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Serif or Sans Serif?

Serif or Sans Serif?

One the best known “rules” of typography is that sans serif fonts (such as Arial) are best for headlines while serif fonts (such as Times Roman) are best for the main bodies of text. The idea is that the legibility of sans serif fonts makes headlines easy to assimilate quickly, while the readability of serif fonts makes long pieces of text easier to read (see Figure 7).

While this rule may well be worth sticking to in lieu of anything better, not every typographer agrees with it, and there’s not much scientific evidence to prove the case either way. About the best that can be said is that document format is a key issue. Serif fonts work well on printed pages even at relatively small sizes—i.e., anything from about 12 points downwards—and they continue to be popular for use in books, magazines, and newspapers.

On the other hand, the pixelated nature of computer screens may in fact make sans serif fonts easier to read when documents are viewed online. It’s perhaps significant that many of the fonts designed expressly for use on the Internet are sans serif fonts, including Verdana and Trebuchet. Even so, there are serif fonts designed to look good on computer screens, including Georgia.

If all else fails, produce different versions of a trial page using different fonts and see what you and your coworkers think. Though hardly a scientific approach, you will at least have some feedback upon which you can base your final choice.

Figure 7 Sans serif fonts work well for headings; the idea they can’t be used for body text is somewhat outdated.

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