5 important typography rules

Allison S. Gremillion
If graphic design had a “very important persons” section, typography would be one of the top VIPs. Your logo might have a great layout, but without good type it won’t receive positive feedback.

Since typography can make or break a design, it is important to understand these 5 typography rules.

1. Leading

Leading is the space between lines of text and is generally measured from baseline to baseline of each sentence. Leading is important when setting paragraphs because it influences the legibility of the text. If there is no leading then lines will feel cramped. If there is too much leading then the space will create disconnected lines.

There are different ways to change leading depending on the program you use. The rule of thumb is to use a leading that is 2 pts above the font’s height. For example, if you are using a 10pt font then the leading should be 12pts. This can vary depending on the font – different fonts need different linespacing.


2. Tracking and kerning

Tracking and Kerning are similar in that they both refer to the adjustment of space between type.

So, what’s the difference? Tracking is the adjustment of space between a GROUP of letters. Kerning is the adjustment of space between individual letters. Tracking should be adjusted so letters don’t run into each other during the printing stage. It also helps by improving the readability and density of text.



Kerning is effective and improves the overall readability for headlines, ALL CAPS, and logos. Kerning can be helpful, but don’t get carried away. If a company’s name is meant to be one word, don’t make it look like two.



3. Serif vs san-serif fonts

Serifs are those dash-structures added at the end of letters and symbols. When it comes to lengthy books or magazines, using a serif type is the best. Serifs sit better on the baseline and help lead the reader’s eye to the next word. This makes reading more sustainable for longer periods of time.

San-serifs are typefaces without serifs. San-serifs look simpler and are easier to read at lower-resolutions. Web designs often use san-serif fonts such as Verdana, Arial, etc.


4. Number of typefaces

Pairing different type faces can make your layout dynamic, but using too many can be distracting. When too many fonts are used the viewer becomes unclear of what elements are important.

The general rule is to use three or less fonts per project. For example, two fonts are used for the headline and body text. The fonts could then be bolded, italicized, and sized for subheadings, CAPTIONS, and other design elements.

The longer the design document, the more fonts you can use. However, when it comes to brochures, ads, or any other short documents it is better to use one or two fonts.



5. Length of text lines

When looking at a newspaper, you might notice the articles are divided into columns. Shorter lines of text help break up the articles so they are easier to read. The human eye naturally tires when it reads long lines of text.

Although the exact character count is difficult to predict, the general rule is to have no more than 50-60 characters on each line. This is a standard number and should be altered depending on the design project.

The same rule can apply to headlines. Although headlines are generally less than 50 characters, shortening the one-line sentence can be beneficial. For example, if you are working with the heading, “Hundreds of Design Opportunities at Your Fingertips,” you can make it easier to read by breaking it apart:

Line Length

Make sure to cut the sentence so it keeps a flow in the viewer’s reading. Also, don’t be scared to play with font size so the lines match up.

Although these 5 rules are important, there are a ton of other typography rules to learn… here’s a cool place to start: ilovetypography.com

Featured image: arnoKath (via Flickr)

The author

Allison S. Gremillion
Allison S. Gremillion

Based in San Francisco, Allison (Alli) Stuart works as Head of Community Marketing at 99designs. When she's not writing articles and communicating with designers, she is working on her Children's Book. She also enjoys extreme sports, like sky diving and traveling to new places. Alli has a Fine Arts Degree with a concentration in Graphic Design from Louisiana State University, her home. Geaux Tigers!

Related articles

How to create more fun and playful typography

How to create more fun and playful typography

Good typography may be hard work, but designers shouldn’t forget to have some fun with it! While crafting fonts and typographic characters can sometimes feel stiff and overly mathematical, we want you to help you find the joy in creating more expressive and playful typography. Of course, this approach is great for children-oriented design projects—but let’s not limit ourselves. After…

6 tips for better typographic hierarchy in web design

6 tips for better typographic hierarchy in web design

Have you ever looked at a design and thought, “Something doesn’t feel right”? If you can’t put your finger on what it is, the odds are good it’s an issue with your visual or typographic hierarchy.  When you cram content onto a page with a muddied mass of line breaks, bolded letters and italics—you’re sure…

Digital Fonts: A condensed history

Digital Fonts: A condensed history

More than ever before, designers today are tasked with designing with digital tools, for digital environments like web pages. The digital-to-print connection, once paramount, is now only one task among many. This change affects all aspects of design, but perhaps none more than typography, where the readability of digital fonts depends so much on the…

Current Design Contests

Designers, check out these contests so you can start building your career.