Billboards are expensive, and you want to make sure you make the most of the money you spend by avoiding common outdoor advertising pitfalls. Selecting a good font for use on your outdoor billboard can be especially challenging. You need to use a font that reflects the style, personality, goal, purpose and mission of your organization. If that sounds like a lot for a little font to handle, it is, but also be sure that the right font can deliver on all these fronts -- and more -- by catching the consumer's eye and bringing in more revenue for your organization or business.
To Serif or Not to Serif?
There are thousands of available fonts, some of which come pre-installed in any word processing software, and others that are designed by professionals and are available for purchase. You can also work with a typesetter or graphic designer to make a to-order font that fits your business needs. At the most basic level, though, you will need to decide whether to use a serif font or a sans serif font. Serif fonts are those that have have small, stylized strokes attached to the ends of letters. Popular serif fonts include Garamond and Times New Roman. Sans serif fonts do not have strokes attached to the ends of letters. Sans serif fonts derive their name from the French word for "without" -- they are "without serifs." This family of fonts includes Arial and Helvetica.
Some studies have been conducted that suggest it easier to read serif fonts; however, these studies are ambiguous and the findings controversial. In addition, the large scale of billboards makes legibility a smaller issue.
Formal vs. Casual
Choosing a formal font or a casual font is another important choice to make when designing your billboard, whether by yourself or with the help of a graphic designer. It's necessary to evaluate the goal of the billboard's message. If you aim to create a sense of intimacy or partnership with the consumer, choose a more casual font that evokes looking at someone's neat handwriting, such as Lucida Handwriting or Dakota. If, on the other hand, your billboard will be advertising a professional service with an aim to establish trust with the consumer, you may need a more formal billboard that has fewer stylized elements. Solid, professional fonts include Bembo, Times, Optima and Verdana.
Cursive vs. Print
Whether you decide to use or design a cursive or print font depends to a large extent on the amount and tone of text that will be used in your billboard. For a small amount of text that will communicate, for example, a brief company motto, you may consider using a cursive font, such as Edwardian Script or DNCursive, to create a sense of elegance and professionalism. Cursive fonts, however, are a poor choice for billboards that use blocks of text or consumer testimonials because they are more difficult to read than print fonts and can distract the consumer from your billboard's central message. Print fonts are any typefaces that separate letters or glyphs, instead of connecting them as in cursive.
Fonts to Avoid
There are certain fonts that have been used and abused so much in everything, from advertising to print media to personal web pages, that it's all but necessary to avoid them. Using these fonts will make your billboard look kitschy at best, and at worst will communicate an exceptionally poor eye for design and laziness on the business' part to the consumer. The specific culprits are Brush Script MT, Comic Sans MS, Curlz MT and Papyrus. These fonts are included in most word processing programs, and require no research, effort or expense to employ, so use at your own -- and your bottom line's -- risk.
An additional concern for selecting a good font for use in electronic billboards is troubleshooting the effects of digitizing the font. Electronic billboards often rotate through a series of advertisements, so while there's a good chance consumers will get a good look at your message, you have to contend with other advertisers to hold their attention. Some fonts perform better than others when pixelated, blown up or shrunk to suit the size restrictions of an electronic billboard. Experiment with different fonts by previewing them on a projector or large monitor. Also keep in mind that you may have to edit your message for increased brevity and catchiness to maximize your brand's exposure on a rotating electronic billboard.