20 Typefaces To Start A Designer's Career

20 Typefaces To Start A Designer's Career

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20 typefaces to start a designers career

I recently came across a great discussion in the archives of Typophile from 2003 called 20 Typefaces To Start A Designer’s Career and it needs to be revived.

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As a design student myself, I notice that typography is one of the hardest parts that students seem to face… most students are able to come up with extremely creative, innovative and well designed material however as soon as type is needed… well, let’s just say, it could need some more work.

20 Typefaces Are Perfect

Take this quote from a teacher in the Typophile discussion:

“I think 20 type faces is perfect. This is what I tell my class to begin with. The idea that you need hundreds of typefaces is ridiculous. When I was in school I had thousands upon thousands of bad typefaces. I hoarded anything I could get. This only helped confuse me when it came to choosing an appropriate face. It was a breath of fresh air to just delete them all off my hard drive. I only use about 10 or so at any moment in my career. Type can be tricky and hard to deal with. It is best to have fewer faces and understand the ins and outs of each one. This is the only way one can expect to master a typeface and type in general.” – Jay Wilkinson

I can agree with Jay on this as I was also guilty of having every font under the sun, however, after the first year of University I quickly learned otherwise – it is best to master a few faces.

One could also argue whether 20 is a suitable number or not, however, I believe it is a good starting point… To contradict this point I have also written an article called 30 fonts all designers must know & should own.

Don’t Use Free Fonts

Another point that is made in the article is to not use free fonts. Take this quote from Keith Tam.

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“I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of students downloading free fonts off the ‘net for their projects. More often than not they end up using something poorly made without even realising that it is not a ‘professional quality’ font. It’s dangerous. It’s such a bad influence for them because they’ll end up thinking that fonts are free and anyone can make fonts. Not a good idea. I think it’s a typography instructor’s duty to teach their students how to discern the differences between well and poorly made typefaces, and about the legalities of typeface licensing.”

I can relate to this as I see so many design students download free fonts… including don’t say it – Coolvetica. Limit yourself to a few families and you will be surprised at the outcome. You may also want to see the Top 7 Fonts Used By Professionals.

Update: I am not saying to rule out free fonts completely… in fact my logo uses the free font delicious. There are certainly some very well designed free fonts out there however the problem arises when trying to distinguish a good typeface from a bad one… I recommend this best free quality fonts post for starters or this list of 40 excellent free fonts from Smashing Magazine.

20 Typefaces To Start A Designer’s Career

Although there were many other ‘top 20’ lists in the original post I believe the twenty below would be my pick from the ones suggested in the article. In no particular order:

(Adobe) Garamond
Times New Roman
Mrs Eaves
Bauer Bodoni
Franklin Gothic
News Gothic
Helvetica Neue
Copperplate Gothic

What say you?

100 thoughts on “20 Typefaces To Start A Designer's Career”

  1. I would add a few to those, some of which i used in recent projects :

    Gill Sans
    Bank Gothic

    Some of these are somewhat overused (Eurostile) but they are distinctive typefaces I’m glad I have.

  2. Great post, but I have to speak for free fonts as well; there are some very professional free options out there (but, of course, it’s a rare beginner who would be able to see the difference between a good free typeface and a coolvetica).
    The list seems like a decent array of safe typefaces, but it needs two or three additions to be complete: Script typefaces, multilanguage typefaces (not every designer works only with english copy), and a decent blackletter (I know most people wouldn’t agree with me on that, but it can come in handy, believe it or not)

  3. I think if you’re a serious designer you need to try out a lot more than 20 fonts in order to pick out the ones you like most.

    And if you’re not a designer then 20 is already far too much ! Stick with 3 fonts !

  4. @Andrew Kelsall
    Because the subject of the sentence is typefaces, the verb should be plural. 20 functions as an adjective. However, if the subject was 20, “20 is perfect” would be correct.

  5. I always tell my students that choosing type is like picking shoes to wear with an outfit. You can have a decent design, and the type can make or break your design.

    Great post, however, the top 20 didn’t even give me ONE script typeface (and since I’m a huge fan of mixing type, the list is a little bit restrictive.)

    Great post though – my students will be assigned to read this!

  6. I actually don’t think only paid fonts are good and professional – I am thinking and seeing many really amazing fonts for free giveaway. But that’s just me – maybe my taste in fonts are not so great, but for example – Diavlo, Delicious, Zachary fonts are amazing in my opinion. I`m checking those fonts too however- thanks 🙂

  7. Sean,
    Typography is always going to be hard topic so keep learning!

    Yes I know, I have provided some links to the articles now. The problem however is that many can not tell the difference between a poor and professional free font.

