Unique Fonts: Picking Ones That Still Look Good

unique fonts: close up of hand over white background

At any level of graphic design, from amateur to professional, artists want to ensure that their end designs are unique and eye-catching while still being readable and good-looking. While font selection may appear to be one of the least important aspects of stunning graphic design (the obvious front-runner being the graphics), font use is extremely important.

If you consider the fundamentals of design, a text is every bit as necessary to the finished product as the pictures. You want your text to grab the eye and inform, but still be legible. You also want to ensure that the font you choose is appropriate to the image you are attempting to project.

An obvious example of misusing fonts would be to use a Halloween font on a Christmas banner. When you think of Halloween fonts, you might think of something that uses pumpkins for the letter O or has the letters formed out of slime or spooky ghosts. This, of course, is perfect for a Halloween vibe, but much less so for a Christmas one. 

It’s unlikely that even the most novice of designers would make the above sort of mistake, though. Most of the time figuring out a font for your use is a lot more nuanced, as not everything is as obvious as Christmas.   Unique fonts don’t have to be a mystery, however. There are ways to narrow down your choices so you can select the right unique font for you. 

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Photo from freepik.com

What Kinds of Fonts Are There?

Unless you’re deep into graphic design, you may be surprised to know that there are different font families to choose from. While Times New Roman and Ariel (neither one of which are particularly unique) may seem to be the same, nothing could be further from the truth. They aren’t even related!   Here’s the breakdown of the basic five font families.

Modern Fonts

A great example of this is the well-known Times New Roman. Any font that is a combination of thick and thinner strokes would fall in the Modern category. Another example would be Baskerville. They are sharper in appearance than their predecessors, the Venetian fonts.  

Venetian Fonts

The quintessential Venetian font is Garamond, which existed for over a century before anybody even attempted to change it. These are some of our oldest typefaces, and they don’t have as much contrast between thick and thin strokes. This is because old-time printing presses didn’t allow for such precision.

Egyptian Fonts

Somewhat oddly-named, the Egyptian fonts have a uniform thickness like the Venetians, but they also have thick serif endings. The most famous example is Courier.

Geometric Fonts

The classic example is Helvetica. Geometric fonts are modern, with even thickness throughout. These are very clear, but they can sometimes be seen as, well, a bit boring.

Humanist Fonts

Summed up by Verdana, these fonts are much more inspired by handwriting as compared to the other ones. Think deep curves on the ends of the letter t.

But What About the Unique Fonts?

You may have noticed that none of the above would be considered unique. After all, Times New Roman and Helvetica are about as common as sand grains on a beach. However, if you want a guide to choosing a unique font that looks good, you need to understand the above five to have a real guide.

Contrast Is Your Goal

Any graphic designer would recommend contrasting fonts to increase interest. This advice, when boiled down to its most basic point, is to combine a serif font with a non-serif font. This is an oversimplification, though; what you want is a contrast in feel.   It depends on what your unique font is. Are you going for a loopy script font or one that’s reminiscent of a circus sign? Are you trying to evoke feelings of Halloween or Easter? Are you designing an old-timey Wanted Poster-style page or a cool, edgy, modern band website?   There are thousands of different unique fonts to choose from. Sometimes it can get a bit overwhelming.  

However, if you want a guide, you should look to the basic font you are choosing to use on your website. (You should not use your unique font as the only font on your project. Unique or decorative fonts are only legible at large sizes and are not good for detailed text.) Essentially, you don’t want fonts that are too much alike. If your fonts are matchy-matchy, it will give the project a “blah” feel, and nothing will stick out. To avoid this, if your basic font is from the Geometric family, you may want to go with a more script-like Humanist font to warm it up. If your font is from the Venetian family, consider something with cleaner lines.  

You can, of course, play with your basic font choices, too. But if you’re in love with Helvetica, it’s not bad advice to go for something more script-like rather than block-style for your designs. Otherwise, things may look too angular.

Don’t Overdo It

No matter what unique font you choose, the cardinal rule is not to overdo it. We mentioned avoiding using nothing but your unique font prior, but it’s important to remember that a little bit goes a long way.   Consider your unique font much like an accent wall in a home. Done correctly, a bright orange accent wall paired with tasteful (but more mundane) regular walls will be a stunning, unique, and beautiful decor statement.  

On the other hand, an entire room in bright orange is going to be a bit much.   When you are using a unique font, you need to make sure that you are using it enough to get the punch of the font across, but not using it so much that it’s overwhelming. And it’s very easy to get into overwhelming territory with unique fonts.

