How to Use Decorative Type Properly in Desktop Publishing

Best practices for desktop publishing

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Script fonts, fonts with extreme features such as swashes or exaggerated serifs, and any fonts designed to be used at larger than body copy sizes could be described as decorative type.

Learning how to use decorative type properly in desktop publishing could help you create publications that appear polished and professional.

Decorative Fonts as Used in Desktop Publishing

Also referred to as display type, decorative fonts are typically used for titles and headlines or for small amounts of text in large sizes such as in greeting cards or posters.

Some decorative type is hand-drawn or might be created from digital type that has been manipulated in a font editor or graphics program to suit a specific purpose such as a newsletter nameplate or a logo.

Sizing Decorative Fonts

Decorative fonts are not usually suitable for text set at body copy sizes (typically 14 points and smaller) because the features that make them distinctive and decorative could interfere with legibility at smaller point sizes. Extremes in x-height, descenders, or ascenders, as well as fonts that incorporate graphic elements, swashes, and flourishes, are characteristics of decorative type.

However, not all display or headline-suitable fonts are necessarily decorative. Some display fonts are simply basic serif or sans serif fonts that are drawn specifically for use at larger headline size or for use in all uppercase letters (also called titling fonts).

Choosing and Using Decorative Type

These are not hard and fast rules but general guidelines for successfully incorporating decorative fonts into your documents.

  • Use decorative type sparingly. Decorative fonts, especially the more elaborate ones, are sometimes more difficult to read. When setting headlines in these fonts, request a second or third opinion. Since you know what the headline reads, you might not realize how much harder the font is to read for those encountering the text for the first time.
  • Use extra leading. More space between lines of type helps to avoid interference from ascenders, descenders, and other decorative elements.
  • Avoid using ALL CAPS. All uppercase in mostly script, blackletter, or other fancy fonts are unattractive and more difficult to read. The letters don't flow together as well as standard upper/lower title case.
  • Pay close attention to kerning. Important with any headlines, kerning is especially needed when using decorative display faces because they attract attention readily — including the unwanted attention from glaring character spacing gaps.
  • Use larger sizes. For extremely elaborate fonts consider using much larger sizes of 32 points and up in headlines.
  • Use for initial caps. A single initial cap set in a fancy font could add a touch of elegance or a little "oomph" to an otherwise ordinary page even if that's the only decorative font used.
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Your Citation
Bear, Jacci Howard. "How to Use Decorative Type Properly in Desktop Publishing." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, Bear, Jacci Howard. (2021, December 6). How to Use Decorative Type Properly in Desktop Publishing. Retrieved from Bear, Jacci Howard. "How to Use Decorative Type Properly in Desktop Publishing." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 8, 2023).