by Adam Noar
You finally picked a cool font that’s perfect for your next PowerPoint presentation. Nice job, but don’t break out the champagne glasses just yet. For many presentations, one font is not enough to create visual interest and establish the information hierarchy. You need to learn how to combine several fonts that go well together.
Over the years we have seen plenty of font combinations within PowerPoint presentations. The more effective combinations usually rely on typographic guidelines. However, it is important to note that these guidelines are not scientific, rigid, or fail-safe. All of them can be broken.
Using several different fonts in the same PowerPoint presentation can get tricky at times. In fact, combining fonts is one of the most difficult parts of the presentation design process. When you’re pairing multiple fonts, you want to be sure that they work well together. If you have no idea where to begin, then this post will help. Simply follow the guidelines below.
01. Choose complementary fonts
A classic challenge for anyone creating a PowerPoint presentation is pairing fonts that complement each other instead of competing for attention. Similar to humans, fonts have different moods and personalities. And sometimes these moods and personalities can clash. For example, some fonts can be serious while others are playful, elegant or professional.
When picking the fonts for your slides, think about the purpose of your PowerPoint presentation. For example, a rounded and bubbly font may be appropriate if your creating a baby shower invitation, but not for your serious board meeting presentation. Mixing fonts’ moods or personalities can draw attention to the typography instead of the message, which could result in a poor presentation.
When your playing around with different fonts, make sure to keep things simple. In other words, don’t use too many fonts. Just as mixing in too many colors into your slides will likely result in a nauseating rainbow, mixing too many fonts on a page will probably result in a confusing message.
One question I get asked all the time is “how many fonts should I use in my presentation?” I always tell people that this depends a lot on their aim and general presentation purpose, but usually I do not recommend more than three. This is because all fonts, like people, have a personality and an overall effect. If you use two fonts with total opposite effects, they will clash and this will kill your design. Too many strong personalities together can create an awkward atmosphere, it is the same with fonts.
The example below shows two fonts that complement each other.
Dribble – Jules Forest
02. Establish a visual hierarchy
Visual hierarchy is an important element in presentation design. It tells people where to look first and what is most important. There is no one-step solution to creating visual hierarchy. However, visual hierarchy can be achieved with size, weight, color, texture, orientation and space, or any combination of these tools.
Traditional printed media like newspapers and magazines offer good examples of how to apply a visual hierarchy to fonts. They combine fonts in way that visually separates different textual elements like headlines, sub-headlines, body copy, and captions.
When you’re picking fonts for your next PowerPoint presentation, simply think about what part of the slide you want your audience to pay attention to first. What keywords are essential? Then, make your font style, size, and arrangement choices accordingly. Generally, the most important textual element is the largest and the weightiest. As you can see from the example below, the words “Wattle & Daub” jump out at you by manipulating the font style, size, and colors of the text.
Dribble – Anthony
03. Create contrast
For presentation design, font combinations based on contrast are better equipped to clearly establish hierarchy. Using contrasting typefaces makes it clear which text are headings and subheads and which are body copy. It’s also clear that you want to draw your reader’s attention first to the heads.
In the example below, a bold, chunky font is paired with a small script font — and they work nicely together in large part because they are so different. The differences help create distinct roles for each font, allowing them to stand out as individual pieces of information.
04. Consider your audience
Your audience should help you determine what fonts will work for your presentation.
In addition to size, font styles also affect readability. One way to choose fonts that fit the context of your presentation is to match the attributes of your intended message with the perceived traits of a typeface.
Part of the process will be deciding whether display typefaces or more neutral fonts (or some combination of the two) are most appropriate for your project. Sometimes you’ll want something that really pops (as seen in the example below), and other times the context will require a font that’s not distracting.
The example below obviously has fun care-free island theme, so the fonts have been chosen to reflect that mood/context.
Dribble – Chi Birmingham
05. Mix serifs and sans serifs
One of the most popular ways to combine fonts effectively is to pair a serif and a sans serif. This is a classic combination and it’s almost impossible to get wrong. Serif fonts have the small numbs on the ends of the different strokes of the letters. Sans serif fonts do not have these little nubs.
The key to pairing serif with sans serif is readability. Sans serif fonts are generally better for PowerPoint presentations because they are easy to scan. In contrast, serif fonts are traditionally used for printed media, such as newspapers or magazines.
In the example below, a sans serif font is paired with a serif font — and they work nicely together in large part because they are so different. The differences help create distinct roles for each font, allowing them to stand out as individual pieces of information.
Dribble – Amy Hood
06. Avoid conflict
Achieving proper combining of fonts requires concord and contrast, and not conflict. The fonts need to work well together and share similar qualities. That way your pairings are most likely to look harmonious together. Conflicts between fonts happen when the fonts look too similar or too different.
As you can see in the example below, the two fonts displayed share the same weight, size and decoration. As a result they’ve become too alike. They’re performing very similar roles, but the small differences are conflicting which makes for an awkward overall effect.
07. Avoid pairing fonts that are too similar
Choosing fonts that are too similar can become problematic. You’ll will most likely have trouble establishing a hierarchy, because the fonts aren’t visually distinguishable from each other.
In fact, font combinations that are too similar can often times look like a mistake—as if you’d been experimenting with different fonts and had forgotten to clean up after yourself. As with any good comedy duo, there needs to be a straight man. If you have a typeface with a strong, extroverted personality, try combining it with something neutral, reserved, and trustworthy.
Below is an example of two fonts that are too similar and should not be used together.
08. Use fonts from the same family
This may sound like a contradiction of the last method, but another avenue to harmonious type combos is to stick with a single font family. Just be sure to choose a font family that comes in a variety of weights, styles, and widths. Extended typeface families with enough variation let you easily differentiate one level of hierarchy from the next, while at the same time assuring you that the shared DNA of the family members means they can sing in perfect harmony.
To pair fonts that come from the same family, plan carefully to create contrast, varying things like font size, weight (such as light, regular, and bold), and case (upper, lower, small caps).
One of the benefits of limiting your fonts for a presentation to one font family is that it creates a more consistent look.
When combining fonts, a little insider knowledge can go a long way. Try combining fonts from the same font designer. Some fonts, like Museo and Museo Sans or Stone Serif and Stone Sans, were designed specifically for such a purpose, but even those that were not designed specifically as complements will likely have a similar aesthetic when they’re from the same hand.
09. Limit your number of fonts
As mentioned before, it is generally wise to stick to only two or three fonts. However, there is no explicit rule that says you can’t use more. Do keep in mind that consistency and readability are essential to good PowerPoint design. Too many fonts can distract and confuse your audience. Make your font choices carefully and consider the overarching message of your presentation.
If your presentation requires the use of a variety of fonts, remember that the overall effect should be harmonious, not conflicting or cluttered. Below is an example of two fonts that pair very nicely with one another.
Dribble – Justin Mezzell
Effectively combining fonts is a skill best learned through practice, and trial and error. There’s no foolproof formula for finding the perfect font combination for your slides. Fonts have a strong influence on the look and tone of your presentation. So remember, choose fonts that accurately reflect your key message and theme.
I hope the above guidelines have provided some insight on how to best combine fonts for your PowerPoint presentations. If there’s one important rule you should take away from this it’s “You won’t know until you try!” So, be adventurous and play around with different fonts until you find a combination that works!
There are tons of free fonts available for download from places like Font Squirrel. As presentation designers we have an ever-growing repository of fonts available for use in our presentations. Consider the fundamentals, then experiment. You’ll undoubtedly be surprised by what you find.
Here’s my question for you …
What do you find most difficult about combing fonts in presentations? Sound off in your comments below!
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