    Thank you for your link and I have since updated the page with some free professional fonts.

    Georgia is a web safe font and that is why you will see it so often on the internet. I wouldn’t choose Arial for starting designers… there are better alternatives as outlined above. Making your own font is harder than you expect so I wouldn’t recommend this for starting designers either.

    I have since updated the page with links to free ‘professional’ fonts.

    Thank you for your additions, I am also a fan of Gill Sans. Have you heard the joke: What typeface do fish fear most? … Gills Sans.

    Copperplate Gothic is a great font however it is used in the wrong places so very, very often not to mention that it comes with many OS’s.

    Andrew, Mady
    Hehe, nice spelling 😛 I have fixed up the grammar error. Thanks Mady for the confirmation too.

    Thank you for your opinions and for the links. I just downloaded Jura! I have also linked up the original article to the one you suggested.


    It’s rare a beginner who would be able to see the difference between a good free typeface and a coolvetica.

    One of the underlying reasons for choosing not to use free fonts and one of the points Keith Tam was trying to make.

    Script & Multilingual typefaces could also be added.

    I believe 20 typefaces for a beginner (subject of this article) is sufficient.

    Trajan was listed in my article Top 7 Fonts Used By Professionals.

    Thank you for the link to Smashing Mag’s list, I have updated the article with the link. I remember seeing that a while ago!


    I always tell my students that choosing type is like picking shoes to wear with an outfit. You can have a decent design, and the type can make or break your design.

    Quite a nice metaphor!

    I have since updated the article 🙂

    Neil, Prescott, Shaun, William, Angie
    Thanks for your additions.

  8. In my first design, i used Georgia. Best font in sans-serif family, i guess. Happy Cog using this font very well on their website. I prefer to Arial for the new designers and want to starting make about typography …
    At the end i agree to Keith Tam, don’t use free fonts, learn and make your own font ^^

  9. Haha, Coolvetica, I hate it more than Comic Sans, this font is a shame.
    But yes, Pharan is right, there free professional quality fonts – I’m thinking of Gentium, Fontin, etc.

  10. Copperplate Gothic! Oh my goodness. But frankly speaking, it was the first font that I had to come across with when I started out my first freelance assignment. I wasn’t the designer for the logo back then, but had to use it for the other elements in the website that was created for the client.

  11. Great call on not using free fonts. Something I’ve learned after a few years in design is that if you aren’t sophisticated enough to look at a font and be able to tell at a glance that it’s not well crafted, don’t download any free fonts. Wait until you understand first what makes a great font great.

    Now, having said that. There are truly great free fonts out there. One of my favorites is Jura which is available here: http://www.tenbytwenty.com/products/typefaces/jura (Do a google search for “ten by twenty, jura font” if you don’t want to trust my link)

    Another resource is this blog post I ran across awhile back searching for (good) free fonts: http://www.alvit.de/blog/article/20-best-license-free-official-fonts (This time you’re probably just going to have to click the link). It lists 25 other truly great free fonts. It’s an older post, so I can’t promise all of the fonts are still available, but it’s a great place to start.

  12. I think Trajan should be on the list because of its popularity and use in many movie posters and such. The others are on my top list. So make it 21.

  13. ooh, I’d add renner and perhaps some avant garde.
    But cannot agree more – too many fonts is a nightmare for the head aswell as the mac

  14. I have to echo most of this article – as I was one who (even until recently) would use free fonts. But I also have to echo many of the comments and mention that there are some really high-quality free fonts out there. I just discovered Smashing Magazine’s free professional fonts article and I think this is a great place to start for those of us like me who might not have any budget at all for pro fonts at the moment.

    Use some of these well-built free faces and then when you have the bucks to purchase some pro ones first purchase the other styles of the free ones that aren’t free, then purchase 10-20 pro ones.

  15. I would trade Copperplate Gothic for Interstate any minute of the day, if I had to make a top 20 list. Most of my designs/concepts start with it.

    Rockwell is the font we chose for the logotype of Woest, the communication agency I co-founded.

    Because Helvetica and Universe feel the same, I would trade Helvetica for Bank Gothic. A tad over-used too, but it brings instant timeless class. In the right places.

    If you guys want to keep up with current font crafting (there are lots of people making great stuff out there), make sure you are receiving newletters from the likes of myfonts and fontshop. Inspirational!

  16. I agree with you on not using to many fonts (very good points by the professor), but I think the list you’ve compiled is a bit off.

