Thirteen typefaces for graphic designers

With thousands of typefaces on offer, it’s good to have a select few that act as main-stays in your collection. You’ll find many graphic designers using the following thirteen.

#1 Akzidenz Grotesk

Akzidenz Grotesk

Akzidenz Grotesk, the first ever sans-serif typeface to be widely used, was originally released in 1898, by the H. Berthold AG type foundry. At first glance, it can sometimes be mistaken for the later Helvetica or Univers designs.

Head over to Typophile for the roots of Akzidenz Grotesk.

You can get Akzidenz from MyFonts for desktop use, or for web use under the name Basic Commercial (renamed following digitisation by Linotype).

#2 Avenir


The Avenir typeface was designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1988. and asked him about the reasons for the new design of Avenir, its special characteristics and potential uses. Here’s an excerpt from the interview:

“Looking back on more than 40 years of concern with sans serif typefaces, I felt an obligation to design a linear style of sans serif, in the tradition of Erbar, Futura, and to a lesser extent Gill Sans. These have purely constructed characters from which the element of a handwriting movement has been removed. Obviously this could not be an outstanding new creation, but I have tried to make use of the experience and stylistic developments of the 20th century in order to work out an independent alphabet meeting modern typographical needs.”

The city of Amsterdam uses Avenir extensively in its graphic identity. The BBC2 TV channel has also begun to use Avenir as its main corporate font for its logo and identity, another shift away from the once universal use of Gill Sans across all of the BBC’s output.

#3 Bodoni


Bodoni is the name given to a series of serif typefaces first designed by Giambattista Bodoni in 1798.

This typeface has a narrower underlying structure with flat, unbracketed serifs. The face has extreme contrast between thick and thin strokes, and an overall geometric construction.

More on Wikipedia

Dave Farey at Fonthaus (broken link removed, 2014) has written an interesting piece discussing the confusion in the market over the many different types of Bodoni.

“…there are numerous siblings, third and fourth cousins, plus poor relations of doubtful parentage, cloaked under the protection of the Bodoni name, creating confusion and ultimately disenchantment.”

You can see the different weights here.

#4 Caslon


Caslon is a family of serif typefaces designed by William Caslon (1692–1766). His earliest design dates to 1734.

The Caslon types were distributed throughout the British Empire, including British North America. Much of the decayed appearance of early American printing is thought to be due to oxidation caused by long exposure to seawater during transport from England to the Americas. Caslon’s types were immediately successful and used in many historic documents, including the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

After William Caslon’s death, the use of his types diminished, but saw a revival between 1840–80 as a part of the British Arts and Crafts movement. The Caslon design is still widely used today, and for many years, a common rule of thumb for printers and typesetters was to “set it in Caslon” if no other font was specified.

More on Wikipedia

There’s an article on Typophile about Caslon, where this is mentioned:

“Caslon’s type was popular in every sense. It was popular in the eighteenth century (until it was eased out by modern faces in the early 19th). When the fashion of “old face” revived in the 19th, many in England and America looked to Caslon’s type as the model. And, at a time when lay people probably knew less about font-names than they do now, “Caslon” was a name quite a few people did know. George Bernard Shaw, for example, absolutely insisted that his work be set in Caslon.”

Caslon is available for web and desktop.

#5 Clarendon


Clarendon was created in England by Robert Besley, for the Fann Street Foundry, in 1845. Thirteen weights are available here.

#6 Franklin Gothic

Franklin Gothic

Franklin Gothic was designed by Morris Fuller Benton, in 1902. “Gothic” is an increasingly archaic term (used widely in the past but quite rare today), meaning ‘sans-serif’, which is found primarily in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Victor Caruso drew the multi-weight family for the International Typeface Corporation (ITC) in 1980. Caruso’s redrawing of Franklin Gothic consists of a slightly enlarged x-height and a moderately condensed lowercase alphabet.

Get an ITC Franklin Gothic licence.

#7 Frutiger


Frutiger was designed by the Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger. It was commissioned in 1968 by the newly-built Charles De Gaulle International Airport at Roissy, in France, which needed a new directional sign system. Instead of using one of his previously designed typefaces, such as Univers, Adrian Frutiger chose to design a new one. The new typeface, originally called Roissy, was completed in 1975 and installed at the airport in the same year.

Frutiger’s goal was to create a sans-serif typeface with the rationality and cleanliness of Univers, but with the organic and proportional aspects of Gill Sans. The result is that Frutiger is a distinctive and legible typeface. The letter properties were suited to the needs of Charles De Gaulle – modern appearance and legibility at various angles, sizes, and distances. Ascenders and descenders are very prominent, and apertures are wide to easily distinguish letters from each other.

