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Typography is truly king when it comes to logo design.
Great brands like Nike, Zara or Rolex express their unique identity through smart font choices.
These brands are immediately recognizable in the most part due to their distinctive typeface.
Creating a great logo and brand identity is not possible without good typography.
There are brands out there that adapt some iconic fonts for their logos.
For example — Nike uses the Futura typeface set in bold italic font and Zara uses Didot with a very tight kerning.
Netflix logo uses the Bebas Neue font with a bit arch to it.
Brands like Microsoft, Panasonic, Jeep, Lufthansa, American Airlines, Verizon and many other brands use the popular Helvetica typeface.
Fonts are usually chosen because of either their unique personality or an inherent legibility or both.
With so many font choices out there, how do you select the right one?
In this article, I’m gonna show you how to select the right typeface for your logo.
Now, you can distinct between many different kinds of typefaces.
But they all basically fall into one of the three categories: Serif, Sans and Script.
Serif fonts have those little feet at the end of each letter and we call them serifs.
They're there to give the typeface more character but also to improve legibility.
They were invented for print and they even date back to roman words carved in stones.
Having those little serifs helps us distinguish letterforms very easily.
Some of the popular serif fonts that are used in famous logos are for example:
Garamond — is used for the Rolex, Dior and the old Google logo for example.
Didot — is used in logos like: Giorgio Armani, ZARA, Vogue.
Clarendon — used in logos like Wells Fargo and Sony for example.
Serif fonts were made around the 18th century, as we know them today.
But there are of course different kinds of serif typefaces, like: old-style, transitional, slab serifs and so on.
Basically, they are just sort of different serifs, some of them are big and loud, and other are more subtle and classy.
Now let’s talk about sans serif fonts, because “sans” means basically “without”.
They don’t have any extra lines at the end of each letter — these are just clean strokes with smooth edges.
Sans-serifs were actually made at the same time period as serif fonts, but they really gained popularity in the digital era.
They’re the choice for thousands of brands around the world, and this is thanks to their clarity, legibility, and simplicity.
Some of the popular sans serif fonts that are used in famous logos are for example:
Helvetica — which is actually the number one, most popular font for logo design.
Helvetica is used in logos for brands like Microsoft, Panasonic, Jeep, Lufthansa, Energizer, American Airlines, Verizon, Kawasaki, Caterpillar, Target, 3M, Toyota, The North Face — just to name a few.
Now, Futura— is used in logos like Nike, FedEx, Supreme, Red Bull, Gillette, Omega, Costco.
This is probably the second most popular typeface that is used in logo design.
Another good example is Myriad — and this type is used in logos like LinkedIn, Walmart, Visa, Adobe or Spotify.
Now, besides serif and sans serif fonts we have also have script fonts—which basically emulate handwriting.
Script typography can be a great way to add some authentic and original feel to your logo designs.
Before we had computers, you would see shop windows filled with hand-written script letterforms usually done by hand by people who were called sign painters.
One of the popular script fonts that are used in famous logos would be The Spencerian Script that was used as base for the original Coca-Cola logo.
So as you can see here, we have those curls and swirls that emulate pen handwriting style.
Another great examples of is perhaps Disney, and this font looks more like painted with a brush.
Some of these script logos are based on the founder’s signature, like the Kellogg’s logo.
It was designed based on William Kellogg’s signature—Did you know he used to sign cereal packaging by hand?
Another example would be the Ford logo that was based on Henry Ford’s signature.
They just changed the letters “F” and “D” and made them a bit longer for the word-mark to look original.
Another example is the Virgin logo — and this script font looks more like a spray on the wall or perhaps a thick sharpie.
The big question is — what fonts is the most appropriate for your brand?
Since you already know the three basic types of fonts you can use for your logo designs, now you need to understand when to use them, right?
So similarly as with colors, there is psychology of colors, and there is psychology of fonts.
Here’s some basic break-down of when to use what type of fonts.
Serif fonts are popular with companies that are seeking to create an elegant and sophisticated kind of look.
So this classic typography is great if you want your brand to appear traditional or trustworthy.
Serif fonts are generally used in logo design to create an air of respectability, and reliability — or those type of qualities.
A serif typography can help your brand look more established in general.
It is a great choice for creating an identity based around authority and grandeur.
For example—brands in academic, editorial, financial or fashion sectors favor serif fonts because to their classy nature.
Some famous brands that use serif fonts in their logos are: Tiffany, Gucci, Burberry, The New York Times, Jaguar, Prada or Coach.
In general serifs can make your logos look timeless and perhaps add to some sophistication.
That is probably why mostly luxury brands use them in their logos.
Although we can see many of them going through a rebrand recently and they rather opt for a simple sans serif typeface.
This probably because they want to be portrayed as more modern and progressive.
These types of fonts offer a clean and minimalist look—they emphasize clarity and legibility above all.
But they can also be bold and impactful and therefore are used as attention-getters and this is thanks to their polished and efficient design.
Companies that pick sans serif fonts prioritize a sense of modernism and simplicity that has no need for flourishes or flair.
If you want to create a clean and minimalist look for your logo, then you should probably go with some sort of a sans serif typeface.
Some of the famous brands that use sans serif fonts in their logos are: Intel, Airbnb, Flickr, Nutella, Dropbox, MasterCard, Ebay, Adidas and the new Google logo of course.
In general using serif fonts can make your logos look more legible and versatile, but they have some drawbacks too.
