10 Typography Tips for Digital Scrapbookers

One of the best things about scrapbooking digitally is the ability to type your journaling, rather than having to handwrite it. Typing can be faster than handwriting, journaling lines are always straight and letterforms are perfect.

The drawback, though, is that typography can go very wrong, very quickly — and can take away from the beautiful design of your page overall — if you aren’t aware of some of the basic typography rules, as well as some tips for making your text visually pleasing.

Two typography tips that are actually rules

If you want to make sure the text on your layout isn’t going to distract from your photos or ruin your layout, you need to follow these tried-and-true typography rules. (Later, we’ll share some optional tips for making things beautiful, but you should consider these first two tips as hard-and-fast, not-to-be-broken rules of the road.)

Make sure your text will be legible by paying attention to font size. For best legibility on a large surface, such as a scrapbook page, never use type in paragraph form that is smaller than 10 points. For small bodies of text, such as captions that are a few words long, you can go down to 9 points. But if you’re asking your reader to read more than a line or two of type, don’t go below 10. It’s just too hard on the eyes. (Better yet, go with 12 points or larger; this is the size most novels use as the standard size for legibility.)

Going too large can be distracting, too. For paragraph-length journaling, stick to 10-, 12- or 14-point type. Smaller bodies of text (such as labels, tags and headlines) can work fine with larger text.

Never use more than three fonts on a single page. The more fonts you use, the more difficult it is for the eye and brain to know where to travel along the page and in what order. Using just three fonts or fewer leads to clarity. For best results, choose a single serif font (a font with “feet” at the bottoms of each letter, like Times), a single sans-serif font (fonts without “feet,” like Arial) and a single display font (handwriting, scripts or funky fonts). Use the display font in small doses. Never use a display font for paragraphs or other large chunks of type.

1 - sans serif vs serif vs display

Eight more typography tips

Here are additional ways you can make your typography top-notch:

Use weights, sizes and capitalization to establish hierarchy in your design. The headline should be the largest size, because it’s where you want the reader’s eye to go first. If you’re breaking up a large body of journaling into sections, use bolder text (larger, too, if you’d like) to establish subheadings. Captions should be smaller in size than body copy (the type that makes up your paragraphs in journaling).

2 - hierarchy

4Text needs room to breathe. For best results, add a little space between the top of a subhead and the bottom of the paragraph above it, for example. Headlines should have some space around them, as well. If you squish all of your text together, it becomes difficult to read.

5Another way you can let the text breathe is to pay attention the leading — or the space between the lines of text. The rule of thumb for body copy is to have your leading be at least 120% of the size of your type, minimum. So, if your text is 10 points, your leading should be 12 points, because 10 x 120% = 12. You’ll notice that Photoshop defaults to 12 point type with 14.4 point leading for this reason. Increasing the leading between lines of type reduces eye strain on the reader. Decreasing the leading, as you can then guess, makes it more difficult to read.

All of that said, you can break this rule in headlines and short captions. If there are only a couple of lines of type, smaller leading can help your design feel more cohesive.

visualization of leading in typography

Adjusting the space between letters can be helpful for increasing legibility. Fonts are designed with maximum readability in mind. However, some letter combinations naturally lead to larger-than-normal gaps that can be distracting. In these cases, you can reduce the kerning (the space between letters) to decrease the gaps. For example, the space around the number 1, and the letters L, T, O, A and C can lead to awkward gaps. You can decrease the kerning in Photoshop by placing your cursor between letters and then typing Option (on a Mac) or Alt (on a PC) + the left arrow key. Increase the kerning by typing Option/Alt plus the right arrow key.

4 - kerning

7Consider a font’s mood when designing your page. It might sound a little funny, but fonts definitely have moods! For example, a tall, condensed font portrays a sense of energy and urgency, while an expanded font portrays a sense of laziness or quiet. Display fonts can range from funny to scary. And even a font’s weight (light or thin vs. bold or heavy) can change the mood of a layout. If something feels “off” with a layout and you can’t figure out why, try changing the font to a new style. You might find that it fixes the mood problem.

5 - moods copy
Example fonts above, top to bottom, left to right: Kingthings Lupine, A Little Mixed Up, Midnight Regular, Born Ready Slanted, Cooper Hewitt Light.

Use free fonts with caution. While Google Fonts and Adobe Fonts comprise quality fonts for your use, many free-font websites compile fonts that were drawn by amateurs who might not have considered some of the nuances of font design. For example, spacing around letters can be awkward with free fonts, meaning you’ll need to do some manual kerning work to make them look right. Some free fonts are missing certain characters (like dashes and slashes), too, so be sure you have all of the punctuation you need before you start using them.

9Use color sparingly. Generally speaking, the more color you include within a body of text, the more difficult it will be to read. You’re better off sticking with “normal” text colors, like black, gray and white, although an occasional use of color can work. Generally, save the colored text for titles/headlines and, within larger body type, subheads. And if you can’t resist using multiple colors for a single headline, be sure you keep the color quantity to three or less.

10Pair fonts strategically. Font-pairing (choosing a headline/page title font that will go well with a body/journaling font) is a whole subject all on its own, and we can’t cover it completely in a paragraph or two here. So, to keep it simple, there are three things you can do to make sure your fonts pair well together.

The easiest thing to do is to choose two fonts from a font super-family. For example, using Source Sans font for a headline and Source Serif font for the journaling text will work, guaranteed, because the two fonts were designed by the same designer with the intention of working well together. You can’t go wrong.

If you don’t have a super-family to choose from, choose one serif and one sans serif font, then look for similar letterforms. For example, a serif font (one with the little feet at the baseline of the letterforms) with a wide, round, lowercase A will work well with a sans serif font with a wide, round, lowercase A.

If you’d like some professional guidance, Adobe Fonts includes suggested font pairings with each of the fonts it offers. So pick a font you love, then play it safe and use the recommended font pair Adobe recommends. (Just scroll down on the font page and look for the Recommended Pairings section at fonts.adobe.com.)

example of font-pairing suggestions from Adobe Fonts
These are sample font-pairing recommendations from Adobe Fonts for the font Brother 1816. 

Stick to these tips and rules, and the text on your layouts will work beautifully every time!

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