What the Font? Serif or Sans Serif April 03 2015

When choosing a font for your personalised sign, selecting the right font can be a time-consuming decision for some of our customers.  There are so many available that the choice can be overwhelming.  Understanding the difference between serif and sans serif fonts, is a quick way of making sure you select the right font for your particular purpose.  So what is the difference?

Serif Fonts:

Serif fonts, such as Times New Roman, as the name suggests have serifs at the end of the letters.  This makes them very easy to read in large chunks such as in novels or newspapers because the serifs act like a ruler almost creating a continuous line along the top and bottom of the text. If you read by moving your finger or putting a ruler underneath the text to stop your eyes from veering off the line, the serif serves the same purpose.  However there is debate about whether the reverse is the case with regard to small text on the lower resolution of the computer screen or tablet where the serif makes the shape of the letters less clear.   

The beauty of serif fonts is that if you want a lot of text on a single line, it can be condensed without looking too distorted.  Similarly if you want a small amount of text to take up more width but less height, this can be done and still be readable.  If the font is made bold this can increase its legibility.  

Sans Serif

Whereas serif fonts, have serifs at the end of the lines, sans serif fonts, such as Arial, are without the serifs.  Use this for: 

  • Putting a lot of information in a smaller amount of space as the lettering can be pushed closer together without risking overlapping serifs: serif fonts need more space.  
  • Websites have a lower resolution than printed documents (even with retina displays) which means the simpler sans serif font is easier to read. The more modern looking serif font from an aesthetic point of view, creates a contemporary minimalist design for use online.  Its use has partly risen in opposition to the strong tradition of using serif fonts that have dominated printed media.
  • Signs that need to be read from a distance  such as road traffic signs because the font is clearer.
  • Avoid using for: 
  • Large amounts of printed text such as novels or long instructions you want people to read for longer periods.  The removal of the serif means there is no natural ruler to follow at the top and the bottom of the font, it is much more difficult to read for longer periods of time as your eyes find it difficult to follow along the line.
  • Where the text needs to be stretched to fill a large space or condensed to fill a smaller space.  The lack of the serif makes this text distorted if it is pulled and pushed to fit a particular location. 

Still not sure whether to use a serif or sans serif font for your sign? Just remember there are no hard or fast rules.  Think about where it is to be displayed, what is the nature of the message and most importantly: can your audience actually read it!