What is a brand typeface? Understanding typography in search of a unique brand font

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

A brand typeface is a font that represents your business. But out of the thousands available online, how does one rise from a general-purpose font to the face of a brand?

To understand that, you have to first recognize how fonts communicate beyond words. A typeface creates an emotional impression through its visual style. When combined with a brand, it reinforces the essence of what makes the business stand out. But because combining the two is easier said than done, we’re going to walk you through the ins and outs of brand typefaces.

Table of contents

What is a brand typeface?

A brand typeface is the predetermined lettering design that a business uses for all its written communication. Essentially, it’s the official font or series of fonts for every brand asset.

Modern and clean brand style guide design for a crypto trading school

Source: Brand style guide by Yevhen Genome via 99designs by Vista

Like many visual brand elements, such as a logo or color scheme, a brand typeface has specific guidelines for when and how to use it within a brand style guide. A brand typeface may be custom-designed or downloaded from a font foundry (a company that creates and sells fonts).

Brand typeface vs. brand typography vs. brand font vs. logo font

Let’s go over some basic lettering terminology. For our purposes, it’s essential to know the difference between typography, typeface and font.

  • Brand typography: Typography is the practice of artfully arranging text, including concerns like alignment, spacing (kerning, tracking and leading), justification and page placement.
  • Brand typeface: A typeface is a specific lettering design, given a name like Helvetica, Arial or Times New Roman.
  • Brand font: A font is a digital design file that contains a typeface. The term is often used interchangeably with typeface.

We’ll sometimes use the term “font” to refer to typeface in this article because it’s become a familiar catch-all. Still, it’s important to know the technical terms when purchasing licenses.

Logo, branding and packaging development for a health food brand

Source: Branding design by Milos Zdrale via 99designs by Vista

Brand typefaces are closely related to logo fonts. A logo font is a typeface used for the brand name within a logo design, and in the case of a wordmark, it’s the entire logo. Brand typefaces have a slightly different purpose, being designed for use across various media and collateral, from internal memos to billboard posters.

While many businesses reuse the wordmark font as their brand typeface, this isn’t always feasible. Coca-Cola, for example, has a highly stylized wordmark logo, but the fonts on its website are simplified for legibility.

Where are brand typefaces used?

Common media on which brand typefaces are used include websites, business cards, stationery, emails, advertising, signage and product packaging. However, the context for a brand typeface will depend on the specific business or industry. 

Brand style guide design for a karaoke nightclub

Source: Brand style guide by Mat W via 99designs by Vista

Brand typography must also serve different roles. Although you don’t need a separate typeface for each role, there should be a visual distinction between them, such as varied weights, scales or styles (italic, narrow, bold, etc.).

Brand typefaces can be used for:

  • Headlines or titles
  • Subheadlines
  • Body/paragraph text
  • CTA or button text
  • Image captions
  • Video subtitles
  • Pull quotes

Why is a brand typeface important?

A brand typeface is an important tool for any business due to its two key purposes: visual communication and brand consistency.

Visual communication is the purposeful arrangement of visual elements for nonverbal messaging. For brands, those messages encompass personality, values and tone. As a design element, typeface communicates abstract traits whether or not you actively curate them. The most basic thing font choice communicates is professionalism. If you don’t pay attention to details like fonts, customers are entitled to question, what other details do you ignore?

Source: Branding design by Shwin via 99designs by Vista

To communicate effectively, a brand must be consistent. Brand consistency means that brand typefaces (as well as all other visuals) are implemented in a reliable, harmonious way.

How to choose a brand font in 5 simple steps

Step 1: Define your brand

Before selecting a brand typeface, you have to establish a brand identity. Specifically, you should create a brand style guide that outlines your mission, values, brand voice and personality. Because your brand font will need to be in harmony with all other brand elements, locking down your visual identity, especially a logo, is a crucial first step.

