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The Decorative Typeface

    Jennifer Farley

    Decorative This is the last in the series of font categories. We’ve looked at Old Style, Modern, Slab Serif, Sans Serif, Script fonts and their characteristics. We’re going to finish up today with a look at decorative fonts. These are also known as Ornamental or Display fonts.

    Decorative and display fonts became popular in the 19th century and were used extensively on posters and advertisements. This style of type and lettering could be artistic and eye-catching in a way that wasn’t considered previously. William Morris launched the Arts and Crafts movement and as part of the experimentation and innovation of the time, developed the Troy typeface.

    Morris Troy

    Following on from the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau spread throughout Europe. Decorative lettering was a huge part of this movement and was used in many posters and advertisements.

    19th Century Art Deco Poster


    Throughout the 20th and now into the 21st century, decorative fonts continued to be used in advertising and posters. There are hundreds if not thousands of display fonts available for download. The thing to remember about decorative typefaces is that they are only powerful when their use is limited. If you use them everywhere their effect diminishes. With the advent of technologies like Cufon, sIFR and Typekit, there is no reason why you couldn’t use them as headings on your website.

    As their name suggests, decorative typefaces should be used for decorative or ornamental purposes. They are not suitable for using in body text. You would have some pretty cross-eyed and sick readers if you forced people to read too much in one of these fonts. They tend to have a very distinct look, for example a wild west style, horror or Christmas.



    Horror Hotel


    Kingthings Christmas


    I hope you’ve found this series on typefaces useful. It’s amazing how much you can change and improve designs by making a conscious effort to choose suitable fonts. The more you know about them, the more confident you’ll feel using them. Give yourself little typeface tests. When you’re looking in magazines see if you can, at a minimum, name the typeface categories. As you become more of a fanatic, you’ll find you can name many individual typefaces. Look at text-only logos and see how the designers use contrasting fonts for good effects, and try mixing and matching fonts yourself to see which ones work well together.

    Next week, there will be more about fonts. Friday has inadvertently become font day for me on SitePoint and I’d like to continue on with more posts on typography and typefaces and how to use them effectively.

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