There’s a few fonts that I believe every designer should have at his or her disposal—some good for print, others good for web, some good at very small sizes, others good for large text. Below you’ll find a list of 20 great fonts for every designer, 10 sans-serif and 10 serif.
Helvetica is among the most widely used sans-serif typefaces, probably because of its versatility–it works just as well for small body text as it does for huge billboards. It was designed to imply no inherent meaning, so it makes a good fall back font, picking up the style of the design elements that surround it.
With its almost perfect shapes, Futura is derived from precise, geometric forms and is based on strokes of nearly even weight. Futura conveys a sense of efficiency and forwardness and lacks any decorative, non-essential elements, making it a timeless font usable for nearly any purpose.
The word “avenir” means future in French, so the Avenir font may owe some of its design inspiration to Futura. Unlike Futura, though, Avenir is not purely geometric. Instead, it is a modern organic and humanist font that works beautifully for both print text and headlines.
Less geometric and mechanical than fonts like Futura, Gill Sans is another designer favorite. The Gill Sans font family typically contains 14 styles, it is available in several weights, and it is legible even at very small font sizes, making it a great choice for print design.
Din is an incredibly legible font, with applications including traffic, administrative, and technical. In modern design, Din is frequently a choice font for signage and posters of any scale.
Myriad was originally designed for Adobe Systems, and is widely known for its use as the new Apple font, replacing Apple Garamond. It is similar to Frutiger, but is easily distinguished by its special ‘y’ descender and its slanting e. This is another great versatile font, great for any size or medium.
Optima is a bit unique in that it has the feeling of a serif font, yet it is classified as a sans-serif roman. It is comparable to typefaces like Garamond and Centaur, and it benefits from readability at very small sizes.
Frutiger conveys the cleanliness of Univers while maintaining the organic and proportional aspects of Gill Sans. Modern in its appearance, Frutiger is still legible at various sizes, angles, and distances. Originally intended for large signage, this font works equally as well for text and display, too.
Univers is one of a series of neo-grotesque sans-serif typefaces all released in 1957. Other fonts created at this time include Helvetica and Folio; the three are often confused. Consisting of 44 faces, Univers is versatile for both text and display uses with popular applications including branding, signage, and maps.
Praised as the Helvetica of the 1990s, Meta was designed to be legible, space-saving, and distinguishable. Because it needed to be used in small spaces for identification rather than copy, Meta is a great choice for small sections of copy, and can withstand legibility on poor paper stock.
Baskerville is a traditional serif font featuring contrast between thick and thin strokes and sharp and tapered serifs. Sought to improve legibility, Baskerville was created with simplicity and refinement in mind. Fun fact: research has shown the use of Baskerville increasing the likelihood of a reader agreeing with a statement by 1.5 percent!
Popularly used in textbooks and magazines, Adobe Garamond captures the essence of the old style serifs with its fluidity and consistency. Considered one of the most legible and readable serif typefaces for print, it is also noted as one of the most eco-friendly fonts in terms of its ink usage.
Century, exceptionally legible and simplistic, originated in the nineteenth century, but still remains a popularly used font for print materials including periodicals, textbooks, and literature.
Adobe Caslon Pro is distinguished by its short ascenders and descenders and its bracketed serifs. The bracketed serifs make the font a bit easier on the eyes, so this font is used widely used in magazines, journals, and textbooks, where large bodies of text are required.
A slab serif font, Rockwell is very geometric and monoweighted, making it not very suitable for lengthy bodies of text. Instead, its unbracketed, bold look lends itself well to use in print display like posters and other advertisements.
Because of its adoption in Microsoft products, Times New Roman is considered one of the most widely used typefaces in history. Frequently used in book typography, Times New Roman is also popularly found in newspapers, magazines, and corporate communication.
Palatino was one of the fonts originally included by Apple Computer in the Macintosh, and it gained great popularity until it began being replaced by Times New Roman. Palatino is considered a humanist font, as its letters mirror the look of those formed by a calligraphic nib pen, and it still remains one of the most widely used typefaces today.
Clarendon is a slab serif font that is considered to be the first registered typeface. Its primary uses today are for headlines and in corporate identities.
Bembo is a humanist old style serif font that has wide print application, including posters, packaging, and textbooks. Because of its incredible readability, it is thought to be one of the best typefaces for books.
Minion, whose name comes from the traditional naming system for font sizes, is a serif font that was designed for Adobe Systems. Today it is primarily used in books, newsletters, and packaging.
What about you? What are some of the best fonts that you think every designer should know? Leave a comment below and let me know!
All type specimens are from the Wikipedia Commons, a freely licensed media repository.