Serifs vs. Sans-serifs

You’ve obviously seen that not all fonts look the same. When you’re writing anything using a computer, the most difficult decision to make is what font to use. It’s even tougher than hunting for a title. You’ve got a fine choice between serifs and sans-serifs, but first, we need to learn the difference between #Typefaces and #Fonts. Typefaces are a family of fonts (such as Helvetica Regular, Helvetica Italic, Helvetica Black, and Helvetica Bold belong to the Typeface Helvetica). Fonts, on the other hand are weights or stylize within that family (such as Helvetica Bold). Now, for the difference between Serif and Sans-serif fonts: Both of the families have a very specific set of rules. Here’s an example for each:

Serif fonts: Times New Roman, Georgia, Cambria, Garamond
Sans-serif font: Myriad, Arial, Verdana, Roboto, Tahoma

Before we get any further with this topic, let’s get something straight: Headings = Sans-serif and Body = Serif, or just the opposite. The usual combination, as featured on CNN, BBC or a lot of other important media for that matter, is Headings in sans-serif and Body in a serif font.

Serif Fonts Family

Let’s start with Serif fonts. Wikipedia says that Serifs are thought to have originated in the Latin alphabet with inscriptional lettering—words carved into stone in Roman antiquity. The explanation proposed by Father Edward Catich in his 1968 book The Origin of the Serif is now broadly but not universally accepted: the Roman letter outlines were first painted onto stone, and the stone carvers followed the brush marks which flared at stroke ends and corners, creating serifs. Another theory is that serifs were devised to neaten the ends of lines as they were chiseled into stone. In Typography, they are intended for the article body. The best advice here is to just look at different fonts and use your own common sense to determine a good combination. The more times you’ll try this, the better you will become.

Here’s a little something about two fonts: Georgia was designed in 1993 by Matthew Carter and hinted by Tom Rickner for the Microsoft Corporation, as the serif companion to the first Microsoft sans serif screen font, Verdana. This font was used on the official logo, and all marketing associated with the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, held in the US state of the same name, Georgia. Times New Roman commissioned by the British newspaper The Times in 1931, created by Victor Lardent at the English branch of Monotype.

Sans-serif Fonts Family

Sans Serif typefaces are the ones that do not have the small projecting features called “serifs” at the end of strokes. The term comes from the French word sans, meaning “without”. In print, sans-serif fonts are used for headlines rather than for body text. As Wikipedia says, Sans-serif fonts have become the de facto standard for body text on-screen, especially online. This is partly because interlaced displays may show twittering on the fine details of the horizontal serifs. Additionally, the low resolution of digital displays in general can make fine details like serifs disappear or appear too large. Sans-serif forms can be found in Latin, Etruscan, and Greek inscriptions, for as early as 5th century BC.

You can’t wait to see some great sans-serif fonts, can you? Well, you got to wait. Some more boring stuff is waiting for you.

Sans-serif fonts can be classified into 4 major groups:

  • Grotesque, early sans-serif designs, such as Grotesque, Akzidenz Grotesk, and Franklin Gothic.
  • Neo-grotesque or Transitional or Realist, modern designs such as Helvetica, Univers, Highway Gothic, and Arial. These are the most common sans-serif fonts. They are relatively straight in appearance and have less line width variation than Humanist sans-serif typefaces.
  • Humanist fonts, such as Calibri, Johnston, Lucida Grande, Segoe UI, Gill Sans, Myriad. These are the most calligraphic of the sans-serif typefaces, with some variation in line width and more legibility than other sans-serif fonts. Learn to love them.
  • Geometric (Futura, ITC Avant Garde, Century Gothic, Gotham, or Spartan). As their name suggests, Geometric sans-serif typefaces are based on geometric shapes.

Here are a few examples:

  • Franklin Gothic – Grotesque
  • Helvetica – Realist
  • Tahoma – Humanist
  • Futura – Geometric

Font Combinations

The final piece of the typographic puzzle is to pick a good combination of serif and sans-serif fonts in order to create a harmony in your design.

There is no exact science for doing this, your only option is to use the popular trial and error method. Some of the good combinations are:

Caslon + Franklin Gothic
Helvetica + Garamond

It is essential for Designers to have a good understanding of typography and its selection, as the importance of typography in design cannot be neglected. The right usage of typography can convert your normal design into brilliant and attractive works of art. Effective typography aims at achieving a lot of visual elements, look and feel of your designs.

We are always in the search for great fonts to beautify our typography designs. The choice of a unique and beautiful typeface which manages to fulfill the above mentioned aspects can be quite cumbersome sometimes. Using the right typefaces not only gives a logo/brand a distinct feel but also supports the corporate identity and enriches the visual appearance. However, usually there are simply too many options in front of you, which is why you need time to find the one you are most comfortable with. Although the choice usually depends on clients’ requirements, it is necessary to have some great ones to kick-start your work.