The general rule of thumb for script fonts is just don’t. But there are some perfectly acceptable design situations where script fonts can take a piece from “meh” to “hey!”.
Occasions for script fonts are formal invitations, holiday greeting cards, or designs with short titles that could benefit from a visual boost. That’s really about it. The function for script fonts is fairly narrow. They have a unique place in design and should be avoided otherwise.
As for places to stay the heck away from script fonts, the list is pretty big. Body text for a website or print project? Heck, no! Sub-headings? No way! Sub-title? Probably not since you may be using a script font in the title.
So with those boundaries in mind, let’s look at how to use script fonts effectively. For the most part, titles or cover work is the only “general” use for script fonts. Of course there are exceptions. Some fonts fall into the script family, barely, and can function perfectly fine for headings or small passages of texts. The key is readability. It takes a little thinking to process the contents of script fonts, which is fine for short phrases, but not for anything more than a few words.
Keep it Simple — no more than one type of script
A common mistake when applying scripts to cover art is to use different styles. Don’t do it! Stick with a single script and run with it. Commit and go. But don’t use several kinds.
This runs into the concept of designing with consistency. Our eyes subconsciously pick up on patterns. If you use a script font in multiple locations on a design — title and subtitle, for example — then stick with the same font. It’s a pattern that improves unity within the design and will make it easier for the reader’s eye to interpret.
Here’s an example using a complex script font. Notice how the repeating “S” and “T” makes it easier to read and builds on the pattern of the font’s design:
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Here’s a not-so-good example. Granted, these are two extremes, but the principle applies. The sub-title below is distracting and you lose all sense of theme as opposed to the example above:
The key here is to make sure that you stick with a consistent script font family and only use multiple fonts when you are confident this will help your design, not hurt it. Note that sticking to a font family can still work, for example, using a Bold title and Normal sub-title within the same font family.
Room to Breath
Script fonts need extra space, so be prepared to make adjustments. Line height (leading) is typically the first thing to go when you have to fit multiple lines of typography into a design. Kerning (horizontal space between characters) is another area to consider. Don’t be afraid to create extra space if you feel like your characters are running on top of each other. Script fonts are often designed to connect, so the best way to create extra space is with line height.
In this example, the line height is the default and the characters are crowding each other from one line to the next:
The solution is to either adjust the leading or use your editing software to manually adjust each line by creating separate text boxes. A little extra room dramatically improves the readability:
Less is More
A huge mistake is to try to put too many characters or words together using script fonts. The problem is that the eye has to interpret a great deal when reading script fonts. This is what attracts the eye initially but can quickly confuse and frustrate the reader.
In a bold move away from the “Super Engaging Title” theme, let’s look at what happens when too many characters and/or words are crammed into a line. Notice that you are forced to shrink the font size to fit in all the words. Also, you have to reduce the size of the sub-title to the point that it either is unreadable or competes with the title for attention:
What are you supposed to be reading? Is that a paragraph or a title?! You must be clear and concise when using script fonts. Long lines or even long words run together and become difficult to digest. Remember, your designs are supposed to be guiding the reader along to inform or move them to an action. Don’t lose, confuse, or abuse them with long strings of scripted text.
Cap the Caps
Avoid use of all caps. I know there’s the argument that it makes for a more consistent theme, but you need the contrasts of the leading characters to help the reader know where one word ends and the other begins. Below is a case in point:
Capital double-you, capital tee, capital eff, exclamation point, exclamation point. If you can’t tell, the example above is just the “Super Engaging Title” again. Granted, some fonts work much better than this example, but script fonts are notorious for having this problem with all caps. Sadly, the reverse can be true as well:
This is much better but still lacks the flow that title-case would give it. Again, some fonts are better than others. I have seen fonts that I absolutely adore the lower-case but the upper-case letters are useless. So I had to blend two script fonts — very carefully — to make the design function.
Match the Mode
So what’s the occasion? Valentine’s Day designs tend to have include the script fonts used in this article, while cover art can range from the vine-covered lettering to actual handwritten designs. The key is to know the theme and match accordingly. Study designs within the range. This doesn’t mean you have to match anything identically, but we do associate certain thematic elements with certain seasons. There is a great deal of creative freedom, of course, but taking the time to look for patterns can enhance, and inspire, your designs.
Script fonts have their place in design and they do a wonderful job of creating interesting, engaging titles. But their use does not extend too far beyond the function of titling. Like all powerful design tools, you must use them carefully. With great power comes great responsibility — or so they say. Trust your judgment but keep these ideas in mind if you find your design isn’t coming together.