More on Wikipedia

Sixty-six members of the Frutiger family are available for web and desktop use.

#8 Futura


Futura was designed in 1927 by Paul Renner. Although Renner was not associated with the Bauhaus movement, he shared many of its structural elements, and believed that a modern typeface should express modern models, rather than be a revival of a previous design.

Futura’s success spawned a range of new geometric sans-serif typefaces from competing foundries, and remains one of the most used sans-serif types into the 21st century. It is used prominently in the graphic identity of Volkswagen and Union Pacific. The former Swiss airline, Swissair, also used Futura from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Boeing commercial airplanes almost exclusively use a variation of Futura (medium, Lt Bt, Demi) in their flight-deck labeling, for both information decals and instrumentation. Futura remains an important typeface family and is used on a daily basis for print and digital purposes as both a headline and body font.

More on Wikipedia, Futura poster designed by Adelle Jurgens

Visit MyFonts for various weights.

#9 Garamond


Garamond came to prominence in the 1540s, first for a Greek typeface that Claude Garamond was commissioned to create for the French king François I. The commission was to be used in a series of books by Robert Estienne. The French court later adopted Garamond’s Roman types for their printing, and the typeface influenced type across France and Western Europe.

More on Wikipedia

View the ITC Garamond family.

#10 Gill Sans

Gill Sans

Gill Sans was designed by Eric Gill in 1927-30. Gill was a well established sculptor, graphic artist and type designer, and the Gill Sans typeface takes inspiration from Edward Johnston’s ‘Johnston’ typeface, used for the London Underground, which Gill had worked on whilst apprenticed to Johnston.

Eric Gill attempted to make the ultimate legible sans-serif text face, and Gill Sans was designed to function equally well as both a text face and for display.

More on Wikipedia

#11 Gotham


Gotham was designed in 2000 by New York type designer, Tobias Frere-Jones. Gotham’s letterforms are inspired by a form of architectural signage that achieved popularity in the mid-twentieth century, and are especially popular throughout New York City. (Designer Tobias Frere-Jones credits the sign on the Eighth Avenue facade of New York City’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, an especially clear example of this style, as an artifact which inspired the Gotham project.)

More on Wikipedia

Gotham is the typeface of choice for the Freedom Tower cornerstone at the World Trade Center site, and can be bought through Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

#12 Helvetica


Helvetica was created by Miedinger with Eduard Hoffmann at the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Haas type foundry) of Münchenstein, Switzerland. Haas set out to design a new sans-serif typeface that could compete with Akzidenz Grotesk in the Swiss market. Originally called Neue Haas Grotesk, the typeface’s name was changed in 1960 by Haas’ German parent company, Stempel, to Helvetica — derived from Confederatio Helvetica, Latin for Swiss Confederation — in order to make it more marketable internationally.

More on Wikipedia

Here’s an image showing the subtle differences between Helvetica and Akzidenz.

Helvetica or Akzidenz

There’s a good chance you’ll already have it, but just in case.

#13 Univers


Univers is the name of the typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1956. Both Univers and Helvetica were based on the 1896 typeface Akzidenz Grotesk (listed above). These typefaces figure prominently in the Swiss style of graphic design.

The Univers family consists of 14 weights, plus 14 corresponding oblique weights, and 16 variants with a central European and Cyrillic character set.

In 1997 Frutiger reworked the whole Univers family in cooperation with Linotype, thus creating the Linotype Univers.

More on Wikipedia

I wasn’t sure about the exact typeface used for the London street sign (above). If you think it’s something other than Univers Bold Condensed, do let me know.

Further type resources:

I’ll expand on these in a future post. In the meantime, here are some type foundries worth a look.

57 responses

  1. Hey thanks for the link, David! I see we have some top picks in common! Franklin Gothic has to be my favorite typeface at the moment (until I see it used too often and in all the wrong contexts) and Garamond and Caslon are timeless classics. I’m a sucker for those humanist serifs; they’re just so beautiful!

  2. Well, whatever tips that everybody on the web listed about recommended typefaces, they just can’t forget Helvetica! It’s almost suitable in every nowadays modern design.

    I’m wondering why typefaces creator don’t give their fonts for free? Because all of designer would be using it anyway, right?

  3. I’ve never purchased a font (as yet), but I have to say, Caslon really catches my eye. It’s beautiful! I’ve see Frutiger around recently, and it looks nicely balanced to me too.

