4 Workarounds for Marketing Graphics When Fonts Are Limited

Graphic designers love fonts.  That’s pretty much a given.

But there are times when, for whatever reason, you or your designer might be limited in terms of the fonts that they have available or that you’re allowed to use in your marketing graphics.

I once worked as a layout artist for a company that only used two fonts in their printed materials.  Yep, that’s right, a whopping TWO whole fonts, and that spanned an entire array of maybe 14-15 quarterly catalogs that went out to current and prospective customers.

Now, that kind of extreme is not necessarily good practice or even advisable in most cases.  In fact, the catalogs that I worked with at the time looked really outdated and, well, hideous as a result of this particular limitation as well as several other factors that are way too much to go into here.

Suffice it to say, there will be times when things like corporate branding, style, or even a particular company’s traditions (which was the issue I faced) will put restrictions on fonts and type in marketing communications materials.

But just because limitations are at play doesn’t mean we actually have to let them limit us.

If you’re stuck with limited fonts, here are some ways that you can push the envelope in applying them to your graphic projects and communications.

 

1. PLAY WITH CHARACTER WIDTH

It’s amazing how differently a typeface will speak when its letters have been stretched or compressed.  Sometimes even a small change can make a very noticeable difference.

character-width-graphic-design

2. KERN/TRACK THE HECK OUT OF THEM

Spacing between words and letters is your friend and needs attention in any type of design or layout, but it’s especially important when fonts are limited.  In addition to improving legibility, it can increase the effect of large titles and headlines and provide variety without the need to switch fonts.

Kerning refers to adjusting the space between individual letters, whereas tracking refers to adjusting space uniformly across all characters (such as an entire line, paragraph or block of text).

It’s important (A) to get tracking in place that makes your text pleasing to the eye and easily legible, and (B) to kern space around any problem letters (typically you’ll want to move letters closer together to remove “dead” space obstructing ideal legibility).

Example of kerning and tracking for text in graphic design

Once you have a feel for the spacing that makes your font(s) look best in general, you can begin kerning and tracking graphic design project elements using particular techniques to create variety and emphasis.  Such as…

 

3. SMALL CAPS AND TRACKING

Small caps in and of themselves are great for variety, and one of the best ways I’ve found to play them up is with tracking.

Set the text to small caps and increase tracking to, say, 90 or 100 (going by InDesign’s 1/1000 of an em per unit) and you’ll start to see noticeable results.

This technique is particularly nice with serif fonts…and not always quite as pleasant with sans serif fonts, although you can still give the latter a try and see if it works in your application.

Here’s an example with Baskerville:

  Example of small caps using increased tracking for emphasis

For this email layout, the “Forever Together” headline and subhead right below it both use Baskerville, just with different faces and styling applied, to a degree that you might not even realize they’re the same font at first glance.  Which brings us to the next point…

 

4. CHOOSE FONTS WITH MULTIPLE FACES

Choosing fonts that have multiple faces, weights and versions can help provide variety without cluttering the design with too many competing fonts.

Here at Cortica, we love the various faces and weights of Gotham, so much that I lean on this font pretty heavily for many of our branded graphics and materials.  Helvetica Neue and Avenir are also great similarly minimalistic sans-serif choices that have a large number of faces each.

Font examples with multiple faces for graphic design

REMEMBER, THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS

Not only do you have all of the character variations already mentioned, you also have color, white space and text effects (outlines, element transparency, etc.) at your disposal.

Web Designer Depot has a great example of an originally groundbreaking font that is now sometimes (quite unfortunately) viewed as routine or “boring”, yet is so viable and functional that it plays a part in our everyday lives in ways we may not even realize — check out The Simplicity of Helvetica.

Did you know that the text in Target’s logo is set in Helvetica?

Target's logo uses Helvetica font

 

Any other surprising places you’ve noticed a particular font in use?  Or any creative ways you’ve learned to deal with font limitations?  Let us know in the comments area so that we can compare notes.

 

P.S.  If you’re dealing with heavy restrictions and your one allowed font is Comic Sans, then I’m sorry to say you have my sympathy and are on your own.  That is one typeface which, in my opinion, has no redeeming qualities, save for use by daycare providers, preschool teachers and the like…and even so, there are plenty of other playful, childhood-oriented fonts out there that contain actual beauty and charm.  Call me a snob, purist, whatever you will.  I direct you, however, to this lovely video, which is hugely entertaining despite the fact that I so, so, SO adamantly disagree with its font champion.

About 

Rob is Co-Owner of Cortica Creative Design and writes about graphic design for marketing and advertising. He loves fonts and typography, Bauhaus, Mirò, Max Beckmann, wine, anything with chocolate, and dabbling in various aspects of linguistics. Follow him on Twitter at @RobTDuvall or connect on

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