Know Which Fonts to Use Where

In web design, fonts fall into three groups: The somewhat plain-looking fonts that come with your computer, fonts you can download for free, and the really nice but pricey fonts available for purchase on font sites.

Within each of these three groups, fonts can be categorized based on functionality. Knowing fonts by their practical applications can help you choose the right ones for your projects.

Display Fonts

These are fonts with strong character, elaborate shapes and stylish look, and without the extreme legibility needed for long blocks of text at small sizes.

‘Nuff said, these big, beautiful and sometimes heavily-styled fonts aren’t meant to be used in body text. They are destined for spectacular ad headlines, showy website banners and anything that require only a few words.

Text Fonts

In general, text type is designed to be legible and readable at small sizes. This usually implies fairly clean, consistent, uncomplicated design features. It has more open spacing than a display type and thin strokes that hold up at smaller sizes.

Fonts like Arial, Georgia and Verdana are all very readable at any size. This makes them ideal for setting long passages, articles, books and newspapers, where the design demands multiple levels of headings and content.

From the example above, notice that:

Font #1 looks very natural at the smaller, handwriting size, but unremarkable when set large. Obviously a text type.
Font #2, on the other hand, is dramatic and powerful at display sizes, but its details get blurred at smaller sizes. This is an example of display type.

Pixel fonts

These fonts appear to be straight out of your favorite 8-bit arcade game. Their letters consist of tiny blocks or dots, making them ultra-readable at small sizes and low resolutions, which is perfect for mobile applications and tiny screens. They can also offer the convenience of being both readable and machine readable.

Beyond the practical, fonts can be further classified by styles (script, stencil, weathered, etc.), decade, country, and even artistic movement like Art Deco or Bauhaus.

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