• Type Family Pairing

  • What makes a pair of type families harmonious versus another that simply clash? Are there any clues to get us started in making compatible matches? We'll delve deep into the witchcraft of type pairs.

Before we can match up any two type families, we need to first decide what our choice will be based on. There are three major criteria, context, visual harmony and functionality.

By Context

Context will be our first guide in selecting typefaces. Our choices for a historical novel will look very different from those for a technical manual. This is where knowledge of the historical origins of typefaces is needed. An old style serif typeface may be used for a historical novel, while a humanist sans serif could be our choice for a technical manual.

Gothic & old style

These two glyphs are from a gothic family and an old style typeface. They’re not from the same era, but they do make a harmonious pair.

For Visual Harmony

Visual harmony is a little harder to define. We know it when we see it and notice when it is lacking. Families with similar proportions and physical characteristics will be more compatible. As an example, two families that have two-storey ‘a’ glyphs, amongst other similarities, may be harmonious together.

Two storey a

Here, we have Caslon and Myriad. Their proportions create a good match.

Functionality

Our typeface selection needs to work with the content. If our historical novel’s copy requires ligatures, well, we’ll need make sure our typeface includes ligatures. If the technical manual requires fraction glyphs, that will also impact our choice.

Ligatures & Fractions

These glyphs are part of Formata and Caslon respectively. Both families have extensive glyph complements.

Type Marriage

Matching up two typefaces is a bit of a dark art. Some go on instinct and experience. Others are more methodical. Using both of the above is probably advisable. These are all elements (in no particular order) to consider in pairing typefaces:

  • classification
  • glyph style
  • x-height
  • glyph width
  • ...and more.

What often happens is that you’re given the first family. That way, you only need to find a typeface to pair with it. Let’s say you’re given Lubalin Graph to start with. It’s a geometric slab serif.

Lubalin paired with Avant Garde

Which font are geometric sans-serifs? There’s Futura, for sure. There’s also Avant Guard. That’s the font that Lubalin was based on. We’ve chosen Avant Garde above.

What to Avoid?

When trying to find a match, in this case, opposites attract isn’t really true. This means we want to avoid pairing a really wide font with a really arrow one. The same goes for an ultra-light font and a really bold one – not a good way to go.

thin-thick-narrow-wide

Despite the fact that these two glyphs are part of the same family, Acumin, there’s way too much contrast in weight and in width for them to be used together.