Simple Church Branding, Part 3: Fonts Say More Than You Think
You have made it to the fun stuff- way to go! Remember though, that the first two steps in the simple church branding process are important and shape the decisions we will be making throughout the rest of the series. So, if you have not checked out Part 1 on reasons for simple branding and Part 2 on finding focus and clarity, please do that first.
Over the next three installments, we will dig into these design elements: fonts, colors, and logos. While you can take them in any order, I present them this way because it offers the biggest bang for your investment of time, energy, and money.
Before we can start picking fonts, there are a few things to know.
The most basic way to classify a font is whether or not it has serifs–the little dashes or extensions at the ends of letter forms. Those that do are called “serif fonts” and those that don’t are called “sans serif” (or without serif). Serifs help guide your eye from letter to letter, acting as a little bridge. This is why you see serif fonts used often in books, newspapers, or other long passages of text. Serif fonts generally feel more traditional and formal. Sans serif fonts can feel more modern and informal–in part because sans serif fonts dominate the internet and mobile devices (which is itself due to serifs appearing blurry on screens when displayed in smaller sizes).
Slab serifs fonts have serifs of uniform thickness, making them appear blocky. They often have a feel somewhere between formal serifs and informal sans serifs. The fourth line shows three types of display fonts, which are used in shorter/smaller sections of text to catch your attention and/or give a specific feel.
Next up are font weights. You are probably used to regular and bold, but some fonts come in lots of different weights. In fact, the font in the chart above has a weight even lighter than thin! Some fonts label them with terms like these, while others convey weight with numbers (like 300, 600, 800). As we will cover later, different weights give you lots of versatility and allow you to create contrast.
Finally, we have font widths. As with font weights, there can be many varieties, however extremes in either direction–condensed or expanded–can be difficult to read, especially over long stretches. Condensed fonts can be used to fit more text within a line, which is why you will see them often used for headlines. Expanded fonts can be used to fill space, but in my opinion they are more often used to set a mood or convey personality.
Why You Need The Right Fonts
You can go a long way toward communicating your organization’s personality by selecting the right fonts. Conversely, picking the wrong fonts may turn some people off.
This seems silly, as the ministry you offer is so much more important than how your branding looks, but think of it this way: There are likely more churches in town than there are brands of toothpaste at the grocery store. If we don’t have a recommendation or invitation from a friend, we often choose what looks most appealing.
Below is the word “Church” in different typefaces. Pay attention to how each makes you feel. What’s your gut reaction? Do any feel old? Do any feel new? Do any have energy? Are any too plain? Which is most appealing to you and why? Which would appeal most to your target audience and why?
Selecting the proper font is about more than style. You have to take into consideration context and function as well. A fancy dress or tuxedo may look great, but if you’re going swimming, they aren’t the appropriate choice. The same is true in selecting your fonts. For example, the font you choose for your logo and the font you choose for the text of your bulletin both need to be readable but in different ways.
Fonts as Logos
If you select the right font for your ministry’s name, you could already have an effective logo. Some of the most iconic logos are simply the organization or product’s name in a unique font. Here are some examples:
Even if you end up with a logo or use your denomination or church network’s logo, you will still need to display your ministry’s name. As you can see with the examples above, this is an opportunity to convey the personality of your ministry. As you look for the right personality, here are some tips to be sure it functions well:
Select a font that looks good at all sizes.
From large letters on the side of your building all the way down to the pen you give away in the welcome pack, you want your logo to look good big and small. Especially at smaller sizes, fonts that are thinner and/or have intricate details will be hard to reproduce clearly. When you add in the fact that you want it to be readable from a distance as well, you should definitely look at heavier/thicker fonts.
Select a font that makes your specific name look good.
This seems obvious, but your ministry’s name needs to look great. The college campus ministry I worked for had a capital W in their name, and I cannot tell you the number I fonts I fell in love with until I saw the W.
Good font sites should give you the opportunity to put in sample text. Try out your ministry’s name as it is traditionally displayed. Also try it out in all caps or all lowercase. It’s definitely a bonus if they look good too, as you will have more options.
It is important to note that the best font-based logos are often special designs, or they are an existing typeface tweaked to give it unique touches. If you have a graphic design person on staff or can afford to hire someone, you may want to look into a custom or customized mark.
Select a font that stands out.
You don’t need to pick something crazy, but you also don’t want something that blends in. When people see your ministry’s name on a t-shirt or a poster, you want it to catch their eye. You want it to be unique enough that it can be identified as your ministry and not just any other church. This can obviously be helped with a logo mark, and we will get to that in a part 5. One way you can test this is to print the church name in a bunch of different fonts on a page and ask people which one draws their eye (in a good way!).
Click here for a great article with more tips on selecting a logo font.
Fonts for General Use
In addition to a logo font, you need to select fonts for use on things like bulletins, brochures, websites, and social media images.
Headline and Body Fonts
These are the fonts that you are going to use primarily to convey information, so the goal is to emphasize readability while having a touch of personality. Headline fonts are generally heavier and appear bigger, while body fonts are generally lighter and smaller (think about the typical news article or blog post).
