How many fonts are too many for one project and how do you know where to draw the line? A generally accepted practice is to limit the number of different typefaces to three or four. That doesn't mean you can't use more but be sure you have a good reason to do so.
- Be consistent. A different font for every headline, for instance, is confusing and can give your design a cluttered look. You can usually get away with more fonts in longer documents with many different design elements (such as newsletters or magazines) where only two to three different fonts appear on any one page spread.
- Select a font for body copy and another for headlines. Use bold, italics, and different sizes of those fonts for captions, subheadings, decks, and other design elements.
- Depending on the design you might use a third font for initial caps, pull-quotes, or other selected items. You might add a fourth font for page numbers or as a secondary body font for sidebars, but usually two or three are sufficient.
Don’t use more than four fonts in any one publication.
As a general rule, when designing a publication I never use more than four fonts. Realistically, how many do you need? For a newsletter layout, you could use one font for headings, one for body text (which could also be used in italics or bold for captions) and one for subheadings. You may not even need that fourth one.
— Stuart Gardoll's Desktop Publishing Do's and Don'ts
- It is also wise to not make sudden typeface changes within a paragraph. Use the same typeface for body copy, using only bold or italics to add small amounts of emphasis, if necessary.
- If greater emphasis is required — create a pull-quote, set that copy in the margin, or create a sidebar using a different font to really set the information apart.
See the supporting illustrations on using fewer fonts for further clarification and tips.
The Bottom Line: No hard and fast rule says you can't use five, six, or even twenty different fonts in one document. However, consistency and readability are important to good design and too many font changes can distract and confuse the reader. Make your font choices carefully and consider how many typefaces will be seen together — longer, multi-page publications, such as magazines, can often tolerate a greater variety of typefaces. For brochures, ads, and other short documents, limit typefaces to one, two, or three.
"Right and wrong do not exist in graphic design. There is only effective and non-effective communication." — Peter Bilak - Illegibility
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