Type And Color
by Ilene Strizver
When you think of type, what colors come to mind? Black type on white paper, right? It’s true that much of our daily contact with type is in books, newspapers and magazines, in which text is predominantly set in black ink on white (or light-colored) paper. Black type against a light background is the easiest combination to read. It’s also the least expensive to print. But don’t assume color and type don’t mix; on the contrary, color used well can add focus and energy to your message.
Why Use Color?
Color and typography work together in many ways. Color can attract attention to an element, help emphasize, contrast and organize content, reinforce impact and recognition, create a mood, strengthen an identity and even assist readability. Color and type interact dynamically in logos, packaging and product design, movie and video titles and credits, greeting cards, book covers, CDs and posters. Color can be critical in establishing powerful corporate identities and product branding.
The Internet has added another new dimension to the use of color and typography. Web sites aim to attract your attention quickly and keep it as long as possible, and color is a powerful tool for achieving this.
Succeeding With Color
Think of color as an accessory to a basic wardrobe, something to enhance an already strong foundation. Many designers actually design in black and white first, then add color as a separate step.
Readability should be your primary consideration when combining type and color. Contrast is the key: maintaining a high degree of contrast between type and background colors helps keep type readable, while reducing contrast reduces ease of reading.
There are technical considerations to consider when choosing colors for the web. Macs and PCs display color differently (sometimes drastically), and so do various types of monitors. To be certain your audience sees what you intend, stick to the 216-color web-safe palette. Simply put, this is the lowest common denominator of colors that most older browsers and operating systems will display consistently. These days, however, the web-safe palette is losing ground. Many designers don’t want to be limited to 216 colors, especially since newer systems can display up to a million!
Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts to help you make successful color choices:
- DON’T tint type that has thin strokes.
- DON’T drop out or reverse type that has very thin strokes.
- DON’T set lengthy amounts of text on colored, tinted, or black backgrounds.
- DON’T use a color copy (ink jet, laser proof, photocopy, etc.) to select colors for print.
- DO consider how web color will appear on all monitors.
- DO maintain high contrast for optimal readability in all media (print and web).
While not a requirement for good typography, color is a fun, eye-catching element that can make a good design even better. The key is to use it tastefully and appropriately – as in all things typographic!
Visit our Typography Articles Page to read more about Typography.
- Editor’s Note:Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 4th edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.