Typographic details are so vast and take time to learn. In this article, we'll touch on two important terms: monospaced fonts vs. proportional fonts.
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced designer, these two concepts are important to know if you set text regularly. Monospaced and proportional fonts are terms not many designers know unless they've wanted to hone their skills. These two types of fonts have only one thing that's different—the characters' width. Let's take a look at the meaning and a few examples.
What you will learn in this font tutorial:
- What is a monospaced font?
- What is a proportional font?
- What is the difference between a monospaced and proportional font?
- What to look for when buying fonts
What Is a Monospaced Font?
Monospaced fonts date back to the typewriter days. Monospaced characters have a fixed width, or the same amount of horizontal space. These fonts were invented to comply with the mechanical requirements of typewriters. Because the spacing of each character is the same, the text can become difficult to read.
Monospaced fonts were also widely used in the early computer days because they had limited graphical capabilities. The hardware allowed the use of text on a grid, not only horizontally but also vertically.
Bergen Mono is a great example of a monospaced font that doesn't compromise legibility. The font still maintains the monospaced digital personality, and it's a great fit for print and digital projects.
Alma Mono is a monospaced font that includes rounded ends on the characters. Because of that, the font gives off a friendlier personality compared to its super digital predecessors. The rounded ends also make the font easier on the eyes as it's not extremely harsh. The font comes in five weights, so you are set for anything that may come your way!
If you are looking for something with more character and warmth, Cartograph is a great monospaced font that includes eight weights. Each weight also includes italics in a cursive style, which is a great option to have if you are looking for a font that's not plain.
Arkibal is inspired by documents and store signs that date back to the 1800s. The font also resembles some of the geometric sans serifs we saw at the beginning of the 1900s. If you are looking for a contemporary typewriter monospaced font, Arkibal is a great option!
What Is a Proportional Font?
Proportional fonts are characters that vary in width—each character occupies only as much width as needed. Most of the fonts we use are proportionally set. The characters' natural width helps readers identify individual characters easier, and this makes the text legible.
Proportional style fonts are more comfortable to read in long text, compared to monospaced fonts. The capitals get wider and fit naturally with lowercase characters. Bold characters also automatically get wider as the stroke thickens. Monospaced fonts maintain the width regardless of the thickness variation of the strokes.
Bergen Sans is a contemporary geometric sans serif font inspired by the Bauhaus school. This clean font is a great option to use in place of the ubiquitous Futura. Suitable for professional use, Bergen Sans includes many OpenType features and supports different languages.
Fonseca is inspired by Art Deco and the early typographic posters from the 20th century. This geometric font can look monospaced because of the geometric anatomy, but it's proportional. The forms are modernized by adding an angle to the end of the horizontal strokes. This elegant font is perfect for period pieces and editorial projects.
Proportional fonts aren't necessarily sans serif; most fonts available are proportional because each character takes up a natural width. Melburch is a vintage font inspired by hand-lettered advertising. If you are looking for a contemporary version of a vintage font, this is a great option. Melburch is the perfect fit for retro-inspired branding, posters, and editorial projects.
Monospace vs. Proportional: Benefits and Uses
The width is the only difference between monospaced and proportional fonts. This can greatly affect the legibility of body text. On the other hand, if you are using numerals, you'll benefit from using monospaced fonts because numbers work differently compared to letters.
For typesetting numerals, using monospaced fonts can be an advantage. Monospaced numerals are also called Tabular Figures, and they allow you to line up numbers vertically when set on a column. This is great for financial statements on yearbooks or math problems. If you are setting body text that contains many numerals, you can use proportional text for the body copy and tabular figures for numbers. The even width will help distinguish numbers clearly.
When it comes to setting body text, try to stay away from monospaced fonts. The even width makes it harder for the reader’s eyes to recognize the characters and can disrupt the flow that proportional fonts possess.
The natural width of proportional fonts means that our brains will recognize different characters much more quickly. You could also run into spacing issues with monospaced fonts, since the width only allows you to include a certain number of characters per line.
What to Look for When Buying Fonts
Some proportional fonts include both proportional and tabular figures (monospaced numbers), mainly the proportional fonts that are intended for body text. Nowadays, you can also use InDesign’s tabular figure option to make tabular figures. While that’s a great option, I prefer to use fonts that already contain tab figures because that means typeface designers have taken the time to craft that part of the font.
When choosing a monospaced font, look for:
- Evenness in width: Good design is all about the small details. Make sure the widths of the characters, including punctuation, are all even and the right amount for the project you're working on.
- Character difference: Some monospaced font characters tend to look similar because their design is clean and simple. Look for enough difference between the capital letter O and the numeral 0, and the capital letter I vs. the number 1 and the lowercase letter l.
- Typewriter or programming style: If you'll be using monospaced fonts as display to mimic a certain era, make sure to look for the right font. They can look similar because of the monospace style but transmit different vibes!
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