How to Choose Between Serif and Sans Serif Fonts

The question of how to choose between serif and sans serif fonts infers that one knows the difference between these two different kinds of fonts in the first place. Before making an actual choice, you should perhaps look into an adequate description of these two distinct fonts.

Serif Fonts

Design Blog Sociale - 4th June 2009 - I shot the serif by Tom Gabor

A serif font incorporates flourishes and is decorative to some extent. The flourishes or “tails and flags” that accompany a serf font can range from large and fancy to small and delicate. Serif fonts used in most print are usually of the small and delicate variety. Designers usually consider them to be the most readable fonts.

One of the possible reasons that serif fonts might be easier to read is because the flourishes are reminiscent of handwriting and seem to draw the eye from left to right. Because the letters are more like handwriting, our brain doesn’t take as long to recognize the letter, or the collection of letters forming a word. You will often see serif fonts used in the body of a printed work, such as in books or magazines.

Sans Serif Fonts

Sans serif fonts are fonts without flourishes, tails, or flags. Because these fonts are not particularly decorative (consequently the word “sans” which means “without” in French), one will see sans serif fonts usually used in headings and titles in regular print format.

Fonts for Computer Uses vs. Book Use

When using computers, some say that sans serif fonts are better to use for larger blocks of text. The consensus is that with books and regular print, where the resolution is much higher, serif fonts are easy to see and are very readable. Online use has a very low resolution, making serif fonts sometimes difficult to read because of those flourishes and also because the letters are significantly smaller. Consequently, when using fonts for web use, the printing rule is usually reversed.

What’s the Best Choice?

The best font choices are ones where readers do not notice the font, only the message. Realize that fonts which are too fancy take away from your message by completely defeating the purpose of your whole project. In the same vein, fonts that are too “blocky” can also be unreadable. You never want a reader to think “What?” because the poster/website/article needs a philosopher’s stone to interpret the text.

Use Your Head

When designing a poster, a website, or writing an article, what is the best font type to use, serif or sans serif?

  • Study the fonts and choose the ones that are the most readable and attractive for your particular project.
  • Look at the font in different sizes to make sure it is easy to read at any size.
  • Have other people read the text to make sure the font doesn’t hinder the reading experience.

The goal is to make your website interesting and easy to manipulate while remaining completely accessible to your viewers.

Use Your Heart

Remember, nothing is set in stone when it comes to serif or sans serif fonts. The answer is always attractiveness and readability. And, of course, your own unique taste.