    I wouldn’t chose Bembo (to used and not as good as everyone think), Times New Roman (I’d pick another good serif-font). I’d also chose another slab-serif than Rockwell and Serifa, e.g. Officina or Caecilia. And I would never ever use Copperplate Gothic for anything!

    I think you’ve just listed a bunch of really classic typefaces – this doesn’t mean that they’re the best.

    What about FF Meta, Underware’s Sauna and Dolly, or Fedra, Signa, Skia, Vista, Dax, Din, Fago or Max?

  17. Hi,

    Thanks for a great article.
    I guess what your teacher said makes sense. Having a few quality fonts would be better and easier to deal with than having loads of crappy ones.

  18. It think a rational as to why those fonts ended up on the list of 20 would be very helpful. Why is a specific font chosen? i.e. Qualify the list, break down it’s make-up (3 sans serif fonts for variety, should include compressed, extended, and normal, with varying weights in each family etc). Providing an example of a list based on these qualifiers is fine but it shouldn’t be the start and end of, what could be a useful guide to assembling a list of 20 usable fonts for your toolkit. I’m sure some of the choices for the fonts on the list are there because they compliment other fonts on the list. I’d love more information about the methodology you used to assemble your list as well.

  19. i disagree. do you only eat 20 types of food? do you only use 20 colors? do you only like 20 movies? should you only use 20 types of lines when you draw? if you answer yes to any of these, then, you, in my opinion, are limited and boring.

  20. Great post. I have a love/hate relationship with typography. Overall I love it, I love looking at beautiful typography and studying it. However, it’s one of my major weak spots as a designer. I still have a lot to learn. Thanks so much for the list!

  21. This is the most absurd piece of advice I’ve ever seen given. While I agree with the overall sentiment that going crazy with fonts is counter-productive, I feel it reckless, and quite frankly silly, to put out blanket statements like this.

    Use only 20 fonts? Seriously? You must have a very limited client list. Then when I saw the list of recommended fonts, I nearly fell off my chair laughing.

    Half those fonts are so dated that most ad agencies remove them from their servers. Garamound, Times New Roman, Mrs Eaves, Bauer Bodoni, Clarendon, Rockwell? Cmon, seriously?

    And making Trajan a “best” font doesn’t say much either, unless you’re in the movie poster business. It’s a beautiful font, but quite inflexible.

    I don’t mean to bash your article, Jacob, just point out what I’m sure you’re trying to say, which is to be selective. Quality not quantity. Of course one must learn to see when a font is good or bad (kerning pairs, spacing, character set, is it a full family or a single style font, etc..)

  22. I say that copperplate gothic is on that list of fonts that should die, yet you included it in your top 20. The writer obviously has bad judgment…

  23. I completely agree. Limiting your options, especially when you are a student or a rookie, is a wise decision. When I was in college each computer in the University design studio was loaded with only “pre-approved” type faces. Certain professors would not accept projects that used typefaces outside of this canon. It taught me to respect typefaces as unique designs within themselves and that not all are created equal.

    Although I’m not sure I agree with your list. I’d remove Centaur, Jenson, Times New Roman, Mrs Eaves, Rockwell, Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, and Copperplate Gothic. The replacements would be Akzideaz Grotesk, Avenir, Baskerville, Caledonia, Walbaum, Mercury, Gotham, and Gill Sans.

  24. I’m about to finish my first year at graphic design school. For the whole year we’ve been working with 4 fonts: Frutiger, Univers, Bodoni and Garamond. Sometimes we could use Helvetica, but not too many times. Typograpfy is not as simple as some may think. 20 seems a lot to me

  25. It’s funny. In your article you link to coolvetica. That link goes to an article entitled 7 fonts that should die! In that article Copperplate Gothic is listed. You then go on to list Cooperplate Gothic as one of the 20 a design could start with. Just wanted to know which is it, a font that should die or is a staple? Maybe you couls do a vote. 🙂

  26. This is a really conservative list.

    It is a great jumping off point for students and new designers who may need some assistance in choosing fonts for project work. (It should hopefully also limit the use of Chiller and Papyrus fonts in project work. 😉

    It’s very important for new designers (and all designers really) to continue to build out their own personal style outside of this list. These fonts are an easy answer, but not always the best.

    Finding a really nice lesser embraced (but still professional) font for a project might be what sets you apart from the other 5 people who set all their logos in Helvetica Neue.

    Also, Adobe and AIGA partnered up this year to offer a really nice font package for students…

    Thanks for the article!

