Creating a Yearbook Style Guide: Advice to Follow

creating a yearbook style guide

A yearbook style guide can help you retain consistency throughout your book.

Not all by itself, mind you: You still need to use it. And create it.

In our experience, it’s the second half of that two-step process where people get hung up. After all, a yearbook’s a big deal. A lot is going on inside one: Headlines, captions, stories, photos, layouts, mods, clip art, and so on. And each element requires its own design choice.

Add up all those elements and all those choices, and you’ll see that creating a yearbook style guide can be a lot of work. That’s where this post comes in.

This post will cover what you should include in a yearbook style guide, why you should have one, and how to create and distribute it. We’ll even give you access to a free, ready-made yearbook style guide template you can use to jumpstart your own. Read on.

What’s a Yearbook Style Guide, Anyway?

A yearbook style guide provides guidelines on how your yearbook should be presented and covers two major areas: design and writing.

Used correctly, it lets you establish and enforce a consistent style throughout your yearbook and is a proactive way to coach your team and volunteers through the layout and design process.

But a yearbook style guide also works in another way. It lets you develop a vision for your book early on. And that alone has a considerable advantage.

Armed with a style guide that outlines, for example, what fonts and colors they need to use, your team is free to express creativity on what moves a book forward, like developing coverage ideas, getting great photos and quotes, and designing great layouts.

Think about it: If everyone is fretting over font choices and color palettes, they will have less time to do the stuff that makes an impact. Eliminate that distraction for them.

get a free yearbook style guide template

Design: The Visual Part of Your Style Guide

If you’re going to do that, though, you need to cover all your bases and not leave room for interpretation. To do that, focus on locking down font choices, color choices, and how specific aspects of your layouts should look (like whether all photos need captions and, if you have a caption, what that looks like).

Though you can include other aspects of your yearbook’s appearance, here are the three most significant areas for mistakes and inconsistencies.

Choosing a Font Palette

We’ve written whole posts about yearbook fonts, so if you want a deep dive, head over there and check it out. If you want to know what you need specifically for a yearbook style guide, keep reading.

Number of Fonts

The single biggest temptation when designing a yearbook is adding personal elements of creativity.

And the easiest place to start? Fonts.

There are hundreds of ‘em, and everyone has a preference. Here’s the thing, though. Constantly changing them impacts your readers’ ability to comprehend what’s happening. (Don’t believe us? Science says so.) To avoid that situation—and to make your book look better— limit your fonts. Two is plenty; three is the absolute max.

Your fonts should complement each other. Ideally, you’ll have one serif font and one sans serif font. If you include a third font, you’ll probably end up with a script or something fancy.

When you pick them, define their use:

  • Reserve your primary font for page elements, like headlines, subheads, and page numbers.
  • Utilize your secondary font for copy elements like body text, captions, and pull quotes.
  • If you’re using a third font, use it sparingly and only for specific elements (e.g., a headline and subhead combination or when dedicating full pages to section dividers).

You might be thinking, Two? Three? But that’s nothing! If so, take a deep breath.

We’ve already established that you’ll have two (maybe even three) fonts on each page. Add to that the variety of sizes you’ll need and color choices, and you’ll end up with way more variety than you thought for any given page.


Speaking of font sizes…

We mentioned above how each font should have a specific set of uses. To bring some order to your pages, you’ll want to assign each of those uses a font size. It sounds basic, but you can’t have a page number on one page being more prominent than a page number on another.

That’d just be weird.


When picking font colors for your style guide, the focus shouldn’t be on theme, design, or creative expression. It should be on readability.

That’s right: Start with making sure it’s easy to read the words on the page, then worry about the other aspects of color.

We’ll cover how you pick colors in the “choosing colors” section in a moment, but keep in mind that you want to keep your options limited. (Much like your font choices.) Again, focus on matching your colors to your fonts’ uses so your readers can recognize patterns and hierarchy.

Choosing a Color Palette

We mentioned above that focusing on readability is the first step to choosing font colors.