Make Sure It’s Suitable

A trap that lots of novices (and not-so-novice) designers make when working with unique fonts is overdoing it with a certain beloved font across multiple projects. For instance, it’s completely fine to fall in love with that font that looks like letters were made out of logs, but it may not be the best choice for a jagged modern look.   Just like you want to make sure that the theme in a room is cohesive, you will want to make sure that the font you use makes sense with the vibe you’re going for. You wouldn’t stick a mid-century modern masterpiece in the Hughes Manor, would you? Of course not. It would look out of place.   There’s nothing wrong with having a favourite unique font. You may be into script fonts, but it’s not necessarily the best choice for a space-age theme.

Try To Go With Versatility

This one isn’t a hard and fast must, but you’ll get more out of a font if it’s versatile. To give a non-unique example, the tried-and-true Arial font has a lot of different options. There’s regular Arial, and then there’s Arial Black and Arial Narrow. You can also use Arial in italics and Arial in bold with those three different options.   If you haven’t spent a lot of time working with unique fonts, it can be surprising to learn that many of them will only have one single option. Or that they may turn into a blob if scaled unusually. Some of them may not come with punctuation marks or numbers. When you are looking to use a font for your projects, make sure that you understand what you need from the font and what the font package offers.   If you are using your unique fonts sparingly, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but it is something to keep in mind if it’s a font you’d like to use for multiple applications. The more versatile the font is, the more you’ll be able to use it.

The Only Real Rule Is There Are No Rules

Any true artist knows that the rules are meant to be broken. That is, with interior design you could place a mid-century modern sofa into a Gothic mansion if you wanted to, provided that you had the skill and panache to pull it off.   With any kind of design, rules can be tweaked or bypassed. The above guidelines in no way suggest that a graphic design piece has to use contrasting fonts or else it’s doomed to failure. There are plenty of examples that thwart this requirement.   But if you are just starting and want some workable guidelines, the above will help you get going. Once you get familiar with the craft of graphic design, feel free to branch out and break all the rules for the sake of a great look.

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Where Can I Get Unique Fonts?

If you want to use a unique font for your projects, realize you aren’t necessarily limited by what’s automatically included in your font bundle. Now, if you are working with a web-based design system, such as Canva, and you are using the free version, you are indeed limited to its built-in font palette. However, if you are working on your computer, the sky's the limit.

Built-In Computer Fonts

Your computer will indeed come with some more fun script fonts (and everybody knows Comic Sans), but none of these are unique, given that everybody else who purchased your operating system will also have these fonts. However, they can be a good starting point for many basic projects, and they require no work to use other than clicking the drop-down menu.  

Online Font Repositories

If you’re ready to get a little wilder, you can download many unique fonts from the internet. The most famous font repository is DaFont, and it has thousands of different fonts to choose from. Looking for a handwriting font? There’s 10s of thousands of them, from fancy calligraphy to childlike block print. It’s very easy to get bogged down! Most of these fonts were designed by independent font artists, not companies. However, when you are looking at a font you like, make sure that you understand the terms. Not only should you check for versatility, but you also need to make sure that you can use the font for your purposes legally.  

Most font artists will let people use their fonts for free if they are for personal use. Some will request a credit or a link back to their sites. However, if you want to use your unique fonts for a commercial project, you may need to purchase a license. If you are unsure, contact the creator of the font.   Once you have located your font and are sure it’s legal for you to use, then you can download it from the repository and install it on your computer. This is very easy to do; most of the time it only involves dragging the folder from your desktop into your font folder. Then, voila! You have a brand new unique font!

Commissioning a Font

As you might imagine, this is the priciest option. But if you are looking for a font that is truly unique, there’s no way to make it more your own than having it made specifically for you. There are tons of font artists on the internet who would be happy to take your idea and return a truly unique font. In this case, you will likely also own the rights to the font, so nobody else can use it. This is a great choice for logo design.  A good source of font artists is Etsy. You can also try connecting with some who participate on DaFont.

Enjoy the Look of Unique Fonts

There are thousands of unique fonts to choose from, and there’s no telling exactly which one will be the right choice for your next project. Spend some time at the drawing board thinking about the feel of your project. Feel free to download several different fonts from the internet to play with. A font that you may think looks great on the page may not be so great in your project. Or one that you think is so-so might hit the spot!   Like any skill, the graphic design takes practice. With enough of it, you’ll gain an eagle-eye for the use of beautiful, unique fonts.