Think Big: Using Text Fonts at Display Sizes
by Ilene Strizver
Compared to the “old days,” today’s digital type technology gives users access to thousands of type designs with an ease that is nothing short of miraculous. Unfortunately, most digital typefaces only allow for one outline, or design, per character, not one design per point size as in metal type. This limitation means that today’s type designers often create typefaces with a particular size range in mind.
Is there any way to get more out of a design than even its designer intended? Often, yes. Even though most typefaces are categorized (officially or unofficially) as text or display designs, you can still expand the potential range of many typefaces by choosing wisely and making some minor adjustments as you set the type
This month we’ll look at how to use text designs at display sizes. These pointers will help you get the most – and best – use out of your fonts.
Using text faces at display sizes
To successfully set a text design at large sizes, follow these guidelines:
- Check the overall appearance of the typeface at the size you need. Some text designs just won’t look good big. A text design might maintain its personality and integrity at larger sizes, or it might turn clunky, heavy and unattractive. Avoid surprises by viewing the typeface at the size at which you plan to use it before making your final font selections.
- Examine the details. Hairlines, thin strokes, serifs, and sharp corners get heavier and rounder when enlarged. As a result, some typefaces that look crisp and sharp at text sizes sometimes feel bland or clumsy at a larger scale. Again, give the design a test-run at the size you need and take a close look before committing.
- Consider a sans serif. Sans serif designs tend to translate better from text to display sizes than serif faces for the very reasons outlined above: namely, serifs are often the first design element to suffer with enlargement. Sans serifs avoid this problem.
- Choose heavy weights. The heavy, black or ultra weights of a text family often translate very well to larger sizes, since they’re usually designed for display usage to begin with.
- Tighten the spacing. Letter spacing and word spacing optically change with scale, making text faces look too open at large sizes. To compensate, set the text face at the size you need and then tighten (track) the spacing accordingly.
- Adjust the kerning. Spacial relationships between letters change with scale too. After adjusting the tracking, kerning will often need to be tweaked as well.
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- 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, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.