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Serif fonts are one of the most commonly used font types and, perhaps, the most distinguishing. Serifs come from the Latin word Seraph and refer to a decorative line that is added onto the end of a stroke. Serif fonts have small lines at their ends; these lines can be simple or elaborate. Serif fonts often look like traditional hand-printed letters (ex: Times New Roman). Download Serif fonts generally feel more formal than sans serif typefaces (ex: Vera) but they don’t always create this feeling; they need to be taken in context with other elements on a webpage such as color and layout. Serif is short for Serif Typeface.
Serifs have been used for thousands of years, but the word “serif” only started being applied to typography in the 1800s. The Ancient Egyptians used serifs as early as 1500 BC. Download Serif fonts are still widely used today because they are readable at small sizes and are conducive to print technology. According to French engineer Hyacinth Violate, it is easier for the eye to read serif letters than other shapes (Violate). Serif typefaces can be divided into different subcategories based on their main characteristics like swashes, ball terminals, or brackets.
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There are several types of serif fonts and each type has different characteristics. Some examples of the different sub-categories within serif fonts include: slab serif, bracketed, old style, modern, transitional and humanist.
Sans Serif Fonts (from the French sans for “without”) came about as an alternative to Serif fonts that were previously used in books; they were viewed as crude and not visually appealing. The first Sans Serif font was released by British typographer Vincent Figgins in 1816 (Villatte). This new born Sans Serif font was designed to create a feeling of formal professionalism and attract more readers than the previous typeface which had been too difficult to read for people who had never seen it before (Stone).
Sans Download Serif fonts are still widely used today. Popular sans serif fonts include Helvetica, Arial, Calibri and Verdana. Like Serif fonts, there are many different types of Sans Serifs including the geometric, grotesque, script/fracture, humanistic/old style typefaces.
Serif Fonts are more legible than sans serif fonts. Serifs enhance the appearance of letter shapes and it makes sans serif letters look too similar to other characters in the alphabet (Harvey, “Serif vs Sans”).
Also sans serif typefaces are more legible than regular Old Style typefaces. Old style typefaces use little contrast between thick and thin strokes; this causes certain kinds of sans serifs to be very difficult to read (Melisa).
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A study conducted by Matthew J. Brown, Derek Chan, Simon Lucy, and Kevin Larson tested how quickly subjects could identify words printed in several different font types. Out of all the sans-serif fonts tested on the experiment’s participants sans-serif had a higher accuracy rate than sans serif. The sans-serif font named “Helvetica” in the study was identified with 100% accuracy, while “Verdana” had a 96% accuracy rate. Sans-serif fonts are much easier to identify than transitional or old style serif typefaces because sans serifs have more consistency in their letter shapes (Brown).
Since sans serif fonts look less formal than Download serif fonts they are often used in advertising for this reason. However, sans serifs can be just as formal when paired with other elements that create formality. For example, sans serif letters paired with uncommon color schemes or layouts can make text appear professional but also maintain their unique character; which is important to keep brands recognizable.
Sans serif fonts are best paired with a sans serif of a different subcategory. This can be seen best in practice on a fashion runway where designers often use modern sans-serifs with an ultra high fashion spin that is then presented on the runway. The best pairing of typefaces would include transitional or old style Sans Serif fonts to maintain the formality and authenticity of the brand.
In recent years, it has been claimed by Ben Blatt from Slate Magazine that Download serif fonts are more readable than non-serif fonts regardless of size, but this claim is incorrect as not all research concurs with his findings (Blatt). This myth stems from Horace’s quote “Seriousness and elegance rather than the more popular aspects of a font make a typeface readable” (Uzbek, “Serif vs Sans”).
Although serif fonts are not necessarily more legible than sans-serifs, serifs do give text a classy and classic appeal. Furthermore, in some cases it has even been found to be easier to read sans-serif online (Pope).
All variables considered (i.e. size, color etc.), research shows that reading comprehension is best when viewing non-serif fonts at 16px or larger; best practice would include testing your audience’s comprehension throughout different layout options before choosing the best font for you (Manteo).
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Articles about design usually emphasize the role of sans serif fonts. For instance, download-free-fonts.com explains how sans serif is more legible in large text blocks. And theguardian.com notes that when using lots of text (like in newspaper articles), it’s best to use a sans serif font like Helvetica, because it’s easier for people to read when there are long lines. However, download-free-fonts argues that typefaces with little contrast between thick and thin strokes should be avoided because they cause certain kinds of sans serifs to be very difficult to read. The article also explains different typeface categories including geometric, grotesque, script/fracture, humanistic, or serif. The article states that Roman languages are more legible in serif fonts despite Helvetica’s status as the most legible typeface. Download-free-fonts argues that sans serif is easier to read at small sizes, but serif is better for large text blocks because “it feels more welcoming and less cold than a typical geometric sans.
A Typographic Analysis of Verdana explains that sans-serifs are more versatile than serif fonts, but that doesn’t mean they’re better. The article states that Verdana is the most legible typeface at 12 pt, because it’s made to be experienced on screen (Helsingr). Helsingr also argues that sans-serifs are easier to read at small sizes because you don’t have to worry about missing parts of letters or spacing them incorrectly. He says the only valid comparison between serif and sans-serif comes down to personality, where most sans-serifs appear more modern while some serif fed typefaces come off as traditional. Another article by Adrian Fruiter titled Type in Advertising states that sans-serifs with a “soft, round appearance” are easier to read when set against a photo.
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In the paper “Typeface and Word Shape,” printed in The Journal of Experimental Psychology, Robert Massif explains how wording affects reading speed. Massif’s research shows that words per minute is most efficient when there is a large amount of white space on either side of each word. This shows that serif fed typefaces with more open spacing work best for efficient reading because there is more room inside each word. With this experiment, Massif also measured the reader’s eye movement and found it was faster when reading vertically written text than horizontally written text (Massif).
In the study “Serifs and Legibility: The Effect of Stroke Variation on Reading from the screen,” published in the journal Perception, M.T. Anderson explains that there is no evidence to prove that serif fonts are universally more legible online than sans-Download serif Fonts. However, Anderson’s research does conclude that serifs do give text a classy and classic appeal which can make it easier to read at small sizes (Anderson). According to the article Serif vs Sans by Brad DeLong, James Fallows found through experience with Chinese language newspaper columns that sans-serif fed typefaces could be difficult for readers because they were harder to follow across line breaks (DeLong). In this case, serif fed typefaces may be better for newspaper text blocks because there are no line breaks, and the spacing between words is already open.
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In an article by Ale Garza titled Fonts That Don’t Get Lost in Translation, Garza argues that serif fonts have more flexibility when creating multi-lingual websites because the different languages can each have their own unique font without being mixed up visually (Garza). For example, Latin letters used in Spanish are not hard to distinguish from Latin letters used in English or French. However, one could argue that it would be easier to read a Latin letter embedded with additional info about how it should be pronounced, so non-Latin letters should actually get this same treatment. erotically then, these extra marks should also give non-Latin letters increased visibility and make them easier to distinguish from Latin letters.
In the article “Typeface Design” in Visual Communication Quarterly, author Kimberly Elam describes how calligraphy is used in typefaces designs, particularly serif fed typefaces (Learn). The article states that when creating a serif typeface, light line weights are needed at small sizes so they don’t get lost when set against a dark background. And when creating an ultra-bold typeface for signage, the designer needs to consider the proportion between each stroke thickness to show it off at large sizes (Elam).