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Choosing Brand Fonts + An Assessment

In this article, you’ll learn about the differences between the terms “typography” and “font;” the importance of fonts in branding; free vs. paid fonts; and an intro on the importance of licensing. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with those items, use the assessment at the end of the article to evaluate your brand fonts.

Typography VS. Fonts

Fonts. Typography. Don’t these terms refer to the same thing? In casual conversation, sure. These terms have become interchangeable when discussing what type we use in our documents and designs. And it’s not a HUGE deal unless you’re speaking to someone who deals with these terms on the daily – like your designer. ?  But for those of you who’d like to know more, there is a difference. Let’s break it down.

Typography: Think of “typography” as the overall application of the style, arrangement, and appearance of letters, numbers, and symbols. The relationship between those elements, the way they are manipulated in design, and laid out on the page falls under typography.

Font: In terms of thinking about the individuality of fonts vs. font families (or typefaces), looking back to the era of metal typesetting for a little history lesson will help clarify.

Image of typesetters drawer: Photo Credit: Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0, by Wikimedia Commons
Photo Credit: Thomas Quine, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Each “font” is a particular size, weight, and style of a typeface. Typesetters had drawers of individual letters, numbers, and symbols they manually set by hand to be printed to a page. So, if they were setting body copy using the font Caslon at 8-point (size) they’d access the “job case” or font tray holding Caslon 8-point letters, numbers, and symbols. If they wanted to title the page in Caslon 12-point, that would be considered a font of its own and accessed similarly (different job case altogether).

A typesetters sorting case: Image Credit: Christian Friedrich Gessner marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons
Image Credit: Christian Friedrich Gessner, A Typesetters Sorting Case, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons

Today, in the era of desktop publishing, you’ll see the term “font” used as a synonym for “typeface.” Although, a typical typeface (or ‘font family’) consists of a number of fonts – which is why thinking about fonts in the historical context may be helpful. 

Take “Helvetica” as an example. It is a typeface that includes multiple “fonts” including, but not limited to “Helvetica Light” “Helvetica Regular”, “Helvetica Bold”, and “Helvetica Oblique.” The term “font” can describe any of these styles alone but may also be used loosely to refer to the entire typeface.

The Importance of Fonts in Branding

I’ve run into it so many times – people confusing the font used in their logo as their “brand font.” While that font can sometimes translate into use for a section of your branded fonts, it’s not usually the case.

For example: If your logo wordmark is very decorative (think cursive or elaborate loops and swashes), you’re not going to want to use the same option for your body copy. Talk about making your audience work to read a text-heavy document! Eep! ?

Instead, it’s a good idea to consider a font(s) that’s designed specifically for ease of legibility. And to also select fonts that are complementary to your logo.

Think about bold headers, subheaders, and body copy as a starting point. Sometimes, you’ll find a full font family that can make things simpler when it comes to mapping usage out – assigning the bold, regular, light, italic, and/or condensed options to your headers, subheaders, body copy, and more. You can go further with caption options and more depending on what your company collateral calls for. But in general, start off with 2-3 assigned options (either within the same font family or that all work together cohesively) so that your materials are cohesive across the board.

Licensing and Legal

You’ve probably noticed the free and paid options for fonts that are available. It’s understandable that free fonts are appealing. But just because they’re free, are they legal to use in your commercial collateral? Many are surprised to find out that they are not. 

Fonts are created by font designers. And with that, comes licensing for use. When you download a font, you’ll usually notice that there is an agreement attached to that download. This agreement stipulates important information that you agree to once the purchase is made. Generally, you’ll find information that outlines whether you are allowed to use the font in personal or commercial projects (hint: many of the free fonts you download are for personal use only until you purchase a license). There will also be information on how many users the license applies to and that you agree not to distribute the font file between users. 

