Choosing fonts for different channels

By Lara Sinclair
14 September 2021

When looking for that signature font combination that will distinguish your brand from the crowd and get your message across while reflecting your brand, it’s important to consider the marketing channels in which your brand will be seen.

That way you can ensure the typefaces and fonts selected across your channel mix are appropriate and perform well in situ, as well as being aesthetically pleasing. 

Whatever your main typefaces are, it’s important to maintain a connection with your brand while catering for the distinct requirements of different channels and messaging - no mean feat!

Elsewhere, we’ve discussed some of the key typeface and font terms and types, popular examples, and some key principles for choosing and pairing fonts.

Following are some of the key considerations to take into account in the search for typefaces to represent your brand across a variety of marketing channels.

Web-safe fonts versus web fonts

Before we dive into different channels, when it comes to digital channels it’s important to understand the difference between web-safe fonts and web fonts.

Web-safe fonts are those that come pre-loaded onto the biggest number of devices and operating systems, while web fonts are hosted on, and downloaded from, a server.

Web-safe fonts are the only fonts guaranteed to show in all browsers, regardless of user location, browser settings, bandwidth or device.

Even if you choose a less generic font, you should include a similar web-safe font to default to as a fallback in your specified font stack if required to avoid messy outcomes.

Web fonts were originally designed for websites and are hosted online. These days most display well in print and in digital channels.

The big advantage of web fonts is the huge variety available, which increases your chances of effectively reflecting your brand experience.

A word on accessibility

Some fonts are deemed to be more readable than others in different channels, but accessibility goes beyond the question of whether a font is readable to the average viewer to consider audiences with specific conditions in order to ensure content is accessible to everyone.

For example, dyslexic or vision-impaired readers may benefit from the use of fonts that provide additional distinctions between similar glyphs or letterforms, such as p and q, b and d, or I and 1, making them easier to distinguish.

We’ll elaborate on this more in a future blog, but for now, to be sure your chosen font is as easy to read as possible you may wish to consider:

  • Does the font have long ascenders and descenders?
  • Do wider glyphs such as ‘w’ take up more space than narrow ones?
  • Is the font dense or loosely kerned?
  • Is the contrast between the font and the background sufficient?


Fonts for email

With readers scanning emails in an average of about 11 seconds apiece, you don’t have long to make an impact, so readability is critical when it comes to your email font choices. Since, by definition, your audience will also most likely be reading it on a device, legibility at a variety of point sizes is just as critical. 

It’s commonly accepted that sans-serif fonts are easier to read on screens.

For a safe bet, choose a web-safe font that is likely already to be loaded onto your recipients’ devices as it’s their email client that will display the text you send, not yours. This will ensure your email looks the way it was intended to for the largest possible audience, although you may wish for a more distinctive choice.

Verdana, Tahoma, Trebuchet MS and Arial are among the most common sans-serif fonts (although Arial is often criticised for being generic and overused) while Times New Roman and Georgia are among the serif fonts available on most devices. 

email 1_ san serif v serif

Other widely accepted options include Courier New, Impact, Lucida Console, Lucida Sans Unicode, Lucida Grande, Palatino Linotype, Helvetica, Book Antiqua, Palatino, Tahoma, Geneva, Times, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS and Monaco.

email 2_ widely accepted fonts

If you know the email clients your recipients use, you may opt for web fonts that are pulled in from the internet rather than a user’s device, although it’s not guaranteed that all users will see your chosen font. Popular web fonts include Open Sans, Lato, Arvo and Josefine Slab.

email 3_ popular web fonts

For greater brand impact, you may wish to use custom or commissioned fonts as many email clients now support them, but it’s still worth including some web-safe options when you define your fallback fonts.

It sometimes makes sense to choose fonts that match or reflect the typography you use in your other branding. And, if one of your brand fonts isn’t web-safe but you still want to use it, you can always opt to display that font in images rather than text.

Consider avoiding densely packed fonts to improve readability in body copy, select accessible fonts in which the characters are easily distinguished from each other, and ensure your offers and call to action stand out with a clearly legible, contrasting font. 

Another consideration for email is how condensed, or narrow, your headline fonts are, so you can fit impactful headlines into small screen widths.


Fonts for websites

Your website is not only your brand’s window on the digital world, these days it’s often the shopfront as well. 

Typography makes up about 90% of website content, so the fonts you choose to represent your brand on your website should be carefully selected to reflect your brand, as well as for on-screen legibility and readability. Visitors to your site won’t stay for long if they have trouble reading your content or understanding how to find what they’re looking for on your site.