    Jason Schwartz
    Art Director
    Bright Bright Great

  27. Hmm.. Have you read the article you refer to ??
    “7 fonts that should die”

    I quote

    “Many businesses love Copperplate. It’s strong, it’s powerful….it’s ugly.”

  28. I agree – and if I you can afford just 2 for purchase, get Univers and Ms. Eaves.
    Helvetica and Garamond are generally fall back versions if you cant afford the prior two.

  29. Nice to see Bembo and Bodoni on there, two of my favorites. I’ll usually prefer Cheltenham as my slab serif go-to. And Trade Gothic over News Gothic. And I know that Futura is a classic and all, but it’s gotta go.

  30. If you’re going straight off of usage…i’d stick to these.

    Helvetica Neue
    Adobe Garamond
    Trade Gothic(i didn’t see this mentioned at all)
    Avant Garde
    Gill Sans
    Knockout (poster printers love this)

    Ones that should be used more:
    Klavika (the NBC commercial face)
    FF Dax
    Akzidenz Grotesk
    FF DIN
    Sackers Gothic

    Overused, but reluctantly needed:
    – Copperplate Gothic

    Ones I just don’t like:
    – Bank Gothic (this is not what the future looks like)

    – Serpentine (this shit has got to stop, I don’t know where people get this face, but it is everywhere)

    – Never a big fan of Rotis. There is an entire design firm in southern Germany that uses this on nearly every project. I’m sorry, but Rotis is not that versatile and something about it creeps me out.

    And to the dude that mentioned Myriad….seriously!? Yes Apple uses it, but that doesn’t make it some excellent choice.

  31. Personally, I think that twenty is excessive—especially when starting out. A Designer could design for a lifetime using far fewer faces and only begin to scratch the surface of the expressiveness that they can offer. With fewer typefaces to choose from, a Designer will become more intimately familiar with each. With that familiarity comes a nuance of use—the Designer learns how scale and proportion change the perception of each face and how a single face can be made to communicate a wide range of emotion.

    All of that said, I won’t dismiss the importance of variety or pretend that a single typeface will be appropriate for every circumstance. I would suggest that the following might be required (depending on the nature of what is being designed):

    – Sans Serif—one each of a humanist, geometric and neo-grotesque sans.

    – One or two Venetian, Geralde or Transitional faces (one or two total, not of each)

    – I am yet to find a compelling reason to use a Didone beyond creating “period” work (sorry, Giambattista Bodoni). The same can be said for Blackletter. Your needs, of course, may vary.

    – A single slab serif (not a Clarendon), or two if your work will require you to also hav one that is monospaced.

    That is, at most, seven. When choosing which of the seven, I would choose families with diverse weights and optical sizes. I would also consider pairing, since combinations will be important to express your intent. To that end, I would try to pick faces where overall letterforms compliment each other.

    Then again, this is a comment on a blog entry… I wouldn’t base my typographic career on something that someone offhandedly said in such a context.

  32. Hey Jacob,
    Great post! There are a couple of fonts I lean towards and there not on the list. Myriad and Adobe Corporate ID Myriad. This is a world on its on and in its own right typography I feel never gets its own place and it really should be classed as an outright skill.

    Take care

  33. Copperplate Gothic is a really bad font in my opinion. I’d also suggest Times over Times New Roman, they are similar but Times is a little thicker. Avenir is another excellent font.

  34. Hoof, Malene,
    Thank you for your feedback into what fonts you would change. Please take note that I didn’t personally create the list, it was just one of many ’20 typeface lists’ suggested by users in the Typophile discussion.

    I am also a fan of Meta and Din. Thanks for the suggestions.

    Bet it made you smile though!

    Typography is a subject of its own, but as designers it is our duty to know it as well as the basics of design.

    Thanks for the font conference video, that was hilarious. I had to watch it twice, there were so many hidden jokes!

    Jimmy, Kishor, Farid, Funkysouth, Matt T, Marvin, Richard, Matt, Bridgette, Tiff, John, Jimmy, Niero,
    Thank you for your comments.

    Please take note that I didn’t personally create the list, it was just one of many ’20 typeface lists’ suggested by users in the Typophile discussion.

    Thanks for the typo, fixed that up.

    See my comment below to Jim.

    The article was not stating that you must be restricted to using these typefaces… it was merely stating some recommendations on what typefaces to choose as a starting designer.

    Half those fonts are so dated that most ad agencies remove them from their servers. Garamond, Times New Roman, Mrs Eaves, Bauer Bodoni, Clarendon, Rockwell? Cmon, seriously?

