers to the spaces between every single letter in a body of text rather than just two individual letters. Adjusting the tracking might create some interesting stylistic effects, but if you’re looking to improve the readability of your text, it’s better to adjust the kerning of troublesome letter pairs instead.

Leading, kerning and tracking values are usually set automatically for you, but when creating your artwork for print, it’s wise to carefully review the text and make adjustments to the values if necessary. (This is particularly important if you’re working with text-heavy designs, such as brochure pages or large restaurant menus.)

DON’T: overdo the text spacing

So, giving you text more space is generally a good idea; but it’s important to keep a balance. Too much leading, kerning and/or tracking can make letters look disconnected and isolated from each other, which can make the text just as difficult to read as cramped, bunched-up text.

DO: balance style with legibility/readability

Many first-time designers like to pick out the most stylish, elaborate typefaces to help their design stand out. It’s a good idea in theory – in practice, it often results in text which is near-impossible to make out!

It’s important to choose a typeface which looks nice, but make sure the typeface never obscures the message.

Beware of using script typefaces in particular; these are the ones which are designed to look like old-fashioned calligraphy handwriting, often with sweeping strokes and curls. They might look fancy and elegant, but they can be a nightmare to actually read!

DON’T: use too many typefaces

Another first-time designer mistake is to plaster lots of different typefaces across your design. With so many options out there to choose from, it can be tempting to throw in all your favourites – and surely the variety of typeface styles will create a more interesting design, right?

Unfortunately, it rarely works out in practice. Using too many typefaces not only ruins visual cohesion and makes your design look ugly, but also distracts customers from your message by making your text exhausting to read.

Stick to just one or two typefaces throughout your artwork, and you’ll end up with a cleaner, more professional design which is much easier to read.

If you’re designing a text-heavy print item (such as a brochure), consider using a single ‘type family’. These are groups of multiple style variations of the same typeface; for example, the ‘Arial’ type family includes such fonts as Arial Regular, Arial Light, Arial Bold and Arial Condensed to name just a few.

By sticking to just two or three typefaces within a single family, you can still add variation and establish a hierarchy between headings, subheadings and paragraphs; without compromising the readability and appearance of your design.

DO: consider the bigger picture

It’s easy to get caught up in the little details when crafting your typography, but you should never lose sight of its place within the context of your artwork design.

  • Does your text style and colour remain readable against the background colour/photograph you’ve chosen?
  • Are the typeface size, measure (or number of words per line) and the general size of the entire body of text all appropriate for the medium on which you’re printing?
  • Does the style of the typeface match the message you’re trying to convey and the customers you’re trying to attract? Does it fit with your brand’s existing style?

DON’T: forget to embed and/or outline your fonts!Outlined fonts

So, your design is ready to print – you’ve spent all day choosing typefaces, adjusting text spacing and alignment, and you’re 100% happy with how it all looks.

But when you get your design back from the printers, all your font choices are gone – replaced with plain, ugly typefaces which have messed up your perfectly-crafted arrangement. What’s happened here?

The problem is that you’ve created the design using the fonts installed on your computer, but the printers don’t have those particular fonts installed on their computer. Rather than refusing to render the text at all, the computer automatically substitutes the missing fonts with a default font instead.

There’s two solutions to this problem. One is to convert your text to outlines in your design editor software; this turns the text from pixels into shapes, which can be scaled up and down almost infinitely without creating ugly jagged edges on each glyph.

However, you won’t be able to edit the text again once it’s been saved as an outline; which can be a problem if you need to correct a few spelling mistakes later down the line. The other solution is to ensure your design software ‘embeds’ your fonts when saving your design. This essentially includes copies of each of the font files you’ve used from your computer into your artwork file; so even if your printer doesn’t have those fonts installed on their devices, the design file can still render all the text with your typeface choices.

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