It’s not easy to pair any fonts well, but retro fonts can be particularly tricky. Choosing them is often a function of the eye and the gut working together. If one or both aren’t up for the task, the process can go awry. But here are some tips and samples that will help you develop some retro-font-pairing savvy:
Beware the era
Unless you have a SPECIFIC reason to do so, don’t put a flashy Seventies retro font with another font that’s similarly detailed from the same era–or even worse, one that reminds you of the Roaring Twenties or the distant future. As a general rule, you don’t want to use a font that invokes a time period anyway, unless you’re actually trying to convey something about that era. Keep in mind that rules are made to be broken by those who know what they’re doing, however, so if you have a good reason to create what might seem to be a strange combination, do it. Don’t let rules stop you from being creative. BUT, do be careful and make sure you’re not creating the visual equivalent of clanging cymbals.
Let’s say you want to use a retro font as your title or main font, then my advice is to choose either a lower-key version of another retro font for your paired text; a neutral, ageless font, such as Arial; or one of the examples to the right. Low-key is the operative term here for the secondary font–and for any pairing. Presuming it’s well designed, one iconic retro font says to readers, “This is really cool.” Two equally flashy but mismatched retro fonts used together could potentially say, “I have no idea what I’m doing.” So pair carefully.
To the right you’ll see some of my recommendations for pairing retro or vintage fonts with complimentary secondary fonts. As with my script font pairings, your mileage may vary in terms of whether you think these pairings are attractive. You might even have some better ideas!
Some general rules
Here are some general font-pairing rules that apply to all fonts, but are particularly noticeable when NOT done with some of the more over-the-top retro fonts shown in the right column:
- If a font is pretty ornate, don’t use a secondary font that has a lot of detail in it. See the KlinkOMite/Agency FB and Sparkly/Copperplate Gothic Light examples for pairings with more plain secondary typefaces. There’s more than enough visual interest going on in the main fonts; They don’t need any help in that department from the secondary ones.
- If a font is very bold, it can usually benefit from having a regular or light font paired with it. This balances out the combined visual weight of a decorative font that is also bold. The Wide Latin/Corbel and Bell Bottom/Arial examples to the right are some examples of this.
- As I said, rules are made to be broken. It just so happens that there is a similar font to Eight Track, called Forque, which doesn’t fight with it. And it happens to be bold. The letter forms are quite similar in both fonts, so the bold in the secondary font isn’t distracting.
- Sometimes you want to echo a feature from the primary font in the secondary font. That was the case with the Lounge Bait/Charlemagne pairing. You’ll notice that both fonts have serifs that look somewhat similar. This visually keys them to each other and makes them a complementary pairing.
- By contrast, the Jazz Dark/Maiden Orange pairing has two different styles of serifs. Both are quite angular (one triangular, the other square), though, and this actually comes together to create a fun, kind of bouncy look. I realize bouncy might seem like a silly way to describe a font pairing, but that’s the word that comes to mind when I look at them.
- And last but not least, if you have seen a pairing from the era you’re trying to convey, then by all means, replicate it. This is the truth: The window air conditioner in the house I grew up in and then inherited had a very similar combination to the the Air Conditioner/Bank Gothic pairing. The house was built in 1954, and the air conditioner was installed sometimes between then and the 60’s, so you can’t get more authentic than that.
FONT DOWNLOAD LINKS
Not all the fonts included in the sample pairings are available below. This is because you probably already have them on your computer. If not, you should be able to find them with a quick search.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please check the license for each font you download. There will be some sort of indication on the download pages (personal use, commercial use, etc.), and many times there will also be a license document included in the zip file with the font. Be aware that some of these are only for personal use. Even so, sometimes you can still use them on your website or blog. The individual license documents will give you the details.
I hope you found the free retro fonts and pairing advice helpful!