Choosing the best fonts for video: The importance of typography

Video editor working on video font editing

Creating video, like any form of storytelling, comes down to a series of choices. As a creator you have to choose how to tell your story, which parts to include and leave out, how it should look and sound, and a million other things. Including which fonts to use in the text that appears on screen. 

Given all the other decisions you’re making, it will be tempting to go with whatever default text your video editor uses for captions, titles, and other stuff. But you should resist that temptation, for the simple reason that the text in your video is part of your video. And just like the lighting, the sound, and the content itself, the more thoughtful you are with it, the more likely you are to create something great.

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Choosing the right fonts for your video presentation

Why do Wes Anderson films look like Wes Anderson films? The director is very particular about production design, down to the specific fonts used across the film—from title cards to the text in prop books. 

Choosing a font may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you plan a video editing project, but text fonts play an important role in your overall production design. Text can appear in many elements of a video, including:

  • Title sequences. Title sequences appear at the beginning and end of a film or video. They frame the content and credit the people who brought it to life. In the film industry, title sequences are sometimes created by a specialized graphic designer who crafts a font designed for a specific motion picture.
  • Lower thirds. This type of text appears on the lower third of the screen, and it usually conveys location information, particularly when jumping between time periods and geographic locations. These fonts tend to be simple, but can be either serifed and sans serifed fonts (more on that below).
  • Captions. Captions typically appear as subtitles for the hearing impaired or for foreign language speakers (foreign from the language of the film, that is). They also appear as full-screen blocks of text that offer background information for the audience. In this case, the caption may use different fonts for its headline text and its body text. Captions should always be easy to read, as they have to be read quickly while the viewer is simultaneously watching the film.
  • Motion graphics. These are animated graphics that move across the screen. They may contain all text, or they can be a combination of text, photographs, and drawings. 

5 things to consider when choosing your video font

As you begin sifting through fonts, give special care to these five points of consideration.

  1. Ease of communication. Prioritize fonts that are easy to read. While any editor or graphic designer naturally wants to add a bit of flair to their work,  the best fonts for videos always serve the picture. They should be clear and big enough to read without blocking the action on the screen.
  2. Leading. In typesetting, leading refers to the vertical distance between two lines of text. In written text, this usually manifests as single-spaced, one-and-a-half-spaced, or double-spaced text. In film editing, you can make use of the screen’s vertical real estate and space out your text so that it’s easy to read.
  3. Kerning. Kerning refers to the horizontal spacing between two individual letters. Word processing programs automatically add kerning to make lines look uniform on a page, particularly when you choose a “justified” alignment. Some video editors use justified text on title cards or on big caption blocks, and the video editing software typically handles whatever kerning is needed to make those justified blocks look good.
  4. Tracking. Tracking is closely related to kerning, but it refers to spacing between all of the letters in the text, rather than just two letters next to each other. 
  5. Font cohesion across your project. On many video editing projects, you will use multiple fonts for your various text needs. These fonts should be related to one another. For instance, if you use a serif typeface for some of your text (the ones with, strokes or those little flourishes on the ends of letters, like Times New Roman), you should fill out the rest of your graphic design with other serif fonts. The same is true for a project that uses sans serif fonts (the ones with no stokes like Arial and Helvetica Neue). This isn’t a hard rule, rather a guideline that will help your project look more cohesive. Now, is an audience member going to jump out of their seat and shout: “These dilettantes are using clashing typefaces!” and stomp out of the theater? Obviously not. The larger point is that you want a uniform visual design as you edit. Your audience may not consciously notice it, but a cohesive visual design is one of the many things that helps tie a film together.

13 top fonts for video editing

Whether you aim to source video editing fonts free of charge or your production budget lets you license some special fonts, you have many great options for your project. These 13 fonts that are well-suited for video editing, some of which you will find in Descript.

  1. Helvetica. Helvetica (and offshoots like Helvetica Neue) confer prestige on brands like Apple, American Airlines, and Crate & Barrel. This sans serif font traces its origins to the 1950s, and it recalls the simple-but-elegant mid-century modern aesthetic of that era. Take note that Helvetica is not a free font, and not all video editing software comes with a license to use it.
  2. Arial. Arial is a free font that often substitutes for Helvetica, with which it shares sans serif simplicity. It also comes in many varieties including Arial Black, Arial Narrow, Arial Bold, Arial Italic, and Arial Bold Italic.
  3. Futura. Futura is a sans serif font that is quite popular for subtitles. Its individual letters are clearly composed of stark elemental shapes like circles and straight lines, which makes it easy to read quickly. Futura is not a free font, however—you will need to pay a licensing fee to use it.
  4. Lato. In some ways, Lato straddles the line between sans serif and serif typefaces. It lacks formal serifs, but it has a roundness that recalls older classic typesettings. Its letters are quite easy to read, which makes Lato great for small-size text.
  5. Roboto. Roboto is a sans serif font that combines some of the best features of serif fonts (warmth, readability) with other sans serif fonts (economy, simple elegance). Many graphic designers choose Roboto for small size screens since it is easy to read. It also works well for captions on web videos. 
  6. Proxima Nova. Proxima Nova is a bold font that jumps off the page (or the screen). It naturally draws attention to itself, which makes it a good choice for titles and headings.
  7. Impact. Much like Proxima Nova, Impact font is designed for attention. It was designed as an industrial typeface that conveys information rather than subtle emotion.
  8. Quicksand. Quicksand font offers thin lines, clean curves, and ease of legibility with a bit of style or character. With wide tracking and large letters, Quicksand is a quite readable font, though because the lines are so thin, it can be hard to read when very small.
  9. Source Sans Pro. Source Sans is an Adobe-brand font that is free to use with an open-source license. It recalls the simple elegance of Helvetica, but it was developed over fifty years later and offers subtle futuristic touches for twenty-first-century applications.
  10. Gill Sans. One of the oldest fonts on this list, Gill Sans traces its origins to 1928 Britain, where it quickly became the dominant font used in the country, on everything from train station wayfinding signs to book covers. It is free for personal use and requires a license for commercial use. Video editors sometimes apply it to works set in England, since Gill Sans is so dominant in the country and as an homage to the font’s roots.
  11. Courier. Courier is a slab serif typeface. This means it has serifs, but they are flat and slab-like as opposed to rounded. Courier was developed for typewriters, and it is still used to convey text written on a typewriter in film. Courier is also the industry standard font for screenplays. Many newspapers also used Courier, and it was the standard font for the US Department of State, so some filmmakers use the font to convey seriousness or that a story is rooted in fact.
  12. Chalkboard. The Chalkboard font mimics hand-drawn lettering, much like the text you would see on a school blackboard or on a restaurant’s daily specials menu. Since people write on chalkboards with their hands, and not with a computer, using Chalkboard font conveys that something was handwritten, or that it has a bit of humanity and spontaneity.
  13. Wild Youth. Wild Youth is a free font that recalls script handwriting. Similar to Chalkboard, Wild Youth can be used as a stand-in for handwriting. It can be a fit for content that is romantic, adventurous, or bold.

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