Serif vs. Sans Serif

Posted 2:10 PM by Philippa Hoey in
The questions we have been asked is ‘Why are most books printed in serif type?’ and ‘Which typeface is more readable?’ Well, fonts come in many different styles, based around the serif and sans serif type. Serif fonts have a decorative feel to them, much like the ‘Times’ style fonts. Sans serif fonts have a modern feel to them, much like the ‘Helvetica’ style fonts. So which one seems best suited for printed books/novels? It all has to do with the readability. The readability depends on how letters work together in words and in lines of text. But before we test the readability of the font, we must consider the differences between printed and digital text. When displaying text on-screen/digital, a letter with fine diagonal features and curves will appear different depending on the range of dots on the screen. This is because each tiny part of a letter relies on a pixel to be filled with colour, i.e. Black. If you look closely at your screen you will see how the pixels make up each letter. In particular typefaces, the range of pixels that make up one letter sometimes make it hard to interpret what letter it is, this is why sans serif type more so than serif type is most common for on-screen use. The smaller the font size on-screen the harder the text will be to read due to the collaboration of pixels. The larger the font size on-screen the finer and more detailed the text will be, making it more readable. This problem doesn’t arise when printing serif type as paper does not have pixels, which makes serif type on paper more readable than serif type on-screen. This may be one reason why most books are printed with serif type, because typographers feel that serif text is more readable. But I believe it has more to do with the traditional side. When printing first came about, type was set in more serif fonts than sans serif. And most books you see around today that may be very old, are set in serif type. Nowadays the majority of books are set in a serif type, because serif type flows as you read it, making it more readable than sans serif type. Serif fonts are used in traditional printed material such as books and newspapers. Many magazines use sans serif type as some editor’s state that they are cleaner and more readable. Serif type may be considered as a display type face which should only be used for headings or titles. Although sans serif type may also be used for headings and titles. Whatever you use your typeface for, it all depends on whether it looks good and it’s readable. There are many theories and debates suggesting sans serif type is more readable than serif type, and others suggesting the opposite. There have been ridiculous statements suggesting that ‘serifs are used for body text because sans serif causes fatigue’. But I think it’s just how you prefer the type, what you’re use to reading and which typeface is more readable to you. In the end I think it all comes down to your own decision.

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