How to Use Decorative Fonts & Dingbats

by Melissa Worcester

Decorative fonts and dingbats are an easy and fun way to add an interesting look to your document. Find a decorative font for a special headline or graphic, or just dingbats to add one or more simple pictures without using clip art.


Search for fonts. Decide ahead of time what you want, or you might be distracted by all the other choices available. There are many websites that sell fonts, and others that have fonts you can download for free. Both types are useful, though the free ones might limit their use to non-commercial documents and products. Some recommended websites that have dingbats and decorative fonts include Font Garden and Abstract Fonts, which have free fonts, and My Fonts, which sells fonts.


Download the font you have chosen. The file is likely to be a zipped file, which you can unzip easily. If you have Windows, open the zip file, which looks like a folder, and drag the contents to any other folder on your hard drive. The contents will unzip as they are copied. If you have a Mac, double-click on the file. Select a location on your hard drive to save the unzipped contents of the zip file.


Install the font. For a Windows computer, double-click on the "Fonts" section of the Control Panel and choose "Install new font" from the "File" menu. Or select "Font" from the "Applications" folder, select a font collection, and click on the plus (+) icon in the bottom toolbar to add the font. If you need more help, consult the help section of the website where you downloaded the font.


Use the font in your software. If you had the application open when you installed the font, you might have to close and re-open the program to access the font. The exact way to change the font that is applied to a string of text differs from software to software. You can change the size and color of a letter, word or a whole paragraph.


Use decorative fonts sparingly and for effect. Decorative fonts can be especially ornate letters, or they might be little pictures and symbols used as borders and dividers. This step deals with those that are letters, sometimes called initial caps or fontbats. Many of these are meant to be used as one large initial capital letter, such as the first letter of the first paragraph in a story or chapter. Often this kind of letter is many times larger than the rest of the body text. Try to avoid using very ornate letters too much, even for a longer headline, because it can be difficult to read. Another way to use such a font is for a monogram or special stationery. Again, it is best used as a person's initials, two or three letters, rather than the whole name, if it is a very ornate font. Decorative fonts that are less ornate can be used for headlines, captions and other special text, but still shouldn't be used for body text.


Use decorative dingbats as dividers, borders and frames. This type of font is used just like any other font, but it might confuse you at first since the characters don't look at all like letters. Each character is a different picture or design, and some dingbat fonts don't have an image that corresponds to each letter. Some have only enough pictures for the upper-case letters, and some have other images corresponding to the lower-case letters as well. If the font comes with a character set chart, it will be contained in the zip file with the font file, and you can consult it to find out which picture goes with each letter. If there is no character set, you can just type letters to see what the pictures are, or you can make your own character set chart in a word processing document. Type the alphabet in capital letters, and then again in lower-case. Change the font to the dingbat font and enlarge it so you can easily see the pictures. Another way to see each character is to choose "insert symbol" in Microsoft Word. This will allow you to choose from a chart that shows all of the characters of a particular font. Don't be afraid to use decorative font in larger sizes than the surrounding text. Make a separate line containing one or more decorative dingbats to separate one section from another. Enlarge a frame character and place text inside it using a separate text box. String several characters together to make a border.


Use picture dingbats as clip art. Picture dingbats are used in the same way as outlined in Step 6, except you can place them anywhere that you need a picture. Enlarge them and place one or two in their own text box where you need a special illustration of some kind. Use one as part of a logo for a company or product. Use simple dingbats as special bullet characters. Make a pictograph showing the relationship of numerical data by using dingbats to represent the data values instead of a bar graph.


  • Don't be afraid to make a dingbat font much larger than the body text that is nearby. Often the scale used when designing these types of fonts causes them to look out of proportion when the same font size is used next to letter fonts.
  • Make a chart to identify your dingbats by typing the letters in order. Copy and paste the string of alphabetical letters several times, and then change each one to a different dingbat font. Print this page for a reference of all of the characters in your dingbat font sets.

About the Author

Melissa Worcester is a mom, freelance writer and graphic designer. She has been writing professionally for over 18 years and earning a part-time income writing for various websites since 2007. She writes about technology issues, business and marketing, home improvement, education and family topics and assists in her husband's home remodeling business. Worcester has a Bachelor of Arts in communications and psychology from Syracuse University.

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