    I would like you to list these agencies as I find this very hard to believe.

    Trajan is a very flexible font and can be used in many applications and that is the downfall of Trajan… it is seen everywhere… but that is not to say don’t use it.

    Please take note that I didn’t personally create the list, it was just one of many ’20 typeface lists’ suggested by users in the Typophile discussion. Copperplate Gothic can be used in a variety of places and looks great on stationery and printed material however it is overly misused and that is the problem with Copperplate Gothic in my opinion. You may want to know about this site: http://ihatecopperplate.blogspot.com/

    That is a good stratedgy to use (pre approved typefaces) – in fact the list mentioned in this article is from a “pre approved list” for a design school.

    Thanks for your replacements also, they are some very valid choices.

    Sounds interesting Carla… I am not so sure if I agree with using just 4 fonts but it is a good way to get students to respect and learn fonts. That Chinese proverb comes to mind… “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, feed him for life.”

    Jive, Josh, B, Victor, Stuart,
    See my comment to Blam.

    Please don’t get me started on Papyrus… it is the most common font I see used in my design school by first year students, along with Helvetica (mostly being misused).

    I also agree that it is important for new (and all) designers to break out of the list (eventually).

    Thank you for the link to the font package, I hadn’t known about that. 25 type families… interesting.

    Thank you for your extended list Josh… some very excellent choices, I mention a lot of them in the article 30 best fonts for designers.

    I wasn’t aware of the font KnockOut, which one are you referring to? I found a few. A link would be great. I wasn’t aware of Serpentine nor Rotis so thank you for the mentions. News Gothic was mentioned instead of Trade Gothic. I also don’t mind Myriad… I used it recently in a business card.

    Thank you for your opinions Charles, there are certainly two sides of every story. Also thank you for your more refined selection of 20 typefaces for designers.

    Then again, this is a comment on a blog entry: I wouldn’t base my typographic career on something that someone offhandedly said in such a context.

    Well said, but it is a good starting point.

  35. Being free or paid is not the problem, as there is excellent abd free design work out there (as well as paid of course).
    The problem is not letting technology rule your design life meaning that you feel like you need to have everything under the sun, new soft, new computer, new gadgets, get your hands on everything you can download.
    Good design is about knowing how to use some key resources rather than everything in your hard drive.

  36. Thanks for the list. I always struggle when choosing a font. I’m trying to dedicate more time to making a decision and this list definitely helps 🙂


  37. I see where you are coming from with having a small selection of fonts, as 1000s of fonts can be a nightmare to handle, however I would NEVER and I say NEVER use times new roman! Seriously I think it should be banned from the design world forever! And in saying that maybe even banned from everywhere. It is an illegal design decision in my books.

    Please don’t take offence. Good idea for a post though.

  38. Thanks very much for the insight. Most of the top 7 I have used in my graphic design work. I’m still a student but am also the Art Director for a production company, so learning about typography is crucial to my design work, for there is a myriad of poor graphic design floating around. much of which is ruined by by poor typographical decisions.

    Best Regards,

  39. To modify your argument, I would say “learn about typography and decide for yourself which fonts are better than others”.

    Don’t listen to the folks who say you MUST use fonts from the design dinosaurs. When those dinosaurs were your age they designed their own, didn’t they?

    Every medium has an industry, whose greatest purpose is to protect itself, and keep earning regular profits the old way. Web design has gotten that way. Next time you’re at a $1000 web design conference, ask the presenter if they actually make websites for profitable companies, and they’ll look confused – because now, our web standards all-stars make money from giving lectures… not from making websites.

  40. I do agree that a lot of the free fonts are pretty poor quality although recently i have found a few lovely ones i.e Fontin Sans……I have used it in a recent logo design and many people have commented on how beautiful the font is.
    Thanks for the post!

  41. Fantastic article for web design beginners.I believe all beginners ll like this article and use it like a beginners guide.

  42. I do agree on using free fonts, which will ultimately lead in some kinda mess. Its always better to have a custom one, else buy one.

  43. The only rule to type in design is that it is the right one, free or not. Anything else, regardless of skill or maturity in craft, is a limit on what might have been. I say this because new designers will end up here, ready these comments, and be unnecessarily saddled with strangers preferences.

  44. Thanks for an great article and interesting read, I have recently been doing some font purging so found this very helpful along with some of the comments, and in fact have even created a blog post on the subject which links back to this article.

    If you are interested you can read my thoughts on my blog over at http://www.mode500.com


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