These can easily be the same font, as long as you can deploy them in contrasting weights styles and/or weights. For example, there is a font family known as Museo which comes in both sans serif and slab serif versions. While that already provides contrast, each of them comes in multiple weights. So, for example, you could use a heavier slab serif for the headline and a lighter sans serif for the body text.
Check out this great site that lets you see different types of headline and body font combinations organized by font type. All of the text on that site is editable in your browser, so you can copy in text from your website or a brochure to see what it would look like. The best part is that because it utilizes free Google Fonts, there is a download link underneath each pairing.
This is an optional font choice, but it is fun because you can be creative. You are looking for a font that will really stands out on things like social media graphics, t-shirts, or fliers. Below is an example of the type of graphic I use on Twitter to promote a blog post. I feature a quote or key idea from the post and use my accent font to highlight the words that I think will most interest someone as they are scrolling through their timeline.
A Note About Web Fonts
Implementing custom fonts on websites is not as hard as it used to be, but you can still run into a challenge. You may be limited by your website’s options or by your technical ability, as some web fonts do require a small bit of coding to implement. Try calling a local web designer to see if they are willing to help.
Also, the fonts you see on the web come from a different type of file than the ones you install on your computer. If you want to keep everything uniform both online and offline, be sure there is a webfont version available for the fonts you are considering.
There are two pieces of good news on this front. First, Google provides a ton of decent fonts for free that can be used on websites and in print. In fact, my website’s template has them already built in, so I had no extra coding. Second, because implementing custom fonts is relatively new, the vast majority of sites still use standard fonts. You may miss out on a touch of uniformity or custom personality, but it is not the end of the world.
Things to Consider as You Look
Ok, so now you know what you’re looking for. How do you actually go out and find them? Here are three questions to guide your search.
What Can You Afford?
Yes, there are places to get decent free fonts, but it still rings true that you get what you pay for. With a paid font, you will likely get a higher quality font. Also, since the number of high quality free fonts are limited, lots of people use the same ones. A pro font can provide uniqueness.
On the other hand, there are benefits to free fonts. As I said, some web templates come with Google fonts preloaded. Later in this series, I will recommend sites where you can create easily create graphics in your web browser, and many of them access the Google Fonts library. This ubiquity makes it easy to use the same fonts across all platforms.
I also told you that all the fonts on my site are free Google fonts, so who am I to judge? To be precise, my heading, body, and accent fonts are free, while I did spend money on the font used in my logo. This may be a good middle option, as you want something of high quality for your main identity.
At the bottom of this post, there is a list of sites where you can find free fonts, pay-what-you-want fonts, and paid fonts from entry level to professional quality. Click here for a more detailed article on potential issues with free fonts.
Where/How Can You Use It?
Just because you can download and install a font doesn’t mean you are allowed to use it however you want. It gets murky when it comes to use by ministries because most font licenses are marked for commercial use or personal use. If your ministry is a non-profit, it technically doesn’t fit under commercial use. But it is also not really personal use. I will leave this gray area for you to discern. Be sure to read the license whenever possible and make the decision that seems the most fair.
How Versatile Is the Font?
Obviously, a font with more options is better. You would think that every font comes with at least bold and italics, but this is not the case. Your word processor, design program, and web browser can fake it, but it never looks as good as when it is intentionally designed. And as I mentioned earlier, multiple weights give you lots of options too.
Typewolf curated a list of their 30 favorite free Google fonts, and below each one it lists the number of weights as well as if italics are included.
The secret to pairing fonts is to create contrast while still making sure they look good together. Here are different types of contrast to consider:
The most common way to pair fonts is by contrasting type. Use a serif font for your headline and a sans serif font for your body text. Use a slab serif for your logo font, but don’t use another slab serif for anything else. These are just examples, and I would again refer you to this great font pairing site where you can sort combinations by font types.
You can see this in practice all over this post. There are bolded section headers (like “Mix Weights”) and regular weight body text. You may also see mixed weights of the same fonts combined to make a logo, especially when there is no space between two words– like DEFININGGRACE.
While you will still likely want to use another type of contrast, it is not uncommon to see condensed or expanded fonts as headlines over regular body text.
Click here for a great article offering a more nuanced look at font pairing.
Consistency is Key
The goal is for people to see the things your create and know instantly that they came from you–even if your name isn’t on it. Familiarity of any kind is built through repetition, so use the fonts you choose as consistently as possible. If your bulletin, website, Facebook graphics, and t-shirts all look the same, it goes a long way toward building a strong brand.
Where to Look for Fonts
ProChurchTools List of 188 Free Fonts
CreativeBloq Free Fonts for Designers List
Creative Market’s Free Goods of the Week (usually includes at least one font- free for that week only)
Google Fonts (all free for commercial use, desktop and webfonts)
Font Squirrel (all free for commercial use, some webfonts)
Pay What You Want, Subscription, Rentals
Lost Type (pay what you want for personal use license, commercial licenses available)
Adobe Typekit (subscription service)
Fontstand (rent fonts for a fraction of the cost per month, keep after a year of continuous rental – Mac only)