    I can’t imagine what I’d ever use Garamond for though. If I needed that style I’d go for Sabon.


  4. Thanks David, it’s very handy getting fresh thoughts like this on fonts. I went searching online about a year ago for recommendations for building up my font library but I could hardly find any satisfactory discussions about the topic at that time, which is puzzling. I’m also a fan of Garamond and Caslon; much of your list I either use a lot already or have thought I should start using soon.

  5. Lauren, some picks in common, which isn’t surprising as we’re both so knowledgable! ;)

    Didik, the amount of time it takes to create a font family (years in some cases), it’s not surprising we have to pay. It’s not that much money considering the amount of use you can get out of the great ones. Free ones are free because most of them are bad.

    Vivien, thanks for that, certainly got me thinking.

    Tracey, I was searching for similar collections, difficult to find one. That’s why I thought I’d piece a few together here. Good of you to comment.

    Marko, professional looking blog, so it’s no surprise you have almost all. Great to see you respond to each comment at your site, too — an important part of building a blog.

  6. Interesting – I had no idea some of these fonts had been around for so long.

    Have you heard about the documentary film “Helvetica” by the way? I happened to notice a review of it in Empire magazine this month.

    This is from the film website:

    “Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface (which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year) as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. Helvetica is currently screening at film festivals, museums, design conferences, and cinemas worldwide, followed by the DVD release November 6th.”

  7. Thanks Jamie. Will you be posting your leaflet on the blog once ready?

    Stuart, I got a little refresher course myself. The Helvetica film didn’t come to Edinburgh, unfortunately. Off-topic, Empire’s a great magazine. I rate their reviews, although normally check out for more accurate movie ratings.

    dache, I’ll be checking it out. Probably once released on DVD.

  8. I also have and/or use most of those fonts. I really like Univers and Garamond for so many things – they are a nice substitute for the overused and dull Arial and Times New Roman.

  9. Hi Bartoneus, that’s great you can get so excited about Garamond. ;)

    Mark, you’re very welcome, and it’s interesting that you’d use Garamond more often because of its age. Gotham is a favourite of mine, even though it was created just seven years back.

    Char, they’re a nice substitute. I still think Arial and Times have a place, just not ‘up there’ for me.

  10. Great post and great selection!

    I defiantly have to get deeper in the water when it comes to fonts I’m the guy who is usually stuck with Arial and Times for every thing ha :)


  11. Hi David–

    I haven’t commented to you before, but great post! I might would add: Slimbach’s Minion, a Garamond revival, good for corporate column-sy work. Mrs. Eaves (Licko-Emigre), a softer, warm, feminine Baskerville revival named for Baskerville’s mistress; I’m a sucker for Mrs. Eaves. And DIN (Pool and Reuss – FontFont). And what the hell, Neutraface (House Industries), which is a lot like Gotham, but maybe a little more stylized.

    Otherwise, you hit most of my type-arsenal. Love to read your blog!


  12. Hi David,

    Great post, and thanks to you I’ve rediscovered my love for Clarendon! I wonder what you and other designers think about Rotis tho? It’s my current ‘favorite’ font, and one I would definitely include in my font-arsenal.

  13. You really really rock David.
    Its the first time I am coming to your site.
    See my comment earlier. I saved all your posts and was reading them till now.
    E X C E L L E N T.

  14. Carrie, superb to read how you enjoy my blog. Thanks for leaving your own favourites. I’ve left a comment at your site.

    Dave, nice idea, and I’ve updated the post to mention how it’ll folow.

    Nik, Rotis is nice, and interesting that it was designed in serif and sans. It’s certainly proved popular with a few leading companies (Accenture, Nokia).

    Niyaz, you’re very welcome, and thanks for taking the time to read more.

  15. These are all great choices, each with its own stylistic purpose.

    In my experience, the one that gets requested the most, gets requested by name, and gets requested for the most diverse projects would be Caslon. Universities, historical societies, investment groups, hospitals – any institution that characterizes itself as sober and upstanding at some point suggests Caslon (or one of its clones) as an option.

  16. @firewalker
    Why would they give their work away free? Do you get your apartment rent free, your food for free, your gas for free? Yes, I’m sure they’d reach a wider audience, but then how are type designers to feed themselves? :)

    Nice list David. Not sure that I’d have Helvetica and Akzidenz Grotesk in the same list, but as you rightly stated these lists are inherently subjective. Anyway, a nice solid list.

    Thanks for the link.

