So many designers make this mistake. Light text seems fancy, but if it’s not large enough, it’s a pain to read. See three ways how to fix that, all illustrated with a practical example.
TLDR: Ensure that body text is contrasting enough. If the typeface looks too strong in the regular weight, see if it’s a variable font and try something between Light and Regular. Also consider if a typeface is suited for body text at all.
Gorgeous – at first sight
Josh’s submitted his website Golgi Graphics for typographic review. At first, it makes a great impression. The site seems clean and noble, while showcasing the gorgeous scientific illustrations he creates. He uses the common typeface Josefin Sans in various weights, mostly light. And this creates an undesirable effect.
The Problem: Light text is hard to read
Light fonts seem elegant and nice, but that does not count for body text. At font size sizes between 14 to 20 px or smaller, it soon looks too delicate, making it straining on the eyes. Of course, this always depends on the exact typeface and color of your text. With our example here, Josefin Sans in font-weight 300 and gray seems way too thin.
Fix 1: Make it stronger
When taking a look at the available weights of Josefin Sans, it can guess why Josh mad the body text so light. Because the regular weight looks way too dull and contrasting, destroying the overall airy impression his website makes.
But since Josefin Sans is also available as a variable font, one approach to solve this dilemma is picking a weight that lies between too light and too dark, like
font-weight: 350 here.
But even with a sufficient weight, Josefin Sans is not ideal for body text. It is way too striking, while having an incredibly low x-height. This is why the text seems very small, even at 20 px font-size.
Fix 2: Use another typeface
To compensate for that, let’s pick another, similar typeface. Gelogica is also quite geometric, like Josefin Sans, but it comes with higher lower case letters (aka x-height). Letters are also more distinct, which makes Geologica more suited for body text.
Replacing it dramatically improves contrast and therefore readability. The all caps text above the heading almost does not change, while the mixed case text in the copy seems larger due to the increased x-height. And all of that without changing the font size. Isn’t that amazing?
However, the mood of the page also shifted, because now the headings lost their elegance. They were so elegant because of that low x-height and the light weight. So why not keeping the best of both worlds?
Fix 3: Combine two typefaces
Both typefaces are based on a geometric form model (more about form models in the Font Matrix article). So let’s keep Gelogica for the body text and combine it with Josefin Sans for the headings. This it works, because both typefaces are used for different roles, display text and body text, while not being super close to each other. It would not, if they were next to each other in one line. In these cases it would look strange.
Almost perfect, but there still are some tiny adjustments we should take.
Optimizing line height and tracking
This wouldn’t be Pimp my Type if we would not take a closer look at the line height and tracking. Because the line height also is influenced a lot by the typeface you choose. Josefin Sans looked good at a line-height of 1.2, also because of the low x-height. With Geologica, 1.2 is too dense. I would increase it to 1.4 times the font size which gives the text more space to breathe.
But the horizontal spacing of the heading is slightly off as well. At a font size of 80 px, “Our services” and the other headings almost falls apart. So I set the
letter-spacing: -0.02em, and give it a negative
margin-left: -0.05em to visually align it with the rest of the text.
Before and after
We started with an elegant site that made a decent first impression, with quite some problems when it comes to contrast regarding the copy. By choosing a different typeface that is more suited for body text, adjusting line height and letter spacing, we achieved a professional looking result, and a blissful reading experience. And all of that with the power 💪 of typography!
Big names make this mistake too
Like Hello Fresh. The emails I get use way too light text, making them horrible to read. Even though the font size is quite large most of the time. So if anyone from Hello Fresh reads this, please, fix it.