Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Typography For Illustrators: 3. Context

Context has many contexts, how’s that for a conundrum, so it’s important to explain context in reference to typography for illustrators, but first the non-illustrator explanation. To clients and contractors, the “context” of an illustration assignment usually refers to the purpose for the project, it’s distribution and timeframe, the demographics of the intended audience, the personality of the product, and that of the client, it’s marketability, cost, etc., in other words, the pragmatic criteria for the assignment. These non-visual criteria form the frame of reference for the overall assignment.

And now the explanation of context as it concerns an illustrator’s use of typography. When it comes to selecting and using type, illustrators can employ their natural sense of visual connoisseurship to make aesthetic decisions. This is the fundamental rationale behind choosing and applying type in “context”. Illustrators, being highly visually literate, have an easier time with typography by considering its “context” within their illustration. The physical visual attributes inherent in the compositional arrangement, illustration style, and artistic media used, all provide direction for typographic decision-making, and influence the types appearance.


The application of typography based on context involves a close assessment of the native use of form, and the appearance of elements within an illustration. Type should be examined for it’s form rather than read for it’s content; context in this sense refers to visual context. The illustration should also be analyzed for it’s style, composition, and use of color to establish the visual personality and traits desired in it. Mirroring the visual stylistic traits in an illustration, or deliberately posing a contrast to the appearance of the visual elements, can then sponsor the choice and use of type.

Typographic Similarity

Selecting type by choosing fonts that display similar visual traits to those in the illustration is a very practical method for ensuring pleasing results in completed work. This visual approach to the coordination of typography in an illustration, or along with it, is a very intuitive process. This applies whether the illustration will be either pictorially dominant or typographically dominant. Below are some  examples in a few media categories that demonstrate type choices based on a desired stylistic similarity.


Illustrative identity by Full Steam Marketing & Design.
Illustrative identity by Dave Titus.


Illustrative poster by Victor Hogg.
Illustrative poster by Vectorscksprojekt.


Illustrative editorial spread by Melinda Bleck.
Illustrated story spread by Hazel Mitchell.


Illustrative package by Kendrick Kidd.
Illustrated packaging by Quantum Graphics.

Typographic Contrast

The method of selecting type in contrast to the natural style and visual traits in an illustration can be visually effective, but is more difficult to coordinate. Again this method involves an analysis of the pictorial aspects of the illustration. It also involves an assessment of typographic forms for the purpose of discovering contrary form. This is a more difficult decision-making process than that of seeking typographic similarity. Below are some  examples in a few media categories that demonstrate type choices based on a desired contrast to their illustrative counterparts.


Illustrative identity by Steven Noble.
Illustrative identity by Seven Thirteen Creative, Inc.


Illustrated poster by Saeed Younan.
Illustrative poster by Kristine Chatterjie.


Illustrated editorial spread by Bethany Salisbury.
Illustrated editorial spread by Dennis Wunch.


Illustrative packaging by Estudio Clara Ezcurra.
Illustrative labels by Manifesto Design.

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