March 2017

NFP Spotlight: What About Font?

As brands prepare for the new FDA Nutrition Facts Panel (NFP), designers and non-designers alike are scratching their heads and asking, “What about font?” Robb Kottmyer, Account Manager and Adaptation Design Team Leader at Gravity, and Kellie Best, Production Artist at Phototype, answer our top five questions.

Okay, first things first. What is the font found on most consumer packaging, and is it regulated by the FDA?

There is no regulation on what font you have to use. The FDA doesn’t even recommend a font. You can take direction from the FDA that the NFP and all other regulated information on a label must be “readable.” That clause can haunt you, if you’re not careful.

As far as font use, design convention has a decades-long history of using sans serif fonts like Helvetica and Arial because they’re versatile and easy to print. Think of the signage for the New York Subway, one of the largest metro systems in the world. Their signage is in Helvetica for a reason: it fits that universally accepted, if vague, “readable” standard.

How do you handle the “readable” clause in counsel and practice?

Since there is no regulation on font—and arguably vague direction—we research what’s possible and develop standards for typeface, size, the “thinnest” or most condensed a font can be, and more. Throughout the design and print process, these standards really help ease those burdens on our clients. If a client’s brand identity dictates a different font, as long as that different font is “readable,” we’ll use it for that client.

You mention typeface and size. What about boldface, italics and condensing fonts?

The FDA calls out boldness and thickness, but it all stems back to that “readable” definition. A minimum font size and height is specified (with examples provided for reference) but they do not have a font-condensing requirement. Condensing fonts is helpful when space is limited and you have a lot of copy, but even then you have to be careful, especially if there are multiple languages that need to have equal prominence. It takes more letters to explain the same thing in some languages than others.

Additionally, the FDA specifies the thickness of the lines that separate sections within the NFP. All of those lines have to relate to each other. Our company, Phototype, has set a standard of the thinnest printable line, and we go from there based on the client’s needs.

What abt abbrvtns? (What about abbreviations?)

There is a comprehensive list of what can be abbreviated. You can even suggest an acronym or abbreviation (or get special permission). For brands that print in multiple languages, abbreviations bring up even more complexities. That’s a topic for another day!

Last question: In your opinion, where do you see the importance of font as packaging heads in a direction where, on one hand, there’s vague direction and rigid templates to work with, and, on the other hand, consumers who continue to demand to understand what is in their food?

The prominence of information and how it’s displayed will be paramount in the future of packaging—relating to the font, the size, and how “readable” it is, especially across diverse groups of consumers.

With more information to communicate, and limited “real estate” on the label, brands really need to think about—and seek counsel around—how best to adapt to the new layout. The rigid templates aren’t new with the new NFP labels. We’ve always been able to make it work while keeping the important information prominent and—here’s that word again—“readable” on the package.

Phototype is a 4th-generation, family-owned company that provides fully integrated graphic solutions to the consumer packaged goods (CPG), medical/pharma, retail, printing and converting industries. To learn more, contact us.