Print Marketing: How to Choose a Typeface

By Alexander Hiam

Deciding on a font (not to be confused with a typeface) is perhaps one of the most important choices you make regarding your printed marketing materials. Typeface refers only to the distinctive design of the letters (Times New Roman, for example).

Font, on the other hand, actually refers to one particular size and style of a typeface design (such as 10-point, bold, Times New Roman). It’s the particular attributes for the characters (letters, numbers, and symbols) used in printing your design.

The right font for any job is the one that makes your text easily readable and that harmonizes with the overall design most effectively. For a headline, the font also needs to grab the reader’s attention. The body copy doesn’t have to grab attention in the same way — in fact, if it does, the copy often loses readability.

For example, a reverse font (light or white on dark) may be just the thing for a bold headline, but if you use the reverse font in the body copy, too, nobody reads your copy. It’s just too hard on the eye to read more than a line or two in reverse font. The following sections help you find the font that will make your printed marketing materials pop.

Finding the right font for your needs starts with figuring out what sort of typeface you want. You have an amazing number of choices, because designers have been developing typefaces for as long as printing presses have existed.

Your word-processing software will have many of the basic options, including classics like Helvetica and Times New Roman. Check out Adobe Typekit for nice displays of many more options, where you can call up most popular fonts or create lists by style and type.

A clean, sparse design, with a lot of white space on the page and stark contrasts in the artwork, deserves the clean lines of a sans serif typeface — meaning one that doesn’t have any decorative serifs (those little bars or flourishes at the ends of the main lines in a character). The most popular body-copy fonts without serifs are Helvetica, Univers, Optima, and Avant Garde. This figure shows some fonts with and without serifs.


A richly decorative, old-fashioned sort of design needs a more decorative and traditional serif typeface, like Century or Times New Roman. The most popular body-copy fonts with serifs include Garamond, Melior, Century, Times New Roman, and Caledonia.

This figure shows an assortment of typeface choices, in which you can compare the clean lines of the sans serif typefaces with the more decorative designs of the serif typefaces.


In tests, Helvetica, Times New Roman, and Century generally top the lists as most readable, so start with one of these typefaces for your body copy; only change it if it doesn’t seem to work. Research also shows that people read lowercase letters about 13 percent faster than uppercase letters, so avoid long stretches of copy set in all caps.

People also read most easily when letters are dark and contrast strongly with their background. Thus, black 12-point Helvetica on white is probably the most readable font specification for the body copy of a printed marketing piece, even if it seems dull to a sophisticated designer.

Generalizing about the best kind of headline typeface is no easy task, because designers play around with headlines to a greater extent than they do with body copy. But as a general rule, you can use Helvetica for the headline when you use Century for the body, and vice versa. Or you can just use a bolder, larger version of the body copy font for your headline.

You can also reverse a larger, bold version of your type onto a black background for the headline. Anything to make the headline grab the reader’s attention, stand out from the body copy, and ultimately lead vision and curiosity into the body copy’s text. (Remember to keep the headline readable, though. Nothing too fancy, please.)

Sometimes designers combine body copy of a decorative typeface (one with serifs, like Times New Roman) with headers of a sans serif typeface (like Helvetica). The contrast between the clean lines of the large-sized header and the more decorative characters of the smaller body copy pleases the eye and tends to draw the reader from header to body copy.