  17. Johno, I completely agree about giving work away for free — a similar situation to spec work. I’m sure your choice reasons are based on a much more educated explanation than mine.

    And you’re very welcome for the link. Thanks for letting me know your comment was spammed.

  18. Thanks for drawing attention to the importance of type design options. Its so easy to simply choose common fonts that are familiar without really exploring many other possibilities. I don’t choose all type fonts for my web blog, Yet, the designer of the site that’s soon ready to go live for my other company has been playing with type design options with greater leeway fro creativity. Like with anything, its useful and meaningful to keep an open mind.

  19. Great list – thanks.
    Is there a general rule for un-copyrighted fonts? like in literature 70 years after authors passing away? does anybody know?

    by the way – loved the new Davidson locksmith logo – really well made!


  20. I’m no guru, but I quite like some Geo Sans Light – or is that just a dodgy free font?
    It’s got some similar features as futura, which I quite like as well. Love some of those ball ans stick “a”s.

  21. Thanks David! Using the right font is so crucial in design …. n then there are some fonts with which u just can’t go wrong ….. heard of a girl who made a film on the language of typography, where she tried to show how each font speaks their own language…. if i can get hold of that, i’m surely passing it on for u n the readers of this website! thx!

  22. After reading your article I agree with your choices. I am a graphic designer and very familar with all the fonts listed. I must use at least 5 or more of these fonts every day. I enjoyed reading about the history of each one. I found your article very interesting

  23. Hi David,

    I find your web site is complete and fulfilling visual satisfaction. Great job! I think I have to learn a lot from you.

    Raju Sachania

  24. Wow David,

    These are some great fonts you have here. I think I’ll be purchasing all of these fonts from Adobe if I haven’t already. Adobe should cut you a check for all these font recommendations (:

  25. WHAT? Where is the clients favourite “Comic Sans” often associated with the phraze “Can you just jazz it up a little,”

    Great list though Thanks alot.

  26. Hi David,

    Fantastic Article, love it.. I really enjoy your blog, Thanks for sharing with us.
    Can you suggest good type books?

    Thanks again..
    Supriya R

  27. Great selection, but I’m missing Times by Stanley Morrison, Sabon by Ian Tschichold, Palatino by Herman Zapf, Meta by Erik Spiekermann and why not, Trajan by Carol Twombly as exemplars of good classics for students.

    For Supriya, check out Robert Bringhurst’s “Elements of Typographic Style”, Meggs, Carter and Day’s “Typographic Design: Form and Communication”, Ruari McLean’s “Typographers on Type: An Illustrated Anthology from William Morris to the Present Day” and “How Typography Happens”.

  28. Since I came across your site a couple of days ago, I’ve been glued to it. Very interesting, as I have spent 36 years in the graphic arts business, and am now experimenting with creating websites. Concerning your must-have font collection, I, too, wonder about New Times Roman and Arial. My advice from other sources is to not go too astray from standard fonts when creating web sites, as viewers may not be able to see the font, and it could get replaced with something else. Just how “unsafe” are “unsafe” web fonts? David, you’re the man!

  29. Julio,

    Thanks for those additions. This list is by no means exhaustive, so I appreciate you commenting.


    Glad to know you’ve found content of interest here. The topic of web-safe fonts is a good one, and deserves a post of its own. I’ll keep that in mind. Cheers.

  30. I have to admit, as a professional Graphic Designer, I hate when people tell me there are fonts I should or do need. That is completely opinionated and based on the tyoe of work you do. If all your work is meant to feel hand done this list is completely inappropriate.

    Don’t get me wrong this is a great list of some classic fonts that have been used for a long time. I have used many of them myself at one point or another. But there are a lot of other great classics that aren’t on here. Things like Univers and Eurostile. Or serifs like Bookman.

    Pick your typefaces by what’s appropriate for you and your project.

  31. You’re right, Grant, and since publishing this blog post I feel my choice of topics has improved. Lists can be incredibly subjective, and although this was never aimed at professional graphic designers (but rather aspiring ones) I wouldn’t re-publish it today.

  32. Great info for those of us who venture into the unknown graphic design waters on rare occasions. Your suggestions are very helpful in creating professional looking results just by the font chosen for new brochures. I know I’ll be paying a lot more attention to font when designing future printing projects.

  33. Great list! Everything else can be right on a design but the wrong font can let the air out.

    I’m a big fan of Futura. Love that font for everything from body copy to logos. In a word… Versatile.

    Trajan Pro is my go-to for elegance in sub-heads or logos. It just hits the spot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *