As a designer it is absolutely vital to understand about typography, fonts and typeface. You will be surprised to know a big chunk of knowing how to design anything is also knowing your typeface. A typeface is the design and guide for a set of characters that form a font. Think of it this way, font is what described all the characters together and typeface is guideline of how these characters visually appear as a group. All typefaces are divided into two main categories. They are serif and sans serif. Each of these types has a large variety of fonts and they are all used for various purposes. However, their main difference can be easily pointed out.
If you look closely on the letters of the serif typeface towards the end of the characters, you will see small lines. Those particular small lines are generally present in serif fonts. To describe from a different approach, font having those small lines are known as serif font. The common serif fonts which are most popularly used include Times New Roman, Courier, Georgia and MS Serif.
On the other hand, sans serif fonts are those which do not have those small lines or so-called serifs at the end of the characters. The most commonly used sans serif fonts include Arial, Helvetica, Tahoma, Verdana and MS Sans Serif. They are widely used in many places.
Choosing the Right Typeface
Selecting the right typeface to use is finding out the following matters
- The context
- The medium
- The message and emotions to convey
Medium and Readability
You can start typeface selection process by defining your medium. Are you designing something for print or screen? A book cover, poster or online magazine? When the question of choosing the font is concerned, a main reason which comes into the mind is readability. Users want to know that while reading the document, which one of these two fonts will be more soothing and helpful to the eyes of the reader.
When the design is going to be used for print purpose, it has been observed that serif fonts are most preferred option as far as legibility, and readability is concerned. It is for this specific reason, it has been observed that magazine and newspapers have got the tendency of use serif font. However, let’s not totally say sans-serif is not legible or not suitable for print. Most newspaper sticks to serif fonts because it has become a tradition and people are used to it. Imagine one issue of The New York Times printed to with all sans serif with light and fancy fonts. The newspaper may lose its creditability as serious news medium.
Now, look at following page from Time Magazine. They are using sans serif fonts for the whole page, even for the title. Most magazine tries add style, elegance and class to their contents. We are not saying magazine does not have serious news but they have more freedom in terms of layout and typeface.
A research conducted on the use of fonts has revealed that when the letter sizes are small, the serif font may create some interference with legibility. Hence the size of the letter used is also another important factor that needs to be considered while choosing between the serif and sans-serif fonts.
Designer prefer to use sans serif fonts on their work as they are much easier to look on-screen. Also, they can retain their visual appeal across all browsers and platforms even if the size is reduced. For the past few years, it has been observed that web has become an alternative reading platform. Lot of newspapers, magazine now offer their issues as an ebook form. Therefore, on the web the use of sans serif font is more extensive.
Serif fonts, usually are used in titles and sub-titles where the body of the article/webpage remains in a sans serif font. The combination of the two gives a refined variation to the overall look of the article. Broadly speaking sans serifs can also be used where the text is long and continuous. On the other hand, it is advisable to use serifs when the passages are found to be short and broken.
Emotions with Typography
If you are wondering why serif is used for titles, it is because typefaces also expresses emotion. They can send a subliminal messages to the reader. Consider movie title fonts and how they are used. They do not use grunge font for the title where the movie is about something serious, important and historic. Furthermore, they do not use a serious font such as Georgia if the message they are trying to send is laughter and fun.
The Hidden Message
Still not convinced? Let’s put it to a test. Schindler’s List, one of the greatest movie about the persecution by the Nazis. This movie has serious emotions written all over it. We have just taken a still from the movie and added the title two different type of fonts. In the hand side we have a serif and right hand side a hand written style sans serif .
If you were asked to choose an image which one would you choose ? I am guessing the one on the left hand side because it amplifies the seriousness of the actor emotion, whereas as the other one takes the tension away.
A common method that is mostly used by professional designer is, mix and match of typeface. You can create a contrast by alternating typefaces between serif and sans serif.
In conclusion, what we have discussed here, merely a simple guide on choosing between serif and sans serif fonts. It all comes down to you, the designer to make the right decisions. We have linked a couple of detailed articles on choose the right. Be sure to read them to extend your knowledge about typography and typeface.
- How To Choose A Font
- 15 tips to choose a good text type
- Choose the Right Font for your Project
- On Choosing Type