Are you familiar with the term “paralysis by analysis”? Many people, when facing a surplus of possible choices, freeze up and essentially choose “none of the above.” Would you like to experience paralysis by analysis? Go to a free font site. The search for the perfect typeface can yield thousands of results, and just taking the time to separate the wheat from the chaff can wind up an empty endeavor.
Here’s a funny thing about the world of fonts: for all the millions of fonts out there, professional designers rely on an elite arsenal of proven winners. Once you learn to recognize the dog-leg in Helvetica’s ‘R’ and the truncated descender of Highway Gothic’s ‘g,’ you’ll realize that those free-font emporiums are nothing but quagmires of well-intended dreck. Don’t get caught in one again. Learn to love some of these classics—they’re the best fonts to use on your product labels.
Helvetica: The Swiss That Doesn’t Miss
Taking its name from the Latin for Switzerland, Helvetica is perhaps the world’s most famous font. So ubiquitous in the Western world as to be “the default font” to millions of people, Helvetica actually features subtle idiosyncrasies that give it more character than it gets credit for. Far from being boring, Helvetica communicates urbanity and reserved coolness: just ask American Apparel, Crate & Barrel, or the New York City subway.
PRO TIP: Don’t settle for Helvetica’s Windows-system cousin, Arial. Discerning eyes can tell them apart by their uppercase ‘G’ and lowercase ‘c.’ To designers, you may as well be passing off cubic zirconia as diamond.
Gotham: The Audacity of Fonts
This clean sans serif rose to prominence in 2008 as the “Obama font.” It’s not just that Gotham connotes clarity, elegance, and yes, hope. It’s also a fine font on its own merits with a full complement of weights and obliques for maximum versatility. Everyone from Taco Bell to New York University has taken advantage of Gotham’s legibility and verve.
Neutraface: Timeless Sophistication
The geometric stylings of modernist design manifest themselves in the perfect circles and sharp angles of this loving tribute to mid-20th-century architect Richard Neutra. Neutraface distinguishes itself with its signature uppercase ‘E,’ which features a lower-middle line for a taste of Art Deco. Use Neutraface with care, however—while it can be one of the best fonts to use on your product labels, city dwellers familiar with “coming soon” billboards for forthcoming condos and brewpubs may be rather tired of it.
Alternate Gothic: There’s Practically No Alternative
Do you want people to read your label clearly? They should have named this one “Mainstream Gothic.” Tall and narrow without appearing compressed, Alternate Gothic is intuitive and austere, and sometimes, that clarity is what matters most to great design. Designed in 1903, it hasn’t aged a day—it’s the font of choice for the NHL’s New York Rangers and the logo of the one and only YouTube.