Recommend some great fonts
June 25, 2008 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Which high quality fonts - mainly serifs/sans-serifs - can you recommend that should be in every designer's toolkit? I'm thinking about gorgeous and versatile fonts such as Helvetica, Futura, Frutiger, Franklin Gothic, Myriad, Garamond, Palatino, etc. Go on, get that list underneath your pillow because I really want to know!
posted by Foci for Analysis to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
There are far too many to list. Let's narrow it down. What sort of work do you do?
posted by Typographica at 6:08 PM on June 25, 2008

I could live happily without ever seeing Palatino or Futura again. The others you mention are lovely.

Like Typo says, this question is really really broad. Mainly serifs and sans-serifs? So slab-serifs are out, I suppose...
posted by rokusan at 6:12 PM on June 25, 2008

I recommend Palatino and Futura.
Sorry. The question is like asking what kinda music do you like. (I like 'high quality' music).
posted by artdrectr at 6:23 PM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: It is a broad question.

There are some designers who would say all you need are two typefaces, a serif and a sans-serif, because the typeface shouldn't be the center of attention, it should simply serve its purpose. They might say Helvetica and Times are all you need.

There are some designers who like a to use a different font everyday. For them fonts are a fun way to express a mood and there's a perfect individual font out there for every task. For these folks, no list of typefaces could ever be long enough.

I recommend seeking out the documentary Helvetica, which is a lot of fun for font geeks and kind of a good primer overall.

As for me, my default positions are Helvetica for sans serif and Caslon for serif

But I also like Garamond (particularly in italic), Futura, Univers, and Trajan if I'm feeling especially classical

There are obviously millions of other fonts out there and I use a lot of them, but I think it's simpler and more efficient to stick to a few nice clean fonts that you happen to like for your own design work.

Beyond that, it's worthwhile to be as informed as you can about what's out there and be able to identify fonts quickly when you need to. I've linked to a few Wikipedia entries in my post and I have to say their entries on typefaces are very good and a great place to start researching the history of typography.
posted by wabbittwax at 6:35 PM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ah, I see. I guess what I really want to know is what characterizes great fonts. I mean, there are tons of fonts out there, so how do you figure out which are the better ones, especially if typography isn't part of your job? Maybe by looking at some really nice ones, I thought.

On preview: thanks wabbittwax, that's what I'm looking for.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:44 PM on June 25, 2008

Wabbit names many of the classics. Here are the best new typefaces of the last few years selected by a group of experts.
posted by Typographica at 6:48 PM on June 25, 2008

My favorite font is Gentium.
posted by phunniemee at 6:56 PM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: "A designer should use only these five typefaces: Bodoni, Helvetica, Times Roman, Century, and Futura." - Massimo Vignelli

I don't necessarily agree, but he has a point: your typography might make the design, but it can also be a crutch. If your design doesn't work with the basics, it might not work at all.

That said, here are some recommendations:

Typographica's favorite typefaces: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007.

13 typefaces every graphic designer needs
posted by clearlydemon at 7:30 PM on June 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's a huge subject, not really easy to reduce to rules of thumb. Some people will tell you that the font's history, inspiration, etc, must match the subject matter, so a book about Renaissance painting has to be set in a humanist font, for example.
Other than that, the classics are classics for a reason, though some people abhor some widely used fonts like Helvetica.
My man Robert Bringhurst picks out about 40 useful typefaces at the end of The Elements of Typographic Style, which you should read just on account of it being the best book ever written about any subject whatsoever.
posted by signal at 7:42 PM on June 25, 2008

Oh, and my current faves are Swift , Neo Sans and TheSans.
posted by signal at 7:51 PM on June 25, 2008

The answers to this question that I asked back in 2005 may be helpful.
posted by killdevil at 8:06 PM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: Oh, happy day! Someone actually wants to know about type. My essentials list (which is constantly being mentally revised) follows. My criteria are legibility, usefulness, and character, and I work (and enjoy working with) longer texts and information-design jobs. For this reason, my choices would be very suited for editorial, informational, and signage design; maybe less so for packaging design.

