Wednesday, October 30, 2013

+2 Bonus on Saves vs. Bad Type Combinations

Okay, so now that you've had a day or two to recuperate from being properly overwhelmed by Monday's post regarding all the various type styles within classifications, it's time to dig into today's post about type combining. BTW, if you have not ready Monday's post, I highly suggest you read it before continuing, or risk not knowing what the hell I'm talking about.

So Monday's post was really just in preparation for today's post, which was spurned by a response to Friday's post "Some good examples of bad type..." (which was, itself, prompted by a response to Thursday's post "A look at some old-school fonts..."), where in Keith Davies asked for advice on a sans serif typeface that I would pair Heuristica.

Instead of just recommending Archivo Black to Keith (which, BTW, I would pair with a great number of serif typefaces), I'm going to give you some general pointers on what does/doesn't work when it comes to combining typestyles, based mostly on the basic shapes of the typefaces (think Garanimals here) and tempered by personal experience.

A type superfamily has not only many variations in weight (and obliques and condensed/extended variations) but comes in BOTH serif and sans serif variations! Lucida/Lucida Sans and Museo/Museo Sans are a couple of examples. Unfortunately, almost nothing like this comes in a cheap, much less free, offering, especially one with an open license. So what makes this work? Simple. Both the serif and sans serif versions of a superfamily have the same underlying structure, so they work together. A piece of advice though... make sure to keep some weight contrast when combining serif/sans versions of a superfamily. If the weights and shapes are so similar that, at first glance, they appear very similar, ask yourself, "Why was I choosing a different version in the first place?" In the example below left, it's fairly obvious. In the example below right, not so much.

The goal is finding two fonts with enough difference that don't have the "too much the same" thing happening, but at the same time aren't so starkly different they just don't go together. For example, if I were typesetting a sci-fi ruleset, I might want something cool/funky for the headers. And while they would definitely contrast with a serif font, not just any serif font will do. So look for difference in appearance, with similarity in "spirit."

In the examples below, the contrast is strong in all four. In the top row, notice how the feeling of the Acknowledgement headers are works well with the Crimson body body (top left), but seems a "little out of whack" with the Open Sans (top right). By comparison, on the bottom row, notice how the feel of Orbitron works much better with Open Sans (bottom right) than it does with Crimson (lower left). This is not just structure at work, but theme/spirit as well. It's also proof that body copy doesn't have to be overly themed to support the feeling of a layout (see Richard's Tip #2, below".)

I know this is the part you're probably really looking for... a few equations for pairing. Please understand, these are only guidelines; they are not foolproof combinations, and that doesn't mean that other pairings don't work.
Old Style Serifs + Humanist Sans Serifs
(e.g., Crimson + Open Sans)

These pair well because they generally share an underlying structure (an "even" tone, with slight variations between thick and thin, which makes them very "warm") but still have contrast (like a brother and a sister).

Transitional Serifs + Geometric Sans Serifs
(e.g., Heuristica + TxGyreAdventor)

Transitional serifs have very strong contrast between their thicks and thins, while geometric serifs are known for their almost mechanically-even thickness (a nice contrast) while they both feel more structured as a whole than many other font classifications (the "visual glue" that makes them work well together). BTW, TxGyreAdventor is an open license version of Avant Garde, the typeface used in the first wave of D&D modules.

Modern Serifs + Geometric Sans Serifs
(e.g., Playfair Display + TxGyreAdventor)

Modern serifs have even more contrast than transitional serifs and, therefore, also pair well with geometric serifs. Because of this stark contrast, I don't think modern serifs are easy to read as body copy so I'm not even going to bother with an example for this one.

BTW, a bold/black classic grotesque sans serif (like Archivo Black) goes with almost all old style and transitional serif fonts. It can even work with modern serifs. But if you start to get too contemporary, it doesn't work. (Below left = old style; below right=transitional.)


1. Choose your header font first.
While the body copy is going to do a little something to bring visual flavor to your layout, nothing does this quicker than a great header font. In fact, you don't even really need an "overtly-themed" body copy typeface if the header font is impactful both in weight and theme/spirit.

2. Choose a body copy that compliments the header font... but is still inviting/easy to read!
Nothing irks me more than an RPG rulebook where the copy typeface is so overdone thematically that reading it is a pain in the ass! (This is one of those areas where I see the typeface Papyrus used over and over. IMO, it's bad enough that font sucks has a header font; as body copy, it's unforgivable.) Just a reminder, old style serifs are the most legible serifs, some transitionals can be tough, and unless my body copy is 14 points, I stay away from modern serif body copy altogether. (Stay tuned for a post on body copy choice & size!)

3. Make sure a body copy with good variations in weight as well as obliques/italics.
You're going to need it. I actually use three different weight levels of body copy in most of my layouts. For example, in The Ogress of Anubis, the body copy is the light weight of the font, the encounter place names are the bold weights of the font, and I use the demi-bold weight (in-between the other two) to call out monster encounters and magic items. And, of course, all spells are noted in the light italic variations.
QUESTION: Guess how many variations Papyrus comes in?
ANSWER: It doesn't matter because Papyrus sucks as body copy!

Next up in this type series... a closer look at body copy.

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