Choose the font that suits the message

By Doug Downey

Posted on Tuesday, November 30th, 2021

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Choosing type with the proper font weight—bold, medium or light—is important for controlling in what order a sign’s message gets read. We discussed that in “Use Line Value to Deliver the Impact You Need” in the November/December 2001 issue of SignCraft. But the “look” typeface you choose contributes to the “feel” of the message. Type sends an emotional message to the reader about the business or event that a sign is telling them about.

This is the same idea as the photographer who chooses the theme for a family portrait. We once had a family portrait done and chose a hockey theme. The children each wore their hockey gear. Dad was the coach and Mom suited as the referee.

What we wore added interest and created a feeling. It’s the same when we’re designing a sign—you choose a font that helps create the feeling you want to get across. We don’t just grab a typeface indiscriminately—we choose the one that has the feel and impact that we need.

The fonts must suit the message and the business. Every font creates a feel or mood. Make sure you match that mood to the business. So no Goudy Light for the heavy equipment dealer, or Futura Extra Bold for the lingerie shop!

Type selection is a challenge because there are so many variables. The font must fit in the space you have to work with. It must be appropriate to the image and feel you are trying to create. It must have the correct amount of contrast for the task, whether primary or secondary copy. And finally, it must be legible at the distance the sign will be viewed from.

I work in CorelDraw, so when choosing a font for a design, I use their font manager for the task. Once I find a font that seems suitable, I set the word in that font, then duplicate it and look for another. After I have chosen quite a few fonts that are going to work, I choose three or four that suit the design. After tweaking them, I then choose the one that I think will make the design come alive.

I recently spent a couple of hours online helping a friend find a certain typestyle. It’s a wonderful place to get free fonts, but remember that not all fonts are created equal. There are a lot of very poorly designed fonts out there. Nonetheless, the Internet is still a good place to get ideas for type.

Doug Downey’s business, The ImageFactory Design Studio, is located in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.

This article appeared in the January/February 2002 issue of SignCraft.

Computech has a high-tech feel that is picked up in each of these typefaces. These were all set in the current sans-serif fonts.

For Racing, I again selected several different typestyles with the appropriate feeling. The different styles would work in different layouts—a strong, bold typeface for one layout; a tall, narrow typeface for another. Each says the same thing, but all give you different looks.

“Say it with flowers?” is the theme for a famous flower marketer. For me, there are many fonts that give you the flare and feeling for the word “Flowers.” Here are a few of the fonts that I would choose for that word.

Deacon’s Green is a very high-end subdivision built around a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer. Deacon is Arnold Palmer’s father’s name, so I chose a serif font to give a nice feeling of richness and history. We used an image of a golfer in knickers to also add the sense of history.

McCann Construction is the largest construction company in our area. They had used the same logo for 54 years and wanted a fresh, new look. I used a strong, bold font for the name, which suits what the company does in the community.

American Nutrition asked me to help out with marketing one of their new products. The customer also mentioned that he couldn’t figure out why his label designs were weak. The letter style that was used in their original logo was a very thin letter style—yet this is a company that sells nutritional products for the bodybuilding industry. I redesigned their logo using the Modern font, which is big and bold and gives you the look of strength.

In the first version of Bydal Designs, I went with a strong, graphic look.

But the customer then said he was looking for script lettering and wanted to involve the American flag. Both designs work and both say the same thing, but they show different emotions and feelings. It’s very important to find out what feeling the customer wants to portray and then design around that.

Later Bydal Designs asked me to create a design for one of his clients, A&A Duct Cleaning. I used the graphic from the first version of his logo design—the one that he didn’t choose.

For Freestyle Signs, we added some color and graphics for this design for his new truck. Freestyle had chosen the fat, slick, fun-looking font for their name. We added the outlines and color and then added the fun-style script for Performance Lettering & Design.

You don’t have to use all your fonts on every job. Sometimes one is enough. This is a high-end development, so I used a nice serifed letter. They weren’t sure whether people used “The” in the name all the time, so we didn’t outline it, and let it take a step back in importance. I used italic for the secondary copy for a more relaxed feel.

FCC Financial helps out small companies with loans and lease payments. We chose this font for FCC because the owner wanted the name to stand out—even though it was just three letters.

Serenity Design & Build creates high-end office furniture. With all the abstract-looking desks and chairs, I made a couple of graphic images that looked like a desk and put them together to look like an office layout. It also created an “S” for Serenity. I used this nice serif type for its rich, classy look.

This was for a new local bed and breakfast. We produced this logo both for their sign and their Web site. I chose this letter style because it fit the theme. I could also manipulate it and add the graphic on top of it.

This is one of the largest silo construction companies in the US Midwest. I used the strong Impact letter style to convey the strength of the company and the idea of strength for the silos. I substituted the letter “i” with the vertical graphic of a silo.

Simply Delicious deals in candy items and wanted a new look for their fleet of vehicles. I tried to use a display font to create fun, but also keep the corporate look. As you can see in this design, color becomes part of your feeling as well. If I changed the color to a subtler feel, I would lose the interest of the kids who are going to buy the candy.

I used a bold font that suits the word and tied well into the graphic. He does a lot of custom sound systems in compact cars for young people, and we wanted to create a design that they would use as a decal on their car. The italic and the stripes give some motion.

I’ve done a lot of logos for sports teams. Many teams choose a mascot and this gives some direction to choosing a typestyle. For the Panthers, for example, you would want a typeface with a sleek, bold look. Here we have the Warriors, Stars, Eagle Attack and Stingers.



Doug Downey has been in the sign business since 1979. He provides sign and logo design services to sign companies in the US and Canada. His company, The Image Factory is in Stratford, Ontario, Canada.

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