Getting ‘into’ typography can be intimidating. There’s a lot of jargon, a lot of historical background, and, of course, typographers can be known for being… passionate about their opinions. At the end of the day, though, typography is about one very universal thing: making things look nice. Being a master typographer is great, but I think a lot of us just want to be more comfortable and more informed working with type. If your typography skills are still stuck in the “cruise through the font list ‘til you find something nice” level, here’s a few tips and resources to help you make more informed type decisions:
PART I: START COLLECTING
- ONE: Get awesome, open fonts
It’s not hard to find sites that offer free fonts, however the things you get off there are often of crummy quality, and they’re rarely transparent about the license you’re getting. The fonts are usually ‘free’ for personal use only, meaning if you use them in a project you could wind up running afoul of the type designer. Fortunately, these sites offer truly free fonts that are both very gorgeous and ok’d for commercial use:
- TWO: Have some go-tos
Having go-to fonts doesn’t make you lazy, it makes you efficient. I mean, you’re not going to want to use the same ol’ font if there’s a better option for what you’re creating, but having a go-to can at least offer a starting point that you can then try to improve upon. It also helps you check your collection. For instance, do you have a go-to:
Serif? Sans Serif? Slab Serif? Script? Blackletter? All Caps? Monospace? Something heavy? Something thin? A big typeface family? Something condensed? Something wide? Something formal? Something casual? Something good for body text?
PART II: IMPROVE YOUR KERNING
Super-perfect kerning is actually a lot less important in cartography than it is in other design fields. We tend to have a ton of labels, wide tracking, and curved text, which makes kerning either very tedious or very difficult. I recommend knowing how to kern, though, since it can help improve your titles and help you spot poorly-kerned fonts.
- THREE: Play the kerning game
This fun and easy game gives you some hands-on experience with nudging letters around, and gives you instant feedback on how well you performed. There might be a few times where you might feel your solution looked better than the pre-fabbed one, though, so don’t get caught up treating their solutions as gospel.
- FOUR: Look at things from a different angle
An ancient kerning trick: If you want to double-check your kerning or just try things differently, flip your letters vertically and then work from there. It sorta removes the letters from their context as, erm, letters; this removes a distraction and lets you work with the letters in their purest form: as shapes and forms that can be balanced.
PART III: KNOW HOW TO MATCH
Picking typefaces to go together can be a really hard task. There are no hard and fast rules to assembling a good cast of typefaces, but these can help you out:
- FIVE: Play the typographic dating game
This brilliant flash game not only offers good type pairings, but it also does a fantastic job of explaining why the pairings do (or don’t) work.
- SIX: Good ol’ typebrewer
Typebrewer offers 12 different typographic match-ups created just for cartography. You don’t need to copy them verbatim, but they can offer a great starting point for assembling typefaces to get the flavor you desire.
PART IV: PRACTICE GOOD PRACTICE
Your typework doesn’t end once you select the fonts. Here’s some things to keep in mind once the project is over:
- SEVEN: Give credit
Okay, this one isn’t actually an established good practice, but I think it should be! Credit the typefaces you use somewhere, somehow. It can take months or even years of tedious, exacting work to create a typeface; give thanks to all the hard-working typographers out there by crediting them in your work. Also, have you ever looked at something and wished you knew what typefaces were used? Crediting type is also a helpful service to others.
(For instance! The type used for my examples is Franchise.)
- EIGHT: Save an outlines version
Converting your type to paths/outlines makes it no longer editable, but it will prevent the all-too-often encountered problem of opening up a file and not having the right typefaces installed, screwing everything up. Just save a copy where you converted your type. “An ounce of prevention”, and all that.