Cursive is alive and well. Here’s how to tap its graphic potential.
Here’s a question for you: When was the last time you picked up a pen and wrote anything substantial, for any meaningful amount of time? I’m talking about more than writing a family member’s name in a Christmas card. I’m going to guess the answer is probably quite some time back. If it isn’t, then (at the least), it was likely to be an illegible ant trail scrawled across the page, right?
The thing is, back when I was a kid—you know, before color had been invented—it was a significant part of my schooling that we were taught a thing called penmanship. This almost mythical practice was literally as it sounds: we were taught how to hold a pen correctly and how to use that pen to produce flowing, cursive handwriting. They told us writing this way was quicker than writing in block letters—this has since been proven to be untrue—and they said that it was a sign of intelligence if you could join all the letters to create a word. The things teachers will tell you to get you to do stuff . . .
Anyway, fast-forward to right now. Despite handwriting’s place in the world having been replaced largely by thumbs jabbing at sheets of glass, it turns out there’s still an active interest in reproducing our scrawl for aesthetic and design purposes. So, say hello to cursive typefaces!
When Should I Use Cursive?
Cursive typefaces are, by design, scrawling and complex. If used unwittingly, this can lead to your designs potentially looking glorious as a piece of art, but fairly illegible as a messaging tool. There’s a reason why more modern typefaces tend to drop all the ornamentation, and aim for function over all other attributes—it makes them readable.
That said, let’s not discount cursive out of hand. There are definitely occasions when a cursive typeface is a fantastic addition to a design, so long as you follow a few simple rules.
Formal Invites and Greeting Cards
Anything with a formal touch—wedding invites, greeting cards, and holiday messages—are good examples of when to use cursive typefaces. Equally, if you’re creating branding—particularly for luxury or high-end products—then a cursive typeface can be a creative way to describe the brand and its place in the market. Not only does a cursive typeface add a touch of character and charm, it can also humanize the sentiment you’re trying to convey. So, any expression of emotion is always going to benefit from a solid cursive typeface.
No Kern, No Way!
As designers, we’re constantly looking for ways to accentuate the beauty of typography by nudging characters, and pushing and pulling the spacing between letters. However, as we’ve already discussed, cursive is meant to be joined together, so leave the kerning out when using these typefaces.
Keep it Short, Keep it Simple
A lot of cursive on a single page is a readability nightmare. If you’re going to use it, then titling or accents are the natural resting place for cursive. Even then, keep titles short and snappy, as less is certainly more. Think of cursive as the cherry on top of the cake—it’s the finishing touch that lends the whole piece its tone.
One Cursive Typeface to Rule Them All
Using cursive typefaces can be fun, but make sure you avoid mixing and matching them within one design. Too many variants affect aesthetics and legibility.
For example, dependent on how the typeface has been designed, letters such as T and S can look fairly similar in cursive. Our brains are constantly looking for patterns, so if we’ve worked out where the Ss and Ts are in one typeface, then it’s a lot of unnecessary burden on our brains to then have to decipher it again later in the design, with a whole new cursive typeface. Plus, two different cursive fonts next to each other looks pretty jarring, so this is one to avoid. Unless, of course, that’s the aesthetic you’re going for!
Caps Are Not King
The final, and perhaps most important, rule is to NEVER use all caps with cursive, legibility will simply get harder if you do this. Also, it interrupts the natural free-flowing, joined-up nature of the script, which kind of defeats the whole point.
So, Where Do I Get Some Good Typefaces?
Quality over quantity is absolutely the watchword with cursive typefaces. The plethora of badly designed cursive typefaces cannot be overstated. Using one of these will only further impede legibility, so make sure when picking options that you’re looking at top-quality type foundries for your potentials. Also, avoid those built into your computer. They’re all likely to be overused as they’re readily available to everyone. So, take the time to search for more unique and interesting options.
Some cursive typefaces aren’t badly designed necessarily, they’re just entirely inappropriate for the piece you’re working on. Think about the mood you’re trying to create, as well as the audience with which you’re looking to communicate, as this will automatically discount many options, making it much easier to make an informed choice as to the right cursive typeface for your project.
If you’re sourcing typefaces directly from a foundry, then chances are you’ll receive a file containing your little letters of loveliness via email or direct download, which you’ll need to download directly to your computer. The process is slightly different for Mac and Windows, but clicking on the file will start the process in either case.
If you’re using a subscription service instead, such as Adobe Fonts, then it’s likely that the process is the same for both Windows and Mac. However, you’ll need to follow the instructions pertinent to each service, as they all work slightly differently. Although these services are important for exposing you to several cursive typefaces—and other typefaces too!—you are beholden to their collections. So, you may still want to search for individual typefaces, if you want to broaden your font library.
Here are links to some quality typeface licensing services:
For a more unique splash of personality, you may wish to check out these independent foundries who have some breathtaking cursive options available:
On a budget, but still want to try out some lesser-known cursive options? Take a look at these:
If you’re interested in finding out more about cursive, or getting your hands on some cursive fonts, then check out the following articles:
Top image via Viktor Lysenkov.