Can you ever pair two sans serifs?

addink's picture

Long have I obeyed the maxim of pairing serifs with sans but I'm designing a workbook where the client prefers the more informal appearance of sans serif type faces. I've been told that it's more about choosing two very different fonts. If I'm using something like Futura for my title font, should I really stick to a serifed typeface? Would something like Helvetica Neue Light look sloppy? Thanks for the help.

timd's picture

Why not use the weights of one family of sans and avoid the problem?
Of course there's no reason why you can't work with two sans but they have to complement in some way.

pattyfab's picture

It's pretty tough to pull off.

I'd look for a sans that has a lot of variety in terms of weights, condensed versions, etc and stick with that.

Miss Tiffany's picture

Granted, I do a lot of advertising design and we all know advertising design gets away with a little more. But on a little 1-sheet that I had to do which contained a lot of information I used three different sans with one serif. I've been told it looks good. Maybe the people were lying. ;^)

Don McCahill's picture

Which three, Miss T?

(You know _we_ will tell you if they look good together.)


Stefan H's picture

It can be done, if you use two distictive typefaces differenciating themselves enough. Sans serif used for longer body copy can be though. Depending on the overall design and the masses of text it could look nice if it's well executed. Good luck!

BradB's picture

I've found a book from the 1930s that combines a very bold Kabel for the title page, with the "little information" in Futura. This probably only works because the bold Kabel is so strong and the Futura is relatively light by comparison.

addink's picture

Thanks for the advice. I think I'll go with one family. Maybe Gill Sans or Franklin Gothic. The book is going to have a lot of tables and bullet points. What body text there is I'll probably set in a serifed face.

pattyfab's picture

Gill doesn't have the versatility of Franklin Gothic altho it is a little more elegant. You might also look into The Sans or Meta which are more rounded and include small caps and fractions.

Dan Weaver's picture

Imago light and AkzidenzGrotesk Extentened work well together. You need to just make the difference between the faces extreme

timd's picture

The new Opentype Gill Sans has fractions and small caps, it also has tabular figures.


Palatine's picture

I think one option is to use a sans family with plenty of variety amd stick to that, such as Lisboa by Fountain. In fact, Lisboa is a marvellous achievement. Check it out:

NiceTry's picture

A challenge indeed.

Paul's suggestion of News and Franklin is a good suggestion. Franklin is good for big headline type, News is good for space-saving. You can also throw in Trade Gothic for text.

I have had success mixing 19th-century grotesques, though the appearance is more specialized. Grotesque MT, Gothic 13, Alternate Gothic #2 all mix nicely and create a living texture on the page. Additionally Champion can be thrown in with discretion, but it looks more 'designed' so it tends to leech away some of the quaintness.

bokkah's picture

Frutiger's univers is a big family with a touch of humanist and geometric character with a sans. Maybe choose a stronger humanist-sans like frutiger or gill sans for whismsical and warm text without the serifs. Basically pick a sans with a large family AND the personality you want. I love franklin but it's heavy, cold and dark compared to the humanist-sans... might be what you want. Have fun with this challenge!

Go trendy–consider pairing a very bold or book for small body text with a very light/ thin font in the family for large titling/headers. Everyone's doing it for a reason :)

brampitoyo's picture

News and Franklin Gothic, eh? The very idea of pairing two gothic faces together shudders me.

I would just suggest pairing the many variants within a font. If you feel that weight emphasis isn't enough, go width-wise. I find that pairing a light extended grotesk (say, Univers 43) with a body copy of its regular variant (Univers 55) works very well. Or pair a regular with a condensed (Univers condensed is surprisingly readable!) Or a thin ultra condensed with a regular. From here on, the possibilities are endless, as long as you make the two face widths and/or weights different enough.

poms's picture

Size as an additional parameter to create contrast is important, too.
If differences in size are huge, it's possible to mix nearly everything...

William Berkson's picture

>News and Franklin Gothic, eh? The very idea of pairing two gothic faces together shudders me.

News and Franklin Gothic were designed by Morris Fuller Benton to go together, as this explains. Were it today, News Gothic, Franklin Gothic and Alternative Gothic would be regarded as part of the same family. Tobias Frere-Jones and Cyrus Highsmith actually did work them all into a more consistent single family, called Benton Sans.

brampitoyo's picture


So much of Morris' Gothics were designed to work with each other in the first place then? And it followed an ecletic naming convention, kind of like Lynotype Caslon no. 220 (regular) and 3 (bold)?

Forgive my ignorance.

Bobby Henderson's picture

Being into movie stuff, this topic reminds me of the Dolby Labs logo program which pairs weights of Eurostile and Helvetica. I'm not sure that combination really works, but the brand mark is highly ubiquitous. Even just now while I was typing I saw a Dolby Digital logo crawl up the screen in end credits on IFC.

dbonneville's picture

I wrote an iPhone app to try and come up with answers to this very question (sans to sans) among a few others:

There are 45 of the most popular fonts in the app, set up as headline and body. You just swipe left or right to change the headline or body. You can create a couple thousand variations.

For instance, you can set News Gothic Bold as headline and Franklin Gothic as the body and see how it looks. Then you can flip it around and set Franklin Gothic Demi as the header and News Gothic as the body. They both work nice, though I didn't know the history about those two typefaces until I read this article!

There are quite a few classic serifs in the app to play with (Avenir, Centurty, Helvetica, Din, Eurostyle, etc.).

Take a look. There is a resource book coming out too that showcases a lot more variety per example.

wurm's picture

That app sounds great!
Any chance there will be an android version anytime soon?

Renaissance Man's picture

These might be helpful:

Marrying Types: Sans on Sans by James Felici

4 Rules for Combining Typefaces by Allan Haley

Processjunkie's picture

It's definitely easier to stick with one that has a lot of weight variations.

poms's picture

It's tough to pair two sans-serif typefaces in normal corporate design situations. Very hard – the situation where they are supposed to harmonize, furthermore with sufficient contrast. Imagine you have to pair two of them in one line of text …

The normal situation where you can find two or more Sans Serif typefaces working together are packagings. Some mixtures are good, some not …
Or ads, if the document size is large and the (say two) different sans serifs have plenty of whitespace to make differentiation possible, sometimes I've seen nice solutions.

To put it in a nutshell. Searching for a suitable serif is under normal circumstances much more easier and time efficient.

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