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Choosing a Font — RULE 4

Consider the canvas upon which you are writing.

As we’ve already started to discuss in rule three, the selection of a font is greatly impacted by the medium upon which that font is to be placed. Fonts used on paper will appear quite differently when viewed on a computer monitor, TV, or iPhone screen. We won’t go into this too deeply because there are limitations inherent in selecting a typeface for use online. The code used to create web pages is still pretty basic.

The coding system of the hypertext markup language (HTML) is designed to call upon the fonts that are loaded onto individual computers. As a result, it is difficult to know for sure exactly how the web page you have designed will appear to the user unless you limit yourself to the most standard set of fonts. By limiting our font selection we have the greatest likelihood of creating a page that will appear consistently across the greatest number of computers.

One group of typefaces commonly appear on all personal computers running browsers. In basic HTML code these typefaces can be used with the reasonable certainty that they will display on most machines as anticipated by the web page designer. No guarantee, of course, but this is precisely the problem with getting too fancy with fonts when dealing with basic HTML-coded web pages. Here is that list.


Times New Roman



Lucida Console

Comic Sans


The first of the typefaces listed should look just like the rest of the text on this post. The other six should look different. Now, lets look at a list of fonts that are not part of the standard set of fonts.






Monotype Corsiva

Lithos Pro

The seven typefaces in the second group appear quite nicely on this machine; they are fonts in the font library of this computer. But, how they might appear on your machine, of that we can’t be sure. It all depends on whether or not your machine has or does not have, for example, the Haettenschweiler typeface in its font library. If the Haettenschweiler typeface is not there, a default font will appear on your screen, one that is, we hope, a close match.

Sophisticated web designers have ways to get around this. They may embed graphical images of the things that they wish to appear in fonts not commonly found on the standard set-up for a PC or a Mac. Or, they will use sophisticated programming and backup databases in order to achieve the sort of display of unusual fonts that is provided, for example, on the web site Typetester.org. On that site you can select a font—typeface, size, and style characteristics (italic, bold, etc.)—and see it displayed on screen.

For most non-programmers, this level of customizing gets quite complicated and the best advice is to stick with the standard web fonts. With time their numbers will increase and for the time being there are enough of them to provide some customization of the display. Remember rule number two: Do not go crazy with fonts!

We’ve gone on a rather lengthy tangent on the subject of fonts used in web pages. Yet, there are so very many other canvases upon which text is presented. Billboards, for example, or shop windows, political buttons and posters, greeting cards, book marks, product packaging, engraved plaques, license plates, bumper stickers, T-shirts, tattoos, and the list goes on and on. For each, care must be given in selecting a typeface that will be legible on the surface being written upon and in the size necessary to fit the space available.

Keep your eyes open and watch for examples of fonts. Once you do this you’ll be amazed at all the fonts you start noticing, some well chosen and effective, others, less so, perhaps. It’s a little bit like TV ads: there are great and memorable ads that people love, successful in terms of entertainment value but they aren’t really all that good if you can’t remember what they were advertising. Be sure your font choice doesn’t detract from your real objective, communicating.


Book Cover Design winners by font

Cool site that allows one to test fonts on the screen


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