Lessons in Design: Font Pairing

I wish I could say there’s an exact science on how to pair fonts well in design – there isn’t. But I’ll break down my method and practices I use everyday. Font choosing can be tricky: use too few and the design can fall flat, use too many and you’ve overwhelmed your reader. It’s about finding the right balance for the piece you’re working on. This isn’t one of those posts where I give you endless examples of which specific fonts look good together, because the truth is there are thousands of fonts that complement each other nicely.

My general rule is that opposites attract: peanut butter and jelly, salt and caramel, Sriracha and everything (no? just me?). Although that’s not always the case, it’s almost always, at the very least, a good starting point.

A classic combo that is almost fool-proof is pairing a sans serif with a serifed font. The perfect example of opposites attract, because the clean lines of a sans serif font contrast really well with the human-quality (the thicks and thins of the lines) of a serifed font.

I know you’re just dying to ask if it is possible to pair a serif and a serif nicely. Sure you can… depending on what they are. A heavy slab serif can look really nice paired with a more delicate roman serif font– it’s about getting that contrast. The biggest challenge with pairing two fonts in the same category (e.g., two serifs) is that you can get what I like to call the “black on black” effect. Let me explain: when you wear black pants with a black shirt that’s a slightly different shade, yes they do look the same at first glance, but on closer inspection you can tell that it’s just a little bit off. Fonts work the same way. Although two serifed fonts can look really similar, they still have their own unique nuances.


How do I apply this lesson in my work? I generally stick to 1-3 fonts per piece; one for a headline style, one for a body copy style and sometimes, one that I can just sprinkle through for accents. If a font has a lot of styles (i.e. light, italic, bold, etc.) then I don’t mind sticking with only one because I can still get a nice variety. Remember that sometimes less can be more. I’ll leave you with an interesting blog by a designer named Do-Hee Kim, it’s called #100daysoffonts and she’s posting a different font pairing for 100 days – a very cool daily project.
As I said before, there’s no exact science to font pairing, have fun and push the boundaries.

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