As a designer, I often get asked questions about fonts. I love those questions! The world of typography is full of strange terms and classifications that can make finding just the right font difficult and confusing.
Here are a couple common questions answered to hopefully clear up some of that confusion.
Serif vs. Sans Serif – What’s the Difference?
I’m guessing you have heard of fonts being described as either a “serif” or a “sans serif” font. Those are two of the most common font classifications. But what do they really mean?
A serif font has little “tails” at the ends of the letters. Those tails are called serifs – thus the classification. You can see them highlighted in the image below. Sans serif fonts are those without the serifs.
Which is Better?
As with all design, the best solution depends on the individual application. But here are a couple factors to consider.
- How much text? When there is a lot of text to read, serif fonts are generally considered easiest on the eyes. The serifs are designed to connect the letters so that your eye sees entire words instead of individual letters. This makes the copy easier to read and more legible.
- Print or Digital? Sans serif fonts are considered better for online use. Without the extra serif detail, they are much easier to read at smaller sizes and much easier to see on a screen.
Can I Use Only One?
Absolutely not! Serif fonts are used along side sans serif fonts all the time. The guidelines stated above are not hard and fast rules, either. I still use serif fonts on the web, even though sans serifs are considered better.
The trick is knowing when to use which kind. For example, I like to use a serif font for headings and titles on a web page and sans serif for the rest of the body text. Headings are almost always set at a larger size, which makes it easier to get away with a serif font on a screen.
It’s best to limit the number of fonts used to 2 or 3. The fewer fonts used, the more streamlined and professional the overall design will look.
Why Can’t I Use My Favorite Font Online?
In the very beginning of web design, a very limited number of fonts were available for use. This is due to the fact that, by default, web pages use font files found on your individual computer. So if a website used a font that was not installed on a viewer’s computer, the page would not display as intended. Font choices were limited to those that were standard on nearly every computer. Today, we have coding techniques that allow for a broader range of fonts for use online. However, this number is still nowhere near the number of fonts available for print.
At the end of the day, the most important factor to remember when choosing fonts is the message. The best font choice is the one that makes the reader focus on the message, not the font.
Choosing and mixing fonts well is difficult and takes lots of practice. When designing for clients, the IMS team uses years of experience and knowledge to come up with the perfect font solution. Have questions? Ask us today!