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07 contrasts of type

the seven


The Seven Contrasts of Type
Copyright © 2010 - 2013
First published in 2010 by:
Ontario College of Art & Design, Graphic Design 2
Text copyright © 2010 - 2013 Valerie Schein
Design and layout copyright © 2010 - 2013 Daniel Francavilla
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in any
retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission
in writing from the publisher.
Printed and bound in Canada.

There are seven contrasts in type
Communication and expression are always A successful graphic designer will guide the
affected by contrast. With greater contrast, reader through the page using words and col-
comes greater clarity. The readability becomes umns of type as value shapes. He or she carefully
relative through proper use. Contrast supplies scrutinizes the proportion and arrangement
the viewer with a path to follow. A visually of lights and darks in a composition. Clear and
expressive map of typography allows for concise use of value distribution will increase
comprehension. High contrast commands emotional impact. A composition that employs
attention and generates direction. Low con- eighty-percent black has a different expression
trast is assigned to supportive information than one that employs eighty percent white.
and is applied to word or text shapes, h are This book demonstrates that careful use of con-
of secondary and tertiary importance. trast will greatly enhance the communicative use
The control of type on the page, gives the of type as a visual form, in an effort to expand
reader a hierarchy of importance and a and clarify typographic principles.
sense of expression.

happy you have

to stand for something


To move forward you have to

give back
– Oprah Winfrey

01 contrast | size

Bigger isn’t
always better
Size is the first and most basic form of
typographic contrast.
By changing the font size, the viewers eye is
immediately drawn to the content. Words or
letters set in the same style of type maintain
the relationship of the letter to the background
and you create a physical enlargement of the
pattern ABA. What is the first thing you see on
the opposite page?
In reviewing the quotation, the eye is immedi-
ately drawn to larger: Through contrast, you
are lead to the word “larger” and the remainder
of the statement. The font used for the letter-
ing is the same, allowing the viewer to remain
undistracted and permit the size contrast to
control and lead the eye.
The relative sizes of things can be adjusted for
the purposes of creating a perspective illusion,
exaggerating comparative apparent attributes
as a message or metaphor, or simply to achieve
a balanced layout in terms of the distribution,
mass, and space.

02 contrast | weight

Be who you are

and say what you feel
because those who mind
don’t matter and those
who matter don’t mind
– Dr. Seuss
Watch your weight
Weight refers to the perceived mass created by is chaotic, too few is boring. When the eye is
the typeface’s stroke and counters. Using weight not directed where to look, it tends to just
easily communicates meaning as well as creating look away. In any layout, a maximum of 3
rhythm on the page. Selecting a typeface with weights is recommended.
several families, makes it easy for the designer In reviewing the quotation, the eye is im-
to control hierarchy inside a composition mediately drawn to “are” and “feel”. Through
without risking the sense of harmony. Priorities contrast, you are lead to “don’t matter” and
can be structured as the weight increases or “don’t mind” and finally the remainder of the
decreases from the focal point. statement. The viewer almost hears the empha-
Weight is often used to create emphasis, also sis allowing the full meaning of statement to
called focus – causing text of an image to seem communicate, control and lead the eye.
more important than others. Creating a bal-
anced series of emphases is critical to creating
a good overall composition: too many emphases

Design is not just what it
LOOKS like and FEELS like
Design is how it WORKS
– Steve Jobs

0303 contrast | form

How important is the form?

Form refers to the distinction between upper with form allows some freedom with design, as
case letters and its lowercase equivalent. These layout need not be changed to draw attention to
forms not only compliment each other, but the a piece of text of the same point size and leading.
letters themselves have now have ability to In reviewing the quotation, the eye reads
express a different context. through, but takes note of the word “WORKS”.
Contrasting uppercase against lowercase As a visual cue, the letterform contrast awakens
depicts formality against casual. Uppercase the importance of a specific word or words.
letters start sentences or are often used as
Acronyms. Too many cap forms and there is
loss in legibility so use it sparingly. Working

04 contrast | structure

t r u c t u r e
A s s
c o m e
b e a l
i t e c t u r
arch u l p t u r a l
an d no t s c
e l e m e n ts
w h e n it s ir
r h a v e t h e
no lo n g e u r e
io n in n a t
ju stific a t l l i n a i r e
ume A p o
– Guilla
Adding structure
The use of structure involves contrasting the
thicks and thins of type. The roman letter and
the italic counterpart are a common method.
A true italic is measured at 12 to 15 degrees
less upright than it’s counterpart. Typefaces are
purposely designed with variations in structure
so that letterforms compliment each other and
give the designer a clear advantage when
distinguishing textual priority.
To contrast structure you can also contrast
different families and achieve distinct visual
differences between thicks and thins.
The quotation demonstrates how emphasis
can be controlled. The word “architectural”
contrasts with “sculptural” and by doing this,
the structure change is not only like increasing
or decreasing the volume, but changes the
very quality and tone of the voice to suit
the expression.

-Frank Lloyd Wright

contrast | texture

Touchable texture
Texture is how the type appears as a single unit By altering type’s visual darkness, you alter the
on the page – creating a grey value. This texture space it occupies. With variations in light, dark,
is derived from the letterforms, their rhythm, dense, and volumous, the texture is keyed to
density and how they are arranged letter to let- the brain’s function to identify visual stimuli
ter, word to word and line to line on the page. and the viewer’s experience is used to tell
Texture can be compared to fabric – the type is them where the eye should travel next.
equal to the threads that form it. Texture also
calls to our sense of touch so the viewer can be
spoken to on two levels.

he whole worl
T d, a

experience it visually,
comes to us through the
mystic realm of color
– Hans Hofmann

0306 contrast | colour

Colourful creations
Colour alters the scale of relationship between Rich spatial perceptions can be achieved
similar letterforms. A typographic colour change through varying colour intensities and allows
allows a designer to highlight structure and invig- the designer to separate information as well
orate a page. A letterform’s shape and value are as creating visual interest.
more important in determining it’s spatial depth. Notice how in the quotation, colour is used
The tonal values of the colours can be used to to emphasis priority words, at different tints
create the illusion of size difference and the per- depending on their importance.
ceptual difference among colours like red, blue
or green can play a dramatic role in typography.

h er e
o w w
n’t kn
u do g,
If are go in any r
u o a d
yo you the will take

wis C
– Le

contrast | direction

Where are you headed?

Directional contrast is a great way to prompt quality compared with images dominated by
the viewer to take in a quick emotion or diagonals (slanted lines, triangles) or orbicular-
message viewpoint without interrupting the ity (sweeping curves, spirals) creating a feeling
information the viewer has read or will read. of motion or dynamism.
As an efficient use of space, it opens up the By using direction, the designer can provide
opportunity for texture shifts and size shifts. strong pathways for the eye to adhere to,
The viewer’s eye is like water. Once it has sweeping through the prime areas of focus
entered the picture plane it will seek the course and moving along, but not falling outside the
of least resistance. Left to its own devices, the edge of the picture plane. If the designer has
eye is happy to move around, seeking the easi- control, the viewer will feel that they are
est route – their conventional reading direction. “compelled” from the image.
In general, images dominated with strong
verticals and horizontals have a more formal

The Seven Contrasts of Type
Text by Valerie Schein
Design and Layout by Daniel Francavilla
Copyright © 2010 - 2013