Choosing a Font: Serif vs. Sans Serif

  • Posted on: 16 May 2011
  • By: admin

Ok, my blogging program lets me pick a font. Now what?

Your most important typographic decision is what will be the main font you use on your pages as this font will set a visual tone for your pages. While there are a variety of decrotative fonts that look good as headlines, for this main font, you should pick between a serif or a sans serif body text font.

Serif: A serif is the extra little stroke, those little curves, at the ends of letters:

Examples of Times New Roman, Palatino Linotype, and Georgia Serif Fonts

Figure 17. Examples of serif fonts.

Sans Serif: “Sans” literally means “without,” so a sans serif font does not include any extra stroke at the ends of the letters:

Examples of Arial, Helvetica Neue, and Tahoma sans serif fonts

Figure 18. Examples of sans serif fonts.

Many people feel that sans serif fonts look “cleaner” and more “modern,” while serif fonts look more traditional, more book-like. The conventional wisdom has been that serif fonts are more readable—particularly in print—while sans serif fonts are more legible. If you have to read large blocks of text, the serifs at the ends of letters makes them easier to identify and easier to read. On the other hand, the simplicity of Sans Serif fonts are thought to make these fonts more legible and easier to read in small sizes or on coarse screens. For these reason, you see lots and lots of sans serif fonts on web pages.

Which should you use? We are not convinced that the serif vs. sans serif argument really matters anymore. Pick a font you like that fits the tone and the message of your site. Pick a font that you think will appeal to the sorts of people that you want to read your stuff.  If you have a more traditional site, you may want a more traditional serif font. If you want a more hip, modern look, you may want a sans serif font.