26 must-know typography tricks for print & online

Buff up your body copy and sculpt your letterforms. Seven leading designers share their tips for truly honed use of type with Alice Ross.

Typography for print

Pick up a pencil

“[The most important things in a typographer’s toolkit are] a printer and a pencil – don’t check tracking and kerning onscreen. I always print everything, and then I have a shorthand for fixing the tracking, which I mark on the paper, then reprint and recheck.” Ben Reece 

Use the right font for your purpose

“Some typefaces will never work for long stretches of copy, but it’s surprising how often inexperienced designers fail to realise this. Using headline fonts for text instead of those that are more appropriate [is among the most common errors she sees]. This can sometimes work when it’s for a particular effect – but not in every typeface.” Laura Meseguer

Use small caps

“I like to use bold small caps to highlight and accentuate text. This makes a subtle highlight that doesn’t stand out too much, and it looks different and elegant. Officially, I think it’s verboten,” Ben Reece

Play with vertical spacing

"[Go to town on] the space between lines, and the handshake between ascenders and descenders.” Rick Valicenti

Artworklove’s type-driven brand identity for lighting and furniture company La Chance by Ben Reece

Establish your hierarchy

“First, I need to understand the different roles of the text involved… Choosing or creating typefaces, defining styles, selecting body sizes and defining the relationships of various elements is part of this process, but so is the balance between white and black on the page.” Laura Meseguer

Sprinkle variety

“Think of the hierarchy of your page as a conversation at a party with the viewer. Make something stand out, and pepper the body text with visual reminders that this is an interesting conversation. 

“Break up the boring small talk with a visual arrangement, pace and elements that keep us interested. If your page looks like a good-looking, interesting person you want to talk to for a while, it’s working.” Ben Reece 

How to pick typefaces

Distinguish print and digital

“Print and digital landscapes each have their own restrictions. In print you have to deal with things like trapping, the mesh count (or threads per inch), deciding your level of detail and the quality you can afford – which becomes all the more relevant for things like letterpressing or engraving.

“On the digital side you need to deal with a much lower resolution, the inability to display thin lettering, typefaces available online that stay responsive, and the fact that people will at times be controlling the point size.” Darren McPherson

The Artworklove web design for Lee Jeans combines crisp, unobtrusive type and handwritten lettering by Ben Reece

Read the text

This is possibly the most frequently repeated advice to designers, and is also the among the most often ignored [Ed].

“I first read the text and try to find a visual equivalent for its characteristics, mood, atmosphere, and so on, within the fonts. I always start by choosing a typeface for the body text that’s related to the message of the text and the images, but also to the proportions of the spreads. 

“The headlines should either support the shapes and impression of the body text – for example, by choosing them from the same family – or be in strong contrast. If set side by side, the proportions of both typefaces should be related.” Verena Gerlach

Inject the element of surprise

“I prefer to break [with] the moment when typography is expected to be one certain way and replace it with another impression. I’m a sucker for the 3D chrome letterform.” Rick Valicenti

Contrast styles

“I gravitate towards the extremes – the old with the new, ornate with the simplified, lowercase italic serif with uppercase sans-serifs. It’s almost as though drastically different pairings and treatments aid the creation of an atmosphere that’s devoid of the history they each carry.” Darren McPherson

“Readability, versatility and capability of communication” are what Laura Meseguer seeks in a font

Is a typeface versatile enough for your needs?

“Many fonts can be bad choices in any context if they’re poorly spaced, not hinted or lack the range of characters needed for most typesetting tasks. In an ideal world we should be choosing typefaces that have multiple weights and perhaps form part of a larger family to make for easier pairing; and font files that contain a wide range of glyphs – to include a variety of symbols and international characters – and are well hinted for optimum display across multiple scenarios.” Elliot Jay Stocks

Character spacing is vital to how a font feels

Nothing delights me more than typography where the relationship between counter spaces and their adjacent spaces between characters live in harmony.” Rick Valicenti

X-height and contrast

“For comfortable, legible body copy, look for fonts with a high x-height. Also avoid fonts with too much contrast, so that the text doesn’t flicker [on the page].” Verena Gerlach

Be picky about where you buy your fonts

“[Low-priced fonts aren’t always the bargain they might seem to be]. There are great foundries out there – don’t search endlessly for fonts on MyFonts. 

“Compile a list of foundries that you respect and try to use the work of foundries or type designers who are really good. Then you can use their typefaces with confidence and it makes the job of choosing a typeface from the type infinity online a bit easier.” Ben Reece

Rick Valicenti’s creation formed part of a poster series commemorating Mies van der Rohe’s contribution to design

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