Choosing web fonts is a good option, since most visitors will be reading them while online and it’s important to use fonts that have been optimised for the web. You may also choose to play it safe and stick with web-safe fonts that are commonly available on most devices.

As a general rule of thumb, avoid using more than three fonts on your website: for example, choose a primary font for your headers; a secondary font for web copy - it should be highly legible and more neutral than your primary font; and an accent font, to be used to draw attention to particular content, such as buttons and calls to action.

Another key consideration is how your font selection helps guide the reader through the hierarchy of content on the site, so you’re constantly helping them to find what they’re looking for, as well as guiding them as to what to read next. 

Using a limited number of fonts also makes it easier to correctly tag headlines, following good SEO practice to ensure search engines can index your content, and will also help your website load faster.

Popular website fonts include: Playfair Display, Portrait, Futura, Cormorant Garamond, Roboto and Montserrat, among many others.

website 1_ popular web fonts-1

Fonts for magazines

It’s commonly accepted that serif fonts are easier to read at length in print than sans-serif fonts, making it easier and faster for your audience to understand what you’re trying to communicate. So if you expect to be using your font choice for long copy in print, you may wish to opt for a serif font.

Consider the use of white space in your brand communications, along with text alignment. Different typefaces take up different amounts of space, so think about how densely you need to use your chosen font.

If you’re reluctant to choose a serif font, then select a sans-serif typeface that’s clear and readable in print, as well as fitting your brand guidelines, and don’t play around too much with the kerning and tracking. 

Choose a contrasting typeface for your headlines: a sans-serif headline typeface will generally pair well with a serif font for your body copy.

Consider the quality of the paper on which you’ll be printing: Modern fonts with dramatic  variation in stroke weights, such as Didot, are rendered better on high-quality stock where they convey a clean, classic image.

Many of the advertising greats chose print typefaces for impact and readability: for example, adman John Caples preferred Cheltenham Bold for headlines while author and advertising legend David Ogilvy often used Baskerville, Caslon and Jenson, and direct marketer Gary Halbert liked Courier.

magazine 2_ matching ppl to fonts

Other popular fonts in mazine design include: Bodoni, Replica, Bebas Neue Pro, Paris Pro, Mondia, Grunge!, Magnetico, Articulat and Madelin.


Fonts for posters

When selecting fonts for posters, you can give your creative instincts much freer reign than for many other formats. 

The main consideration is that your poster fonts are attention-grabbing and readable at a distance, convey the correct brand and messaging emotions, and have a legible call to action. 

Less is generally more when it comes to the number of typefaces, but you can choose from a broad range of typeface categories, such as bold and condensed styles, brush fonts, stencil fonts and myriad other options.

Just ensure your font choices look great at large point sizes and catch the eye, and that the combination you choose helps lead the audience through the desired hierarchy of elements on the poster to the call to action.

Depending on your brand and the purpose of your poster, some great typefaces to consider include retro fonts such as Burtons, Obrazec and Ironclad. Condensed headline fonts that look great on posters include Morton, Andreas and Devant Horgen.


Fonts for social channels

Among the key considerations when choosing fonts to appear on your social channels is whether using a particular font will increase the chance your content will be shared. 

Many brands play up a particular aspect of their brand on social channels such as Instagram - for example, their playful side - and font choices may reflect that.

And on channels such as Instagram and Pinterest, creativity and visual impact, reinforced by your choice of font, can help your brand stand out.

You may choose to branch out a little in your creative choices on social channels, but be strategic, stick with a limited number of typefaces and maintain a visual connection to your regular brand to maintain brand consistency. 

Most social networks have a default font: for example, Neue Helvetica is the default font for Instagram bios, although Android users will see Systems Roboto and Freight Sans; meanwhile, within Instagram Stories there are a number of default fonts. 

Using font generators will enable you to test how different fonts will look in your social bios and posts on networks such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. A variety of fonts can also be added to business-related networks such as LinkedIn in this way, but use them sparingly. 

Above all, when choosing a new font for social, test it to make sure it will be legible and scale well so it appears correctly on all devices, including mobile phones. 

Among the popular typefaces in social bios, post copy and imagery are Montserrat, Open Sans, Helvetica, Playfair Display and many others.

Few brands stick with the same typefaces and fonts across every channel. Ultimately, it’s important your font is appropriate for the situation and helps - rather than hinders - communication of the message you’re looking to convey.

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