How to Use Bold Type Effectively

Use bold sparingly for emphasis

bold type
Use bold fonts to create contrast, emphasize.

Whether you are designing a project for print or for the web, you want to use typography effectively to present your message. One way to grab a viewer's attention in a sea of words is to set some of the text in a bold font, which is heavier and darker than regular type. Bold fonts are used for emphasis to make certain words and phrases stand out from surrounding text. Here are tips for using bold type effectively.

Using Bold Fonts Effectively in Print Documents

  • Emphasize with bold fonts. Use bold fonts for emphasis to highlight important points, but use them as little as possible. If everything is emphasized, then nothing stands out. 
  • Use restraint when using bold type. Whole paragraphs of text set in bold type are hard to read. The reason bold type creates emphasis is that it slows down the reader and forces the eye to take in the words more carefully. If you slow them down too much, they may just skip over what you have to say.
  • Create contrast by using bold fonts. Use bold fonts for headlines to increase the contrast between headlines and body text.
  • Use bold fonts to aid skimming of instructional text. In some instances, it is useful to readers to have titles, proper names or key terms in a manual within a block of copy highlighted with bold for ease in scanning. The same may apply to employee names in a company newsletter and other special cases.
  • Avoid faux bold fonts. Set type in the bold or heavy version of a typeface rather than using the bold style function of your software. If a true bold version of a font is not installed, the software creates a weaker faux bold.
  • Use the bold style option only when necessary. If the bold version of a font doesn't appear in your font list after it is installed, which is common in Windows, go ahead and use the bold style option—the software should find and use the bold version.
  • Use bold rather than italics for emphasis. Although you might use italics to emphasize a word in a serif font, don't bother with italics with sans serif fonts. Go straight to bold. Sans serif italic faces don't stand out as much as serif italics. Bold is the better choice when you are working with sans serif types, as is frequently the case on web pages. Don't use both bold and italics together unless you must emphasize a word or phrase within a bolded section. That's too much of a good thing. 
  • Stay away from heavy fonts for text emphasis. If your font has a bold version and a heavy version, use the bold version in text for emphasis and the heavy version only in headlines. Heavy fonts aren't very legible at small sizes.

Using Bold Fonts Effectively on Web Pages

Most of these tips apply to web pages as well as print documents. Although web designers once used the <b> and </b> font tags in HTML to bold text selections, now most web designers use Cascading Style Sheets to simplify using bold type within web page text. The logic behind using bold type hasn't changed just because the method changed. Use bold sparingly for emphasis and you can't go wrong.