That applies here, too.

When choosing colors, you’ll want to focus on picking what causes the least amount of strain on readers’ eyes. Then, determine what aligns best with your theme, design, or creative expression.

Don’t worry; this is less restrictive than it sounds. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of taking your preferred colors and ratcheting them down a notch or two. (If you want a good explainer on how to do this, check out this post on color contrast.)

Of course, picking colors is the fun part.

So, let’s get down to business.

As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to limit your color choices to three. (Plus, your black or dark grey for body copy fonts.) We know you’re probably tired of this advice, but it gets you better results.

For the best color palette results, use a color wheel.

A color wheel is the easiest way to see the relationship between colors. It looks like this:

color wheel

When using a color wheel, start with the color you like the most and plan to use the most.

From there, select split complementary colors. (To find them, take your first color, and look directly opposite it on the color wheel. Then, use the colors directly to the left and right of that. Those are split complementary colors.)

Here’s an example. Our primary color choice is at the top of the wheel, and its split complementary colors are below:

yearbook style guide: color wheel choices

Not a bad start, right?

You can tinker from there, but this is the easiest, most surefire way to get some good ideas of what colors you should use in your book.

Writing: The Second Part of Your Style Guide

Pay close attention when reading a newspaper or magazine, and you’ll notice little things are always the same, like how a reporter refers to someone on second reference (Is it “Mrs. Smith” or just “Smith,” for instance?).

These consistencies aren’t just coincidences. They’re part of an organized effort to keep things the same. And that’s where the second part of your style guide comes in.

See, even writing needs a set of rules to keep readers’ focus.

Regarding news sources, they’re likely using The AP Stylebook. Academics and trade publishers often use the Chicago Manual of Style. There are many others, too, including some made by publications or publishing houses.

Given all the other work that goes into creating a yearbook, we’d recommend you not spend hours upon hours creating an in-house style guide. Instead, use the AP’s. It’s unbelievably comprehensive, and you’ll only need minor tweaks and adjustments to accommodate your yearbook.

Aside from that, you should consider a couple of other things.

As George Orwell put it:

“A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

Come up with a basic agreement with your team regarding the tone, jargon, and voice you’ll incorporate into your yearbook. A basic outline will do just fine. Review each section of copy and ask yourself if it is consistent with your agreed-upon style.

In addition to stylistic stuff like how you refer to someone on second reference and how you identify a student’s grade (is it “Smith, 11,” or “Smith, ‘18,” or “Smith, a junior,” for instance), you’ll want to nail down some more nuanced stuff, too.

Let’s break that down:


All writing has at least one theme, and the mood is the atmosphere and feeling you create when approaching this theme. The tone, however, is very distinct from the mood. While mood refers to creating an overarching feeling for the reader, the tone refers to you as the author – how you feel about the subject and how you want the reader to feel. Words and images will shape your yearbook tone. Will yours be playful, academic, serious, or nostalgic?


Be cautious when using jargon, slang, or idioms in your yearbook. While they might feel accessible to you, they can be difficult for outsiders to understand. And your book should be easy for everyone to understand. It’s better to use everyday English where you can.


In the same way that various musical instruments have unique sounds, a writer’s voice (words) can be dramatically different from another. Modern comedic writers, for example, use a flat-out sarcastic voice, while a non-fiction writer might have a dry and matter-of-fact voice. (Here on the Treering Yearbook Ideas blog, we go for “Internet colloquial:” a little sarcastic, some plain-spoken English, and a dash of Dad joke humor.)

While we’ve covered all this in our free yearbook style guide template, we recommend checking out the highly well-done Voice & Tone, a style guide for Mailchimp, the email marketing platform.

And before we wrap up, here’s one more bit of advice from Orwell, from his six elementary rules (“Politics and the English Language,” 1946):

  • Never use a metaphor that you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive when you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

Now, the only thing left is to create that style guide. Use our template, and you’ll be well on your way to creating a more balanced, consistent style throughout your book.

get a free yearbook style guide template

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