Finding font pairings that set each other off, don't fight the eye for attention, and harmonise without becoming homogenous and dull is an art. The age-old rule goes: concord or contrast, but don't conflict.
But with so many professional typefaces and free fonts to choose from, how do you find two that work in harmony? Here we bring you top font pairing tips, followed by 25 examples of perfect font pairings.
Tip 1: Use font superfamilies
The easiest way to find perfect font pairings is by using different fonts within the same overarching typeface family. Find a so-called 'superfamily' and you'll have a ready-made range of weights, styles and classifications that are specifically designed to work together.
A good superfamily will include serif and a sans-serif version of the same typeface: famous examples include Lucida/Lucida Sans and Meta/Meta Sans.
Tip 2: Pair contrasting typefaces
Contrast, as the name implies, is about finding totally different – but still complementary – typefaces that are each fit for their intended application. Traditionally, this involves pairing a serif with a sans serif.
Typefaces will generally conflict if they are too similar: two ever-so-slightly different serifs or sans serifs rarely create nice font pairings.
As a designer, the important thing is to establish a clear hierarchy. This could be as simple as varying the size and weight of the same typeface – but where the typeface varies, careful font pairing is crucial. If you have a display face packed with unique personality, you'll need something more neutral to do the hard work.
Tip 3: Pair type sub-categories
Of course, 'serif' and 'sans serif' are themselves broad classifications – each split into several sub-categories. Generally speaking, Old Style serifs such as Bembo, Caslon and Garamond will combine well with Humanist sans serifs, such as Gill Sans and Lucida Grande.
Meanwhile, Transitional serifs have a stronger contrast between thick and thin strokes – examples include Bookman, Mrs. Eaves, Perpetua and Times. These pair with Geometric sans serifs such as Avant Garde, Avenir, Century Gothic, Eurostile, Futura and Univers.
Finally, Modern serifs have an often very dramatic contrast between thick and thin for a more pronounced, stylised effect, as well as a larger x-height. Included in this third sub-category are Bodoni, Didot, New Century Schoolbook and Walbaum. Again, Geometric sans serifs marry best with these.
So what does all this actually look like in practice? Here's our reference list of tried-and-testing font pairings that are guaranteed to avoid conflict.
01. Julius Sans One and Archive Narrow
If you're aiming for a professional look, this is a great font pairing to try. Julius Sans One works only comes is one weight and is an all-caps font, but it's a top choice for a display font, with its fine stroke and broader baseline. The more geometric Archivo Narrow is a perfect match. It has been designed to work equally well in print and digital.
02. Playfair Display and Raleway
Display font Playfair draws inspiration from the period in the 18th century when quills were being replaced by pointed steel pens. This, alongside printing developments, led to letterforms with of high contrast and delicate hairlines becoming popular. Elegant sans serif Raleway makes a perfect font pairing.
03. Oswald and Lato
Oswald was launched in 2011 as a reworking of the 'Alternate Gothic' sans-serif type style. It makes a great pairing with Lato (which translates as 'summer' in Polish), a warm yet stable sans serif. Both are available in a range of different weights and variants, making this font pairing nice and versatile.
04. Super Grotesk and Minion Pro
The ever-popular serifed Minion Pro works perfectly as a headline font when coupled with the nimble sans-serif Super Grotesk for body copy. Together, these fonts create a modern sense of effortless elegance.
05. Libre Franklin and Libre Baskerville
These two libre typefaces make a great font pairing if you're after a traditional feel. Both Libre Baskerville and Libre Franklin have been optimised for use on screen. The former is nice and readable, so ideal for use as body text, while the latter is better suited to headlines. Nine different weight options make it nice and versatile.
06. Freight Sans and Freight Text
Working within superfamilies makes it easy to find harmonious font pairings. GarageFonts' Freight is a great example. It's available in a large range of weights and styles, including Sans, Text, Display and Micro versions – giving you a versatile typographic toolkit to work with.
07. Kaufmann and NeutraDemi
If you're after something more unexpected, how about this duo? The flowing stylings of Kaufmann add a touch of handwritten flair to this odd couple, and offset the straight and angular sans-serifed NeutraDemi perfectly. This font pairing might not be the most obvious match, but that doesn't stop them playing off one another beautifully.
08. Brandon Grotesque and Minion Pro
Due to its versatility, the reliable Minion Pro appears a few times in this list. This time it's playing second fiddle to the bold and attention-grabbing Brandon Grotesque. This is a classic serif and sans-serif font pairing, with both typefaces remaining crisp and easy to scan in any page layout.
09. Josefin Slab and Patrick Hand
When creating Josefin Slab, designer Santiago Orozco wanted something between Kabel and Memphis, but with modern details. The final typeface has distinctive, typewriter-style details, and is ideal for use in headlines. Combine it with body copy in Patrick Hand for a font pairing packed with character. The latter, based on the designer's own handwriting, has a neat, friendly vibe.
10. Helvetica Neue and Garamond
This is a famously harmonious duo, combining ubiquitous Neo-Grotesque sans serif Helvetica Neue for headlines with the classic Old Style serif Garamond for text. Mix up different weights and sizes between the two neutral families to establish hierarchy within your designs.
11. Caslon and Myriad
Another classic font pairing, this time between an 18th century Old Style serif and a late-20th century Humanist sans serif. Myriad is famously used in Apple's corporate communication, as well as in the Rolls Royce logo.
12. Nova Mono and Lato
Nova Mono is only available in one style, but that style is ideal for making a statement. Pair it with versatile sans serif Lato to stop things getting too crazy. Lato designer Łukasz Dziedzic wanted something that was nice and clear at small sizes (as we'd suggest using it within in this font pairing), but revealed some stylised effects when used larger.
13. Fontin and Fontin Sans
Time for another superfamily, this time from Dutch foundry exljbris. Fontin has been designed specifically for use at small sizes, and features loose spacing and a tall x-height. Fontin Sans makes an ideal partner for it.
14. Minion and Poppl-Laudatio
Two typefaces both have plenty of personality, but bond perfectly. An Old Style serif typeface, Minion was designed in 1990 but inspired by late Renaissance-era type. Although technically a sans-serif, Poppl-Laudatio's subtle flared details give it a quirky edge.
15. Liberation Serif and Liberation Sans
Superfamily Liberation was intended as an open-source substitute for many commonly used Windows fonts, such as Arial, Times New Roman and Courier New. The Serif and Sans versions make a smart font pairing, but there are also other variations to play around with, including Sans Narrow and Mono.
16. Trade Gothic Bold and Sabon
This pairing is particularly effective when Trade Gothic is used in its Bold weight for headlines, to set off Jan Tschichold's classic Old Style serif face for text. Both typefaces are highly readable, with a tall x-height, and combine well together to give a pleasing effect.
Next page: More perfect font pairings to explore