To illustrate this last point, let’s take the delivery of packaged files for your print vendor. By packaging files and including the font file in that package for your printer to use (if they require native files), you’ve technically gone against your font use agreement. To ensure the agreement is adhered to, design files are to be sent to print with fonts outlined. By doing so, you eliminate the need for the font file to be transferred at all.

These are just a few of the items that are included with your font licenses to be aware of. Of course, there are other items included in each license – they vary – which is why I highly recommend you review the read me text file or license that’s supplied with the font file.

Free Fonts:

In some cases, fonts are supplied as free to try for personal use (and in some cases commercially – but do make sure in the agreement verbiage). In which case, you can create mock-up designs to test (visually) before you buy. Once you’ve chosen, it is up to you to get a license for commercial use. Especially if you’re using it for your small business.

Another great option is open-source fonts. These fonts are available for use in both personal and commercial projects. They are licensed for any use, anywhere, free of charge. This is a great option if you’d rather not deal with licensing agreements, but limits you in terms of availability. Not that there aren’t a TON of open-source fonts out there to choose from. But it’s worth saying that there are some absolutely gorgeous fonts to be enjoyed out there that aren’t within the realm of open source licensing. And when it comes to your business’s visual branding, it can be well worth it to set yourself apart.

Brand Fonts Assessment:

  • Are your brand fonts complimentary to the typography of your logo design? If they look a bit mismatched or are always different, it’s time to revisit and set and stick with your options.
  • Is the number of brand fonts you’re using limited to about 2-3? This number could be higher depending on layouts and formatting you use regularly.
    • What font have you assigned to title/headlines?
    • What font have you assigned to use as subheaders?
    • What font is assigned to body copy?
  • Do you have the appropriate license for use? Make sure for free fonts especially – many times they are only free for personal use.
  • If you’re using a free font but would like the convenience of a professionally designed font (better kerning out of the box for example – not nearly as much need for tweaking spacing, etc) have you located an alternative paid font that could replace it? This is an investment in your branding and if it takes a little while to justify the expense, at least you have done the research upfront and will be ready! 
  • Test out your copy by applying it to various phrases. See a few ideas on different phrases and processes that professional font designers test with here and here. How does your copy look? Are there any spaces that are obvious or jarring? If there are, you may want to revisit and replace fonts.

How are you feeling about your brand fonts?

After the assessment questions in each section above, how are you feeling about your brand fonts? Not sure if what you’ve developed is working for your business? Interested in a professional opinion to see if and where you can improve? Try our Light Brand Identity Audit package!

By booking an audit, you’ll get
  • An understanding of whether or not your messaging is aligned with your current visuals
  • Insight on how you can improve your design assets to better convey your brand messaging
  • Suggested ways design elements can be used to engage your target audience
  • Tips on how to adapt visuals to improve brand recognition
A PDF Report Outlining:
  • What’s done well
  • What needs work/pain points
  • Areas of opportunity for better visual execution
  • Our recommendations
  • Suggested Next Steps
PLUS: A bonus credit:

A credit in the amount of your chosen package to apply to one of our custom Visual Brand Identity Strategy and Design packages.

Book a Light Audit today!

Have another project you’d like to discuss? Book a complimentary 30-minute consultation where we can learn more and get to know you and your business. Have questions or want to send a message? Contact us here.

Or read “Logo To Go: A DIY Visual Brand Identity Assistant”

Logo To Go book cover design mockupI wrote Logo To Go to serve as an in-between for small business owners who aren’t quite ready to invest in a professionally designed brand identity – think of it as the missing link between choosing to DIY and hiring a professional. It’s specifically written for small business owners, who are not designers and don’t have any knowledge of what actually goes into creating a full brand identity.

Jumping straight to DIY can be dangerous without some idea of the process or the insight a professional would bring to the project. That’s why I created Logo To Go – so small business owners could come away with some peace of mind feeling a bit more informed and confident that what they’re creating is more strategic and well-designed than if they go it alone. Read more about Logo To Go and download the first chapter FREE.

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