Source: Logo design by smiDESIGN via 99designs by Vista

Identifying your target audience will help you find a typeface that resonates with your customers or clients. Review competitor fonts and reverse engineer the reasoning behind the choices made.

Tip

Famous companies’ brand style guides (or brand books/bibles) are usually publicly available. Look them up for brand typeface inspiration!

Step 2: Understand typeface personality

A typeface conveys a brand’s abstract qualities through psychological connections. Stylistic attributes like weight, character width, shape and decorative elements lend personality. For example, a font with rounded edges feels approachable and safe—therefore, useful for children’s brands. Fonts are such a viable source of creative expression that they are reinvented year after year.

Many typographical associations come from historical usage. Review the different typographic categories to better understand font style and psychology.

  • Serifs: Commonly used in books/print; associated with tradition and storytelling
  • Sans serifs: Associated with minimalism and modernity, commonly used on digital screens 
  • Scripts: Reminiscent of handwriting; associated with sophistication and personal craft
  • Display fonts: Associated with important messages; made for headline/title text

These are generalizations; different typefaces will trigger different psychological associations. To define a font’s emotional response, rely on the shape language, your intuition and the designer’s description. 

Step 3: Understand the costs

The most common typefaces non-designers encounter are the free fonts installed on most computers. Other free options are called “open source” fonts, available on sites like Google Fonts.

However, choosing a brand typeface that is not widely used will involve licensing costs. A font license is the legal copyright terms you agree to when you download a font and can be a one-time payment or an ongoing subscription. Typically, there are different licenses for each use case, including desktop installment (priced per computer), websites (priced by website traffic), digital ads/emails, apps and video/broadcasting. You can mitigate costs by buying licenses for the specific styles (e.g., regular, bold, italic) you need.

Brand style guide design for a retail company

Source: Brand style guide by Hugo Maja via 99designs by Vista

While contracting a designer to create a custom typeface is generally more expensive and time-consuming, you’ll save money on ongoing licensing costs. And you’ll have the guarantee that no other brand uses your unique typeface.

Step 4: Start with your primary brand typeface

As its name implies, your primary typeface carries most of the branding weight. This is your most visible brand typeface, the next highest priority after your logo font (if not the logo font itself).

Because the primary typeface is typically reserved for headline text, you will likely need a display font. While some display fonts go wild with decorative flair, your primary typeface must be versatile enough to work in various contexts, making a standard lettering style ideal. It should be harmonious with your logo font, with similar visual cues, such as thickness, font type and letterform shape, tying them together.

Your primary brand typeface provides a foundation for secondary fonts. In addition to aligning fonts with your brand identity, mixing and matching multiple typefaces is about contrasting styles to establish a visual hierarchy, making the relative priority of each text group clear at a glance. For example, subheadlines are often script fonts or italicized to act as a lighter accent to the bolder headline. For body text, legibility comes first, so use a simple serif or sans serif typeface.

Step 5: Test a few options

Before you make the final decision, test some brand typeface options with your audience. Emotional resonance (how the typeface makes readers feel) and practicality (hierarchy and clarity) are your main evaluation points. A legibility exercise, like reading a font from across the room, is a simple test you should do early on. 

Brand style guide design for a pet food company

Source: Brand style guide by johnbaiatul via 99designs by Vista

The easiest place to test a font is on your website or social media pages. Click-through rates, likes and eye-tracking tests can help you evaluate your font’s effectiveness and resonance. Or go direct with a preference test, getting people’s feedback on different fonts through a survey or focus group. For the best results, create design mockups showing the fonts in action.

Tip

Some font foundries provide free trials, so when you’re ready to download a font, do your research and check whether trials are restricted to certain fonts.

The best brand typeface is a custom one

A unique typeface turns your text into a brand signature. It conveys your brand personality and tone of voice while keeping your brand materials stylish and consistent. Although sifting through hundreds of fonts online is a daunting prospect, understanding your brand and the basics of typeface psychology will assist you in your decision. But if you’d rather forgo all that, hire a designer and get a custom brand typeface.

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