by Ilene Strizver
Designers frequently ask: What’s the best way to build a type library? With dozens of foundries and thousands of typefaces available, the task can be overwhelming. Here are some basic principles that will help you build the right library for your needs and budget.
One type at a time
A strong, versatile type library needn’t consist of hundreds of typefaces. In fact, many award-winning designers rely on a handful of font families for the majority of their work. Most independent designers and small creative departments will do best to build their type libraries one typeface at a time, on a project-by-project basis.
To select the right typeface or typeface family for a project, first do a thorough type exploration. Make a list of possibilities and put each design through its paces. If you don’t have printed specimen materials or catalogs, look for downloadable PDF showings; this is especially valuable if you’re choosing a text face. For headlines or other display usages, try viewing your candidates onscreen using font tryout utilities (these are commonly available on font foundry or reseller web sites).
Consider dozens of designs, if necessary, until you find the right one. This might take a while, but a well-selected, appropriate typeface can do more than half the work in creating a successful design. The hours spent will be well worth it!
When selecting text faces, make sure the family has all the versions you might need, including italics or obliques. Look for fonts that offer the features you use on a regular basis, such as small caps, ligatures, old style and lining figures. And you should seriously consider OpenType fonts, which have expanded character sets that often include all of the above features and more.
By developing your type library project by project, you’ll learn how each typeface looks and behaves in a variety of situations. The advantage of building your library this way is that you’ll be starting with fonts you know well and have already found pleasing and useful. They’ll be like old friends, and having a few good friends you can count on is better than having hundreds of acquaintances whom you know only superficially, right?
What To Avoid
If you want your work to be fresh and original, don't rely solely on the system and application fonts. Because of their widespread availability, these fonts have been tremendously overexposed and overused, especially by non-professionals. Even a good design can start to feel dated and stale through overuse. Many of the most-used system and application fonts have been around since the early days of desktop publishing, and are simply not good choices for serious design work.
Another warning: don’t waste your time on free fonts. Unless the fonts are offered by reputable foundries, the adage “you get what you pay for” applies. Good typeface design requires an experienced eye and a high degree of artistry and technical skill. Most free fonts are designed by type novices or hobbyists. Designers at the professional level rarely give their fonts away, and free fonts are generally not suitable for professional work.