My 5 Favorite Fonts and How to Use Them

I get a lot of questions about which font is used on various printable sets on the site. It makes me laugh a little because my font preferences and choices are so predictable–and rather consistent. I seem to reuse about 5 fonts all the time. I’ve included links but they’re all really easy to find online.

First. I love all variations of Montserrat. But I do spend a lot of time on tracking with this font which basically means I like to spread out the letters in each word. In Adobe this means tweaking the character tracking–it’s usually at about 100. In a program like Word you can easily accomplish the same thing by finding a feature called Character Spacing. Your goal is to spread out the word horizontally. It makes the difference you can see below.

Open Sans is my workhorse and it’s another free Google font. It looks great online. It has a completely different feel if you use it all caps or mixed case. It also looks vastly different depending on the thickness of the line. When I have a fancy font or script for a headline, I always pair it with Open Sans for balance. It’s kind of like beige house paint: it doesn’t attract attention and it’s not fancy, but it covers up endless mistakes. If I’m searching for a good match for any other font, I always start with Open Sans and move from there.

Both Montserrat and Open Sans are also incredibly useful because of how many options you can employ. And you can almost always confidently blend different versions (thin, italic, bold, etc) of the same font in every single way and still come out a winner! Right now the Thick/Thin trick is being used all the time, like the headline you see below:

It’s just Montserrat Semibold and Montserrat Light. I would use this with a straight face as a title on almost anything. Here’s another example of this trick in action that I noticed on Friday:

This Thick/Thin trick is everywhere right now.

Museo Slab is an old favorite. It’s based on a font called Archer which was designed originally for Martha Stewart’s magazine. I think this was the first font I paid for! It has a little more personality than the first two fonts, so I use it more sparingly. It feels like a modern take on traditional.

Every once in a while I need a swoopy, fancy script. My go to fonts are Wisdom Script and Sign Painter. A couple of important notes on these kinds of fonts: never use tracking (never spread out your letters) on a font that is connected like these. You can see an example with Wisdom Script, above. Those cute little connecting swoops look terrible when they’re not correctly linked up. I find that I often need to size up when I am using these fonts: they are hard to read if they are small.

Sign Painter has recently replaced an old favorite: Coffee Service. Check it out if you think it’s more precisely your style.

I do have a couple of go-to traditional fonts. Trajan Pro and Garamond. Sometimes you just need something that looks a little more conventional.

Finally, a tip on mixing fonts. There is a general rule of thumb floating around that it’s best to combine a Serif with a San Serif font (lots more on that idea here). It’s a good start. On top of that principle, chew on this: everything you’ve learned about matching your clothes or the pillows on your couch applies to your font choice too. Unless they really *match, closely related colors have a high risk of clashing. Colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel have a good chance of complementing each other. There’s a similar principle at play with fonts: very simple looks cool with very fancy. They’re at opposite ends of the complementary font style wheel, so to speak. A fancy, swoopy font is like the color red: you can use it but a little goes a long way. Unless you’re a professional, don’t try to do an all red room. You’re probably going to produce a monstrosity. Same thing with fonts: avoid using lots of fancy fonts (even if it’s the same one). Very tricky unless you’re a professional.

*Like I mentioned earlier, you can also mix up all kinds of variations of the same font and it all goes together well (almost always).

When in doubt, keep it simple and you’ll be just fine.

About Rachel Davis

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