Every designer has a set of fonts that they like to use for most projects. Most of these typefaces are versatile and can be used in a wide variety of applications. You can use them in headlines and in large bodies of text as well. A great example of a general-purpose font would be Helvetica.
But, there are also fonts that — despite their obvious beauty — are only used for very specific purposes. These fonts were made for specific applications and contexts. While these typefaces suit their specific roles extremely well, designers should be well aware of when, where, and why those fonts excel. And, it’s equally important to know when not to use them.
Edwardian Script and Scriptina Pro
These two typefaces are great for formal applications. They are popular choices for wedding invitations and holiday cards. The swishes and swirls of the script typefaces add a sense of elegance that you just can’t achieve with any other typeface. Weddings are meant to be formal, so the classy and sophisticated styles of Edwardian Script and Scriptina Pro make them perfect fits. It would be hard to justify the use of these fonts in other applications. For example, you wouldn’t see Edwardian Script on the side of a football helmet, or any aggressive application. It’s also unlikely that you’d see Scriptina Pro on a toolbox brand logo, or a product that is being marketed for its durability.
The Stencil typeface is another font with a very specialized purpose. Stenciling is meant to be bold. Because of its rugged constructivist nature, it is usually used on something that has to do with buildings or structures. You might see Stencil used on the side of a sheet metal tool box, but it’s not likely that you would see it on a wedding invitation, or something that is designed to be formal or elegant. Stencil is thick with sharp edges, and it is very masculine in nature. It isn’t inviting or warm, and its overall purpose is not so much decorative as it is utilitarian.
With Stencil’s thick stroke and harsh edges, you immediately begin to make the connection between, the typeface and stone, rock, metal, and durability. You could easily see Stencil or any font like it used to brand a durable tool company’s products. See the toolbox shown below.
Blackletter, or Gothic fonts have specific purposes as well. They have an old style look and are fairly difficult to read. You wouldn’t find a blackletter typeface used in a logo for a new, modern technology company. It works better for products that are supposed to portray age or very old tradition. An example where you’ll see blackletter typefaces a lot is on Bar-B-Que sauce. You’ll see these and Wood type, which we’ll discuss later. Some additional examples of blackletter fonts are Lucida Blackletter, or Deutsch Gothic.
The collegiate fonts are probably the most specific that a font can be, as they are used almost exclusively in academic applications. Most of the time you will see these fonts used in advertisements in the late summer to attract students who are returning to school. You can spot one of these fonts easily, because they don’t have round or straight corners on the lettering. They will have diagonal corners. Generally these types of fonts have thick outlines with no fill.
Wood type is a very distinct typeface that is ornamental in nature. It beckons to days of old where intricate type was used in the old west. The characteristics that you will find in wood type are extra points and exaggerated thick and thin strokes. These typefaces are commonly found when designing Western saloon signage, or for a retro circus or carnival as shown below.
Notice the points at the top and bottom of each letter. Mesquite and Circus Ornate are among some common wood type typefaces that you will find available for these purposes.
Chalk typefaces are definitely an example of very specific font applications. Chalk typefaces are directed at children and are used to sell school supplies to young students. They are also directed at teachers, who are often the ones buying these supplies. Chalk typefaces have the appearance of being hand-written and organic. They are usually distressed and are meant to look imperfect due to their intended emulation of natural handwriting. The strokes are usually medium, like the thick edge of a piece of chalk. This kind of typeface is typical when appealing to children and younger generations. Good examples of these fonts would be Chalkboard and Chalkduster.
Typewriter and Digital Fonts
Digital fonts and typewriter fonts are generally used in technological design applications. You will find digital fonts used for technology products and gadgets. When you see these typefaces, you immediately think of computers and anything digital, such as a clock or a watch. The easiest example would be the movie “The Matrix”. As technologically deep as the movie is, the typeface that they chose for the screen font is a variation of a digital font.
Certain typefaces are meant for specific purposes. Knowing these fonts and being able to identify them will help you to create professional design work with proper type choices. You don’t always have to use these fonts for their exactly intended purposes, but being aware of their roles can make your designs more thoughtful and deliberate. Having said that, you should always strive to create unique designs using a creative and innovative approach.
Do you have any other highly-specialized fonts to add to the list? Would you support using fonts only for their intended purposes, or would you rather experiment with fonts and try them in unusual roles?