- Berthold Akzidenz Grotesk: very similar to Helvetica but with more character. The Berthold foundry's cut has lots of weights and widths. Very useful for small text as well as display.
- Avenir: an update of Futura that is slightly more humanist and infinitely more readable, even in extended texts.
- Univers: A classic, can be used in almost any situation.
- Gill Sans: an unusual and beautiful typeface, unless you are British, in which case it is ubiquitous and beautiful. (I have a fantasy of waking up one morning to find all the Helvetica in the world replaced by Gill Sans. Common courtesy and smiles would increase 10%.)
- Syntax: looks very modern, but was actually designed in the 1950's.
- Eagle: more useful for labels/headers/display type than text. Bold, quirky, art-deco flavor.
- Myriad: clean, modern, useful. It's only drawback is that its being used everywhere by everyone all the time.
- Trade Gothic: a clean sans-serif that evokes mid-century modernism.

semi- or slab-serif:
- Optima: simply gorgeous. (Has recently been refreshed as Optima Nova by the original designer to take full advantage of digital type.)
- Caecilia: bold, beautiful, legible, useful. It appears overly designed at first glance, but is very sturdy even in long uses.

- Sabon: my hands-down favorite serif face; classically beautiful without being fussy.
- Caslon: The face to choose when you don't know what to use. If typefaces are construction materials, Caslon is red brick.
- Electra: a little fussy for long text, but beautiful letterforms make it fantastic for short texts and display use.
- Filosofia: the revival I turn to when a Bodoni is called for. (There have been so many cuts of Bodoni/Didot that just saying "Bodoni" is almost useless.)

- Gotham: the beautiful sans-serif family now nearing ubiquity. A wide range of weights from ultra-thin to heavy. (Hoefler Type Foundry)
- Archer: the new slab-serif family, also with a huge range of weights, several in the ultra-thin range. I could imagine them being very useful in publishing and fashion. (also Hoefler Type Foundry.)
- Dolly: designed as a book typeface, appears too heavy at first glance (and may be too heavy for display use) but works incredibly well in extended texts. Only 4 styles; roman, italic, smallcaps, and bold; all you really need for a book. (Underware type foundry.)

digital: (specifically for web & onscreen use)
- Verdana: really the only typeface I ever spec for web & onscreen reading. Only one of a handful of faces out there that are well-designed specifically for this purpose.
- Georgia: If you had to spec a serif face for for web & onscreen, this is it.
posted by Cranialtorque at 9:21 PM on June 25, 2008 [16 favorites]

posted by oaf at 9:27 PM on June 25, 2008

There are a lot of good fonts out there, not all of which are well known but many of which are useful. The problem with non-professional fonts from Joe Shmoe instead of a proper type foundry is that the spacing between the letters is often fairly crap and requires manual, letter by letter adjustment, which sucks.

It also depends if you want body fonts or display fonts, but I most often use Gil, Aviner, Helvetica, Berlin, Helvector Geometric, Officina, and the world's best font, Syntax. Trade Gothic is an excellent, readable body type, too.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:28 PM on June 25, 2008

Response by poster: Now we're talking! Thanks everyone for your suggestions (especially you, Cranialtorque!). It's interesting how certain fonts keep popping up.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:23 PM on June 25, 2008

Goudy Old Style
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:29 PM on June 25, 2008

Best answer: Here's a good list of 30 fonts that I bookmarked a few months back.
posted by jjno at 11:55 PM on June 25, 2008

Here's a good list of 30 fonts that I bookmarked a few months back.

That's a great list, made even more awesome by the inclusion of Vag Rounded.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:35 AM on June 26, 2008

gill sans every time, din mittelschrift, and gotham is indeed lovely for sans serifs.
posted by spyke23 at 1:52 PM on June 26, 2008

A fine article about CSS font stacks.
posted by netbros at 12:22 PM on June 27, 2008

I'm coming in a bit late here, but I recently found this list on the Thinking With Type site (from the book of the same title) and I remembered your post. I like how they are presented with info telling who designed it when. ...And one of the fonts listed is called "Meta" :)
posted by wundermint at 6:40 PM on August 5, 2008

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