7 Great Fonts For Commercial Signs

19th August 2019

Typography for commercial signs

In many situations, signage is essentially the ambassador for your business. It’s often the first piece of branding seen by new customers as they approach your premises, and can make or break a first impression.

It’s important to make sure you put your best foot forward and present a strong, professional visual identity, and typography can play a big part in influencing this. A sign written in Times New Roman doesn’t have the same connotations as one designed using Comic Sans - so which fonts are the best choices for your business?

Let’s look at seven timeless typefaces favoured by professional designers everywhere…

Gill Sans

Gill Sans example

Image: Jim Hood, licensed under Creative Commons 2.5.

If you’re looking for a sleek and modern typeface to adorn your place of business, you could do much worse than Gill Sans.

Released by Monotype in 1928, this typeface was designed by Eric Gill based on the typeface for the London Underground. As the Underground font (now known as Johnston Sans) wasn’t licensed commercially until relatively recently, Gill Sans has long since overtaken it in terms of popularity and professional use.

At once contemporary and classical, Gill Sans is a confident and authoritative typeface with mass appeal - and it’s hard to go wrong with it on your signage.


Trajan example

Image: public domain

Much beloved of movie poster designers, Trajan is a great serif font that can be used in many situations to lend prestige and gravitas to a sign.

Based on Roman square capitals (and named after Trajan’s Column in Rome), the typeface contains only capital letters and numbers and was designed by Carol Twombly, a designer for Adobe in the late 1980s.

It has since become known as seemingly the go-to typeface for every poster designer in Hollywood, appearing on hundreds of movie posters for everything from Titanic to Marvel’s Thor - and as a font for a commercial sign it can imply a long history of service or dedication to old-school values.


Futura example

Image: public domain

As its name suggests, this typeface has a friendly futuristic appeal which completely belies the fact that it was designed nearly a hundred years ago.

Futura has quite a colourful history; designed in Germany, it was at one time banned by the Nazi party as embodying modernist ideals (although they later took a shine to it and started using it for their own material, much to the displeasure of its designer, Paul Renner - a noted anti-Nazi campaigner who had already written a book denouncing the regime before they seized power in 1933).

Despite Renner’s political problems, Futura has endured as a wildly successful typeface up until the present day. It embodies optimism and modern thinking, and to this day its clean geometric forms are perfect for use in signage. This is particularly true of technology companies and others engaged in elegant, impressive work.

Uniquely among typefaces, Futura also has the distinction that it can even be found on the moon.


Optima example

Image: public domain

For those unsure if serif or sans-serif typography is the way to go, Optima inhabits a perfect middle ground - a sans-serif face that seems to suggest serifs without actually having them.

Its designer, Hermann Zapf, sought to create a versatile typeface that could be used equally well for both titles and body text. The result is a font that looks great at almost any size and in any situation - making it a great choice for unified branding across business signage and other marketing materials such as printed literature, social media and so on.

The typeface is great for communicating elegance and restraint, and is a strong signage choice for industries where trust is a major factor (such as finance or law).


Didot example

Image: Jim Hood, licensed under Creative Commons 2.5.

For a classic, luxurious look, there can surely be no better option than Didot. In fact, a 2015 study of 368 people conducted at the V&A in London found that the typeface was widely considered to be the ‘most expensive-looking’ of all - making it the obvious choice for any business in need of high-end, prestigious branding.

The classical appearance of the typeface is no illusion - it was developed around the end of the eighteenth century in France by Firmin Didot and his many relatives, who between them were responsible for several advancements in printing and publishing.

Didot’s usefulness as a design element for commercial signs has since been noted by many big modern brands, with the likes of ZARA and Armani using the font on store fascia signs and billboards around the world.


Gotham example

Image: Alexhb, licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.

The most recently designed font on our list, Gotham was created less than 20 years ago in New York by a designer named Tobias Frere-Jones at the behest of GQ Magazine, who wanted a typeface that was “masculine, new and fresh”.

This font is just perfect for signage - in fact, its design was originally inspired by the signage Frere-Jones saw around him in Manhattan, saying that he wanted to “preserve those old pieces of New York that could be wiped out before they're appreciated. Having grown up here, I was always fond of the 'old' New York and its lettering.”

Gotham’s clean and bold aesthetic has since made it the perfect font for many new signage installations in New York City and elsewhere around the world. For a straightforward, no-nonsense and yet appealing look, Gotham is an excellent choice for many types of commercial signs.


Baskerville example

Image: public domain

Fonts don’t come more old-school than Baskerville, designed by the Englishman John Baskerville in the 1750s. Its design features both very thick and very thin lines, which can make it less than ideal for small printed text (but for large reproduction on a commercial sign, this typeface will work brilliantly).

Unlike the luxurious-looking Didot, Baskerville has a traditional charm and a down-to-earth appearance that renders it at once trustworthy, intelligent and relatable - making it an excellent signage choice for boutique businesses and consultancies.

Modern typography designers sometimes interpret and modernise the 250-year-old typeface in different ways, but the classic italic variant of Baskerville has distinctive flourishes - such as the capital ‘N’ in the above example - which can really lend class and character to a signage project.

There are many typography choices for business signs, each great in their own way and each uniquely well-suited to certain industries and applications. As with all elements of visual branding, the first step is to specify the message before identifying the best typeface to embody it.

Whether you select a futuristic sans-serif font or a serif face steeped in history, each of these showcased typefaces will allow your business to stand out with clear and impressive signage - telling your customers what you’re about before they’ve even set foot on the premises.

Contact us today to find out how we can help with your commercial sign project.