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Typography terminology: Part 3 scripts

Intended to mimic cursive handwriting, script typefaces can bring freshness and personality to both creative branding design and more unusual web design projects.

Ranging from the graceful, sophisticated elegance of the most formal to the hurried-looking scribbles and characterful doodles of the very casual, they are an incredibly varied group, but a few rules need to be followed in order to use them to best effect.

Firstly, let’s look at some features of the two main categories of script faces: formal and informal.

Formal script typefaces

Formal scripts are based on traditional calligraphy written with a quill or nib and tend to be slanted and flowing, with swirls and flourishes in abundance. As with their handwritten counterpart, there are marked differences between the thick and thin stroke weights and letterforms appear joined. Common examples include Snell Roundhand and ITC Edwardian Script, and typical uses are in wedding stationery, Valentine’s Day or Anniversary cards and certificates. The most flowery examples can be difficult to decipher, particularly the upper case letters, and so care should be taken over how and where they ought to be used.

Informal script typefaces

First appearing in the early twentieth century, informal scripts are more modern faces, based on everyday, contemporary handwriting. Ranging from brush-type styles, such as Brush Script and Mistral through to more quirky, hand-drawn styles like Julietrose and Annie Use Your Telescope, they can very directly and immediately set the tone and mood of a piece and add an energy that stand them apart from standard serifs and sans serifs.

Allowing for great freedom of expression, informal script typefaces may appeal to a younger audience and are often more light-hearted, humorous and relaxed in style. Uses vary from tattoos and informal brand design to banners and advertising copywriting.

So what are the rules?

    1. As always, consider PUMA
      • Purpose – What is the text designed to do? Is it to generate a feeling, prompt a purchase, typify a brand? Is your script fit for purpose?
      • Use – How legible does the font need to be? Will it be viewed from a distance or at close-range?
      • Mood – How should the audience feel when reading the copy? Does your choice of script reflect the words?
      • Audience – Who will be reading the text?
    2. Don’t be afraid to use size and colour – Large sizes and strong use of colour can give additional life and lift to a script typeface, so don’t be shy about going all out and showing off those curves!
    3. Using more than one type of script typeface on a project tends to be a no-no, but script faces work well with most sans serif fonts and sometimes serifs too.
    4. Less is more – Script fonts (particularly those with large swirls and flourishes) need extra space, so adjust leading and number of words on a line accordingly.
    5. Don’t use too many words – Headings and short blocks of text work well with script typefaces, but large amounts of body text less so.
    6. Using all capital letters in a script typeface makes reading hard work for the audience and should be avoided.
    7. Avoid too many fancy capital letters with ornate swirls because they will compete with each other. Limiting it to just two or three capital letters will be far more effective.

Whilst some graphic designers recommend steering clear of using script typefaces altogether, when carefully selected and used in moderation, they can be incredibly effective in portraying a mood and adding an air of style and charisma to your work. Applying the rules above with confidence will ensure that your projects stand out from the crowd and possess that extra smidgen of flair and creativity.