5 important typography rules

If graphic design had a “very important persons” section, typography would be one of the top VIPs. Your logo might have a great layout, but without good type it won’t receive positive feedback.Since typography can make or break a design, it is important to understand these 5 typography rules:


Leading is the space between lines of text and is generally measured from baseline to baseline of each sentence. Leading is important when setting paragraphs because it influences the legibility of the text. If there is no leading then lines will feel cramped. If there is too much leading then the space will create disconnected lines.

There are different ways to change leading depending on the program you use. The rule of thumb is to use a leading that is 2 pts above the font’s height. For example, if you are using a 10pt font then the leading should be 12pts. This can vary depending on the font – different fonts need different linespacing.


Tracking and Kerning

Tracking and Kerning are similar in that they both refer to the adjustment of space between type.

So, what’s the difference? Tracking is the adjustment of space between a GROUP of letters. Kerning is the adjustment of space between individual letters. Tracking should be adjusted so letters don’t run into each other during the printing stage. It also helps by improving the readability and density of text.


Kerning is effective and improves the overall readability for headlines, ALL CAPS, and logos. Kerning can be helpful, but don’t get carried away. If a company’s name is meant to be one word, don’t make it look like two.


Serif vs. San-Serif Fonts

Serifs are those dash-structures added at the end of letters and symbols. When it comes to lengthy books or magazines, using a serif type is the best. Serifs sit better on the baseline and help lead the reader’s eye to the next word. This makes reading more sustainable for longer periods of time.

San-serifs are typefaces without serifs. San-serifs look simpler and are easier to read at lower-resolutions. Web designs often use san-serif fonts such as Verdana, Arial, etc.

Serifs and San-Serifs

Number of typefaces

Pairing different type faces can make your layout dynamic, but using too many can be distracting. When too many fonts are used the viewer becomes unclear of what elements are important.

The general rule is to use three or less fonts per project. For example, two fonts are used for the headline and body text. The fonts could then be bolded, italicized, and sized for subheadings, CAPTIONS, and other design elements.

The longer the design document, the more fonts you can use. However, when it comes to brochures, ads, or any other short documents it is better to use one or two fonts.

Too Many Typefaces

Length of Text Lines

When looking at a newspaper, you might notice the articles are divided into columns. Shorter lines of text help break up the articles so they are easier to read. The human eye naturally tires when it reads long lines of text.

Although the exact character count is difficult to predict, the general rule is to have no more than 50-60 characters on each line. This is a standard number and should be altered depending on the design project.

The same rule can apply to headlines. Although headlines are generally less than 50 characters, shortening the one-line sentence can be beneficial. For example, if you are working with the heading, “Hundreds of Design Opportunities at Your Fingertips,” you can make it easier to read by breaking it apart:

Line Length

Make sure to cut the sentence so it keeps a flow in the viewer’s reading. Also, don’t be scared to play with font size so the lines match up.

Although these 5 rules are important, there are a ton of other typography rules to learn… here’s a cool place to start: ilovetypography.com

Based in San Francisco, Allison (Alli) Stuart works as Community Manager at 99designs. When she's not writing blogs and communicating with designers, she is working on her Children's Book. She also enjoys extreme sports, like sky diving and traveling to new places. Alli has a Fine Arts Degree with a concentration in Graphic Design from Louisiana State University, her home. Geaux Tigers!
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  1. Photoshoprint

    I just wrote about this on my blog. These tips are the simplest things designers should always pay attention to.

    Reply August 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm
  2. scott barrington

    great post. all designers should follow these rules of thumb.

    Reply August 29, 2011 at 1:59 pm
    • asj aloysius

      Good to here. Nice ideas for all the designers immatrerial about the experiences and age. applicable to all in the industry. This will create the designer perfect. I used to teach in the college and social classes like awareness training programmes about this and the result is amazing.

      Reply September 6, 2011 at 7:59 pm
  3. Helen

    Great tip that all designers should refer to. Just by following this, the design layout is already improved.

    Reply August 29, 2011 at 10:18 pm
  4. Brian D.

    Funny, these simple rules can make or break your design. I can’t even stress how important these rules are for designers to learn!

    Reply November 25, 2011 at 8:01 pm
  5. Anirudh

    your tips are really helping me out day by day…thanx

    Reply November 30, 2011 at 7:07 am
  6. Steven K

    Nice article, thanks for sharing.

    Reply January 22, 2012 at 12:28 pm
  7. harry style

    Great stuff I will use it to get new ideas for my artwork

    Reply August 23, 2012 at 5:24 am
  8. harry style

    Google “Modernist Typography” + Click Images=WIN.

    Reply August 23, 2012 at 5:30 am
  9. Doni

    Everything you’re saying is correct, but may I ask why you say it in what looks like 10 pt. Ariel Narrow? Obviously it’s been the font of choice for decades, but it’s never been anywhere among the legible fonts out there. The most legible choice is a 12 pt. 2-weight serif, with no more than 15 words to a line. If you really want sans serif, change the font in this article to Optima, which is the most legible one in existence. Then you will be demonstrating what your article is saying.

    Reply December 19, 2012 at 6:30 am
  10. Issac

    Is there a rule for the amount of leading between heading,subheading and body text?

    Reply January 7, 2013 at 8:51 am
  11. Doni

    Yes. Have more leading above the heads and subheads than below them. This makes them look “connected” to the text they introduce. White space separates things CONCEPTUALLY, not just physically.

    Reply January 7, 2013 at 10:54 am

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