• Jennifer

Serif or sans-serif?

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

Type and website design
Photo by Marcus dePaula on Unsplash

One of the reasons I decided to pursue website design is my fascination with fonts. There are hundreds available to us and each has its own particular character (pun intended). I often test a line of text in dozens of fonts to see which one fits the content best. Sometimes I'll try fonts that I know I won't use, just because I want to see what they look like in a bigger sample size than the font menu provides (this passes for fun in my office). How can there be so many ways to signify each letter and they are all still readily recognizable as the same alphabet?! Wowza!

I kind of assumed that everyone had the same need (ok, obsession) to use THE perfect font in everything they wrote, but apparently this is a quirk shared by only a chosen few. Imagine my surprise, then, when my husband asked me to help him update his resume last week (which he does annually, because he is responsible that way). He had chosen a very casual font, and so I said,

"You work in a conservative industry. You really should use a font with a serif."

"A what?"

"A serif."

"A serif? Like a medieval peasant?"

"What? No! A ser-if. Don't you know what a serif is?"

Apparently not.

A font with a serif has the little extra lines at the edges of the letters. You probably see Times New Roman, one of the most common fonts and with serifs, almost everyday.

A sans-serif font, like the one in which this post is written, does not have those doodads. "Sans" means "without" in French. (Thank you to Monsieur Moore, my high school French teacher.)

Generally speaking, serif fonts are more conservative and sans-serif are more carefree and fun-loving. If you work in the world of finance, medicine, or law, serifs are your best friends. But if you do anything remotely creative, you're using sans-serif.

There is also healthy debate about the readability of each. Most people agree that sans-serif is usually easier to read on a screen, but as with any rule, there are always exceptions.

And if you need just one more factoid on this fascinating topic, you can correctly spell sans serif with or without a hyphen. (Did I mention I won the 5th grade spelling bee? Yeah, I'm that girl, all about fonts and spelling. Wait til you hear me go on and on about semi-colons!)

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