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Guide to Using Fonts and Colors in Newsletters

written by: Meryl K Evans•edited by: Daniel P. McGoldrick•updated: 1/25/2010

You work hard to produce great content for your newsletter or publication. Make sure people read it by choosing the best colors and font styles.

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    The Importance of Font and Color in Readability

    Two email newsletters had important information, but I struggled to read them. The reason: Font and color abuse. They were reminiscent of the websites of the early 1990s when designers experimented with loads of colors and fonts.

    Too many colors and font styles distract from the content and make it harder for people to read. As much as I love the color red, it won't do well as the major font color on a website. Red works fine as headers and other uncommon text usage.

    I don't proclaim to be an expert in colors or design. But my eyes work well and they know what they don't like because it hurts or makes reading a challenge.

    Besides, too many colors and font styles reek of unprofessionalism. It's something you expect children to do. Mine go crazy with their computer presentations using every major color, lots of transition effects, and half of the fonts on their computers. They're learning and exploring. Of course, a company or an organization should keep learning and putting creativity to work, but not at the expense of their readers' eyes.

    Also, consider that more people read content on mobile devices, which don't always convert content the way you expect.

    Newsletters don't have standards, but publishers learn by reading, listening to feedback, and looking at other examples. These rules provide a general rule of thumb to help you, but exceptions always exist.

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    Choosing the Best Color

    According to Lighthouse International, an organization focused on helping people with vision loss, 161 million people have visual issues with 16.5 million in the US alone. By 2010, the organization says it will be 20 million. Isn't that reason enough to tone down the color use?

    A good way to keep color use under control is to pick three colors. Businesses tend to have two or three official colors, so they can use those and perhaps add one more for contrast. You can't go wrong in using a white or light background with a dark font. However, watch the shade of gray on light, which resembles reading in a fog.

    For dark backgrounds, ensure you have enough contrast in the font color to stand out for visions of all kinds.

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    The Best Font Styles

    Similar to the color rule, three font styles would be a good rule to follow. Don't forget that not only do you use different font styles (Arial, Helvetica, Verdana, etc.), but also font sizes. So you might use two font styles and then use size to make headers stand out.

    Bold also works, unless of course, a reader reads your newsletters in text mode. It might help to view your newsletter in text mode to see how it reads.

    Limit the use of italics. Like light gray on white backgrounds, some people struggle to read italics. Underline and bold work better.

    Consider having an outsider look at your newsletter for looks. Outsiders don't have to know a thing about your organization -- they would tell you how the newsletter looks to their eyes. You work hard to product high quality content, don't let the font and colors turn people away.