Without additional details and features, sans serif fonts provide a much less option for differentiation.
So while a sans serif font might be a good option for a tech startup, it’s not always the best choice for other brands.
We can spot a trend in logo design that started around 2017-2018.
So many companies especially fashion brands decided to redesign their word-marks.
They went from a unique serif type to a simple sans serif type.
So I feel that being unique became some kind of a second-thought.
Now they just look alike nowadays — or at least, that’s how it feels to me.
Generally, script fonts evoke ideas of authenticity (like Kellogg’s) or elegance (like Dior) or creativity (like Pinterest) or femininity (like Barbie ).
Their curved and flowing style communicates a more hands-on, personal approach to business.
Companies that want to convey a creativity, craftiness, authenticity and those type of qualities, can use script fonts to great effect.
Script fonts are nowadays a perfect choice for natural, organic products.
We can see them on a lot of packaging in the stores like Whole Foods for example.
In this case they’re attempting to express the ideas of pure ingredients, or hand crafted products and so on.
Some examples of famous logos that use script fonts are: Barbie, Kleenex, Johnson&Johnson, Carlsberg, Cartier, Cadbury, Ray-Ban, Hallmark, Cadillac .
Also, modern brands like Vimeo or Pinterest or even the original Instagram logo is using a script font.
If you want your brand look very unique, and perhaps crafty or original and with some human element to it — then script font is a great choice for you.
In general it’s recommended to use script fonts sparingly, as they can affect readability and can make words or some letters hard to read.
However, a unique but legible script font can definitely make your logo stand out.
With all these example, you might already have an idea of what type of font you could potentially use for your logo & branding.
Now, there are different types of logos out there, and some of them are word-based logos.
This logo is just a brand name set in a unique font, and perhaps with some special treatments to make it look unique.
Other logos also rely on using a brand mark, whether it is a pictorial mark, or an abstract mark.
In any case, you will need a version of your logo with your brand name beside that symbol as well.
So unless you’re as recognizable as Apple or Nike of course, you will need to choose some font for your logo.
Ultimately the font that you use needs to convey some kind of a feeling and reflect your positioning.
In my logo design process, I make typographic choices based on the strategy and the criteria that come out of that.
For example, if I wanted to design a logo for a university let’s say, then I would probably use a serif font.
But if I was tasked to design a modern identity for a tech startup, then I would probably use a sans serif font.
And if there was an brand that sells natural, organic snacks at Whole Foods — then, I might use a script font.
So as you can see, the typography must support your brand strategy.
It must position you well in the marketplace, and differentiate you from competitors.
The font you choose for you logo must be sustainable and not on the curve of a fad.
Now you basically have 2 options as a logo designer — either find a font that suits your needs or modify a popular typeface.
You can even design your own font from scratch, but this is a tedious process that only expert typographers actually can do.
Thousands of fonts have been created by renowned typographers, designers, and type foundries over the centuries.
Nowadays, lots of new typefaces are being created every single day.
I recommend you check out websites like MyFonts.com for example.
Just search by type of fonts, filter them by most popular or best rated, or you can even search by keywords and moods and so on.
Keep in mind that premium, quality fonts will usually cost you some money,
However, there are plenty of free fonts out there that you can find on websites like Dafont.com for example.
Choosing the right font requires some basic knowledge of the breadth of options we have out there.
A core understanding of how typography can help you create the right look & feel for your brand.
Now, keep in mind that the font that you use in your logo doesn’t have to necessarily be used for your identity.
Meaning, the font you’re using for headlines on your website for example, it doesn’t have to actually replicate the font from your logo.
Yes, it is often the case—for example: Apple uses a custom font called San Francisco (previously they used Helvetica).
They use San Francisco font in their wordmarks like: Apple iPad, Apple iPhone, Apple Watch and so on.
They also use the same custom font on their website — for headlines for example.
The same is with Nike—they use Futura in their logo.
Although they dropped the wordmark in favor of the symbol — the swoosh alone, as they’re so recognizable.
They also use the same Futura font for headlines on their website, in marketing and so on.
However, there are also brands that successfully use another, complimentary font for their identity.
Like for example, Rolex uses some slightly modified version of Garamond in their logo.
Although in their identity system — they don’t use it, instead they use a totally different typeface.
It’s a custom font that is set in all caps and is spaced-out — so together it creates a totally different look.
And yet another example, is my own project, an identity I designed for Medihuanna.
I used a sans serif font in logo design, which is the Manrope font.
Then I complemented it with a traditional serif font for brand identity using the Athelas font.
You can pick additional fonts for your identity to complement the font in the wordmark, and don’t have to necessarily replicate the latter.
But this is a subject for another article— as this is further step in the process of creating an identity.
So the best standards usually identify a range of fonts is so to give creatives some flexibility.
This gives them the ability to choose the appropriate font, weight, and size for the message that they want to convey.
Now, if you want to learn more about that, then check out my video about “Creating a Style Guide”.
Also check out my other video where I share with you my “Strategic Logo Design Process”.
This will give you an understanding on how to base your design choices in brand strategy.
It can help you organize your process, make more meaningful and deliberate decisions when it comes to logo and brand identity design.
Now, I would like to hear from you—what’s you favorite font for logo design? — Leave a comment below.
I'm a branding expert and graphic designer based in NY. I specialize in the development of brands: brand strategy, identity & web design. Need help with your project?—Get in touch