Serif vs. Sans Serif

sans serif

Serifs or no serifs? What’s your vote?

A: Sans Serif Type
Sans serif type is superior for legibility and should be used whenever possible before using serif type.

B: Serif Type
Visually, serif type is more appealing than sans serif type. Affording more opportunities, it should be used in place of sans serif type whenever possible.

C: Both Serif and Sans Serif Type
Both serif and sans serif type can be equally effective for legibility and style. Each should be used whenever appropriate.

Posted by on January 18, 2006
Filed Under Graphic Design, Typography | 34 Comments

  • stephanie aron


    I would have to go with sans serif type. Of course they are both needed buti cant seem to think of a time i use serif except for body copy.….….

    sans serifs are more fun to alter and i think there is more of a need for these faces. legibility

  • Kristopher Cargile

    I’ve always read that sans serif is more readable on screen, while serif is better for print.

    So, I’ll take door C Pat.

  • Coudal

    Like asking “food or oxygen, choose one.”

  • Fisheye

    Differing studies have concluded that each is more legible than the other. Personally (and not scientifically) I feel that legibility has to do more the the particulars of the specific design of the typeface, not the general family to which it belongs. Also, legibility is dependent of circumstance. For instance, a bold sans face may be more legible on a road sign, but a delicate serif may be more legible for 9pt book type. Therefore, I think either is appropriate depending both on the function of the text and the mood the designer wishes to convey.

  • Stefan Kjartansson

    My theory is that legibility has much to do with familiarity. One who grew up with Helvetica, Times, etc. will scan those faces faster…

  • Eric K Stevens

    “Legibility” is a funny thing. This reminds me that Verdana was designed for the screen, yet is not a particularly attractive typeface. It has characteristics of both a sansserif and a serif face.

    Anyone have a link to the new freeway signage font that come out a little while back? I remember people finding it ‘ugly’ though it was highy legible…

  • Richard Parsons

    i would have to go with “c” because it absolutely depends on the circumstance. i did enjoy the irony of the baner graphic for this discussion topic.

    p.s. new freeway signage font =

  • Chris Jansen

    Technical issues aside, I go with whatever reflects the mood of the piece. //c

  • Mort Knach

    I insist on only using typefaces that use both serif and sans serif mixed together. It’s stupid but it’s my signature touch. A trade-off no worse than my wearing under outside my jeans. 100 percent style and 0 percent class. My way.

  • Ambrand

    Sans-serfi for header text, but always Serif for body text, Times New Roman is so pleasing to read.

  • James Arboghast

    It’s a moot question. Why should one be preferable to the other? Both type forms exist and their merits are relative.

    Tremendous discussions by very knowledgable typographers on this subject exist at


  • Jordan

    Well said, Jim