How To Use Fonts (And Why You Should Care)

Quite simply, presentation matters. In writing, size does matter. And spacing. And color. And everything else. And basically, the fundamental element of written communication is font.

But what exactly, you might ask, is font? Put technically, font is the interface between your ideas and your readers. Put simply, font is the style of your typeface. Is it big, bold, crisp, underlined, or colored? Is it spaced well? Is it even legible? These are all important questions—questions that any conscientious document creator must answer and act on. But why are font decisions so critical?

When utilized well, a font or font mix accomplishes four things: 1) focuses attention, 2) enhances readability, 3) sets a tone, and 4) projects an image. Font is your first line of defense against reader apathy—and your first chance to really capture an audience, create a positive and lasting impression, and encourage continued interest. Remember, though, while font can (and should) be used for good, it can also be used for bad…impressions that is. Every day, writers discover that font choice is an excellent opportunity to make a mockery of their work. This in mind, effective font should be chosen both carefully and strategically. To assist, presented here is a brief digest of useful font guidelines.

As per tradition, for typical documents you should use upper and lower case text for the body of your work. Avoid using all upper or lower case text anywhere in your document, as both can be difficult to read. As for headings and titles, use upper case lettering whenever prescribed or necessary.

Generally accepted writing guidelines for typical documents prescribe the use of 10-12 point font for the body, 14-48 point font for primary headings, and one-half of the primary heading point size for secondary headings. A warning though: font on your computer screen may appear larger than it actually is. If you err, err on the large side. Remember, if your text is too small to read, it simply won’t get read.

Simplicity is a virtue in writing. Keep this in mind when choosing a font or font mix. Remember, your font is supposed to enhance your message, not sabotage it. Unless it is truly warranted, tend toward simple, inconspicuous fonts like Times New Roman or Arial.

As a rule, never use more than two fonts in the same piece. Like the saying goes: three fonts is a crowd—on your reader’s attention. So once you choose a font, be committed and use it throughout. Your readers will thank you. Although, in general, font use should be consistent throughout a project, variety is sometimes needed to break the monotony. One good way to infuse diversity into a document is via the use of italicized, bold, or underlined text. These highlighting tools, as well as many others, are properly used to signal importance, emphasis, even inflection (see paragraph one). But remember, use them sparingly or don’t use them at all.

What is PostScript?
What is Type 1?
What is TrueType?
What is OpenType?

What is PostScript?
PostScript is the worldwide printing and imaging standard. The PostScript programming language was originally developed to communicate complex graphic printing instructions to digital printers. It is now built into many laser printers for high-quality rendering of both raster and vector graphics.

An important feature of the PostScript language is that it is device independent. This means that it produces good-looking images regardless of the resolution or color rendering method of the output device, and it takes full advantage of the capabilities built into the device. The Portable Document Format (PDF) is a more structured, compact subset of the PostScript language. Almost anything that can be done in PostScript can be done in PDF.

What is Type 1?
The Type 1 font format is recognized on every computer platform, from microcomputers to mainframes. It prints on virtually every printer, either directly through built-in PostScript language interpreting, or through add-on utilities. For more than a decade, Type 1 has been the preferred format for the graphic arts and publishing industries.

Type 1 fonts are a specialized form of PostScript program and are the original file format used for type display on all PostScript printers. The PostScript language was later extended to provide support for the later TrueType and OpenType font standards.

What is TrueType?
TrueType is a standard for digital type fonts. Is used in both Windows and Macintosh operating systems. Like Type 1, the TrueType format is available for development of new fonts.

What is OpenType?
OpenType is a new standard for digital type fonts. OpenType fonts can contain either PostScript or TrueType outlines in a common wrapper. An OpenType font is a single file, which can be used on both Macintosh and Windows platforms without conversion. OpenType fonts have many advantages over previous font formats because they contain more glyphs, support more languages, and support rich typographic features such as small caps, old style figures, and ligatures — all in a single font.

OpenType fonts work just like other fonts, although the OpenType layout features are not accessible.