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The Classification of Typeface Styles: The Definitive Guide

The Classification of Typeface Styles

Typefaces are quite a big game in the realm of design. You have probably heard people talk about font styles, reading styles, and typefaces for magazine articles, if you have spent even the slightest time in it. But that is because there is so much to know about them.

Typefaces are why we design, and they are why we read. They are a crucial part of every visual communication project. As such, the topic of typefaces is both vast and highly technical.

All that reading about typefaces must have made you super knowledgeable.

Has it not?

Let my article walk you through the basics then, from the classification of typefaces to how designers think about them.

Let’s get started!

What is a typeface?

A typeface is a set of fonts (a collection of letters) designed to work well together. In print, they're used to set text in an editorial project. In web design, they're used to select text in a website. You can write or edit text, and the typeface you're using will set the font design for the rest of your project.

Typography basics

Serif typefaces, sans-serif typefaces, script typefaces, monospaced type spaces, and display typefaces are five basic typefaces. People use Serif and sans-serif typefaces for body copy or headlines. Sometimes we can use them for title, logo, or else. Most of them use script and display typefaces for the headline. Not all serif and sans-serif headings are equally suitable for body and headline copy. Different types of those fonts are more readable at small sizes than others, while some of them have better characteristics in your large heading copy.

Font vs. typeface

While most people use font type and typeface, a typographer will tell you they are two terms that refer to different things.

Typefaces are collections of letters, numbers, and symbols with a standard design theme. On the other hand, fonts are specific digital files comprising all the characters of a particular typeface. So, while fonts are technically a part of typefaces, they can be used alone (e.g., Arial or Times New Roman) without the rest of the typeface.

“A typeface is a set of one or more fonts, each composed of glyphs that share common design features.”

In a nutshell, a typeface has different fonts. For example, typefaces like Helvetica are only made of one font. However, many fonts are inspired by this unique typeface of the iconic Helvetica font.

“Each typeface font has a specific weight, style, condensation, width, slant, italicization, ornamentation.”

The typeface is like an album cover, and the fonts are like various songs by that artist. An excellent way to view this relationship would be to think of them as a family - the typeface represents the whole family, just like its album cover. In contrast, fonts represent individual talent in that specific family.

Now that we've covered the difference between font styles and typefaces, let's look at the classifications of typefaces.

Typeface classifications

A typeface is a series of characters, letters, or symbols that share particular design characteristics. There are no complications in choosing typefaces. They can help style an existing draft if you want to create a visual ranking for your project. When in doubt, keep it simple!

Designers follow different philosophies about combining typesetting and how they do so; the anchor or role typeface is often chosen based on what will work best with long chunks of text.

Typefaces are classified based on their visual structure, influences, intent, and historical significance.

1. Serif

Old style

Old-style typefaces originated between the late 15th and mid-18th centuries. Curved glyphs can characterize with the axis inclined to the left, minimal contrast between thick-and-thin strokes, angled head serifs (curves at the top of a letter), and bracketed serifs. Some typefaces contain an e with a diagonal cross stroke.

Transitional

Typefaces in this category represent 18th-century design transitioning from old to modern. They have these characteristics:

  • The axis of curved strokes is barely inclined or more vertical than diagonal.
  • There's more contrast between thick and thin strokes compared with old-style typefaces.
  • Serifs are more delicate, flat, and bracketed.

Modern

Typefaces in this category originated in the 18th century, transitioning between old style and modern design. They have the following characteristics:

  • Curved strokes are not at an angle or more vertical than diagonal.
  • There is less contrast between thick and thin strokes than in old-style typefaces.
  • Serifs are lighter and flat with no brackets.

2. Sans Serif

Grotesque

The Grotesque style is the first popular sans serif typeface. It has a thinner-than-normal stroke weight and squared curves on some letters, such as in the capital G. The single letter g also had two bowls to it at one point. Later versions of this font type removed these features from its design.

Humanistic

Humanistic type styles attempt to improve the readability of sans serif typeface designs. They blend their structure with classical Roman form, proportions of Roman capitals, and old-style lowercase with a calligraphic influence.

3. SCRIPTS

Formal

Script typeface is excellent for movie titles, book covers, packaging design, etc. Script formal typeface uses a wide range of glyphs. They use it to avoid monotony, with long ascenders and descenders contrasting with short x-height letters. The broad lowercase gives this display typeface its readability and polish.

Casual

Simple scripts look informal as written with a pen or brush. The strokes can be connected, and they tend to have a warm, friendly feel.

Calligraphic

A Calligraphy is a form of art that generally imitates the work of hand-drawn calligraphers. They mimic people's handwriting who use flat-tipped pens and brushes. Calligraphic type style often looks unclear, with irregular strokes.

Handwriting

Handwriting typefaces are typographic interpretations of handwriting or hand printing. In some cases, these font types can be anything from a connected script to something more quirky and bouncy (and irregular).

4. Blackletter

Blackletter typefaces evolved from the earlier handwritten forms of traditional writings and illustrated manuscripts. This style went from writing to typesetting when used to set the Gutenberg Bible. A densely black texture characterizes blackletter-style fonts. They are highly decorated capitals with dramatic thick-to-thin strokes and serifs on their lowercase letters.

5. Decorative

Decorative font style consists of typefaces that do not belong to any other typefaces. Primarily designed for display and having one thing in common, Decorative Font is always distinctive, original, and eye-catching.

FAQs

i. Why is typeface important?

Ans. The typeface is important because it sends a message about the brand. For instance, when you see the McDonald’s logo, you instantly recognize it as an international fast-food chain. You know its logo and typeface because they are so iconic. The typography on a website indicates the corporate identity of the company. If it is well done, it provides a company with a certain degree of authority in the industry. If you see a badly designed logo on a website, you will probably think that the brand is not well managed. A typeface is important because it works with other elements of visual design (e.g. color, logo, etc.) to create a memorable brand.

ii. What are the factors to consider when choosing fonts?

Ans. It is quite hard to choose a good font. To choose a font for your purpose, you will have to consider many factors, such as:

  • Purpose and use of the font
  • Culture and background of the reader
  • Artist responsibilities
  • Personality of the designer,
  • Style and atmosphere of the design
  • Printing technology
  • Legal requirements and the budget.

Many have come to understand the value of fonts in all modes of design and business. It can influence how customers react to your product. So, know the common rules, and watch your p’s and q’s.

iii. Why are fonts important in communication?

Ans. The font is the makeup of your message. Good makeup can make a person look more beautiful. And similarly, the right font can take your message to the next level. Fonts communicate with customers on a subconscious level and without thinking, a person's reaction to the font may determine how well your message is received. Certain fonts instill a feeling of trust, calm, and professionalism whereas other fonts are sobering, formal, or creative. The type of font chosen for a given message can make all the difference in how the message is received.

iv. When should display typeface be used?

Ans. The display typeface is a decorative script that is often used for logos, headlines, and similar purposes. It is often used for eye-catching as well as decorative purposes. It is also mostly used for short texts like slogans or headlines. A display typeface can best be described as an ornamental typeface. It can also be used for invitations, greeting cards, posters, words of thanks, and any type of announcements related to marriage, Birthdays, history-making, etc. Display typefaces should not be used for long paragraphs.

Conclusion

Typefaces are a significant part of any design, and choosing one can be tricky. When designing, it's essential to choose a typeface that matches your subject. Make sure you understand why you're using a particular typeface for your topic. Use this guide to understand the basics of typefaces better and how to choose one.

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