How to use font pairs: Simple advice for media

A short guide to why you need font pairs and how to use them. Graphic designer Yury Ostromentsky gives his advice

Font pairs are basic, but nevertheless an important typographic technique. Their use improves the perception of text to readers and can become an important part of your media’s visual identity.

Typographer Yury Ostromentsky spoke specially to Setka Blog about why you need font pairs and how to use them. Alternatively, he explains why it’s possible to get by without using pairs and how you can even use dozens of them.

Yury Ostromentsky

Font and graphic designer, Yury Ostromentsky is the co-founder of CSTM Fonts type foundry and the font distributor type.today. He is also the former art director of the magazine ‘Big City’.

Why you need font pairs

Font pairs are required to separate big and small, primary and secondary, literary and factual. But I wouldn’t say that when planning your typography there is an object necessity to use a font pair for every project.

It’s possible to get by with one font, or you could use 10. I don’t think that you need to structure your publication’s typography into a precise pair. Everything can be written in one font or five fonts, and it’s even possible to change your whole set of fonts from one issue to the next.

It’s important to understand why one or another font is necessary and the role it plays. More often than not, fonts are chosen for prominent statements, for the main body of the text and for additional information.

The font for prominent text can be more decorative, more emotional and ‘louder’, whereas versatility and readability is needed for the main text. In the right circumstances however, you can turn this theory on its head.

About font pairs

It’s pointless to suggest typographic solutions for an abstract publication: the same font can work perfectly well in a magazine about sport, as it can in a magazine about children, new western literature or how to become an astronaut.

Only with strictly distinct projects that have clear aims, structure, content and ideology, is it possible to choose a precise font or font pair. For more universal use, Graphik and Kazimir Text work perfectly well together.

Examples of combining Graphik and Kazimir Text in the design type.today

How to create an integrated product

In my view, for a publication and its readers, the content and intonation is a lot more important than the font itself. So if you need to change fonts in each edition to create the correct intonation, then do just that. One example of this is the Spanish magazine Metropoli. For a long time the logo was always changing and today they still take a fairly free approach to style.

In T Magazine there is a new accented font every season. I haven’t counted the number of fonts in The New York, but I think that there are no fewer than 10.

I understand that this statement about how it’s possible to fully change all fonts in each edition sounds quite extreme. But I am sure that a publication, which is prepared to be bold can exist and still be better than others.

Fonts and other typography

Before you can fully immerse yourself in the text, it’s customary to separate headlines, quotes and references so that the reader can understand what the material is about. On a typography level you can do this with any tools: font, size, color, composition and additional typographic elements etc.

Not only is it possible to make all publications with just one font, but also in one size and color. If done meaningfully, it won’t do you any harm and can still meet the requirements of the task.

Besides the font, there is still text structure, the publication format, margins, indentations and numerous other tools that need to be kept in mind. They all play their role in the reading process, and each one of these tools can be set up in any way. Thanks to this, the choice of font can indeed turn out to be a secondary aim. For example, the line length can be more important than the font.

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How to select a font to convey emotion

It’s actually very easy to work out if you can express a particular emotion with a particular font. Carefully looking at the font is enough to work this out. It’s design exists exactly for this reason and is rarely neutral.

Advice for beginner designers

 To start I would advise learning how to solve simple tasks with simple methods.

 Don’t try to typeset with experimental fonts.

 Don’t be too expressive with distances between the lines and letters.

 Simple, versatile fonts are able to make text readable on their own, there is no need to play around with this.

 For everything else, you only need your eyes: it’s necessary to carefully look at the font, understand why it looks exactly like it does, why it was made this way and which tasks it’s capable of solving. All of this exist in the font’s graphics, in its composition, in the set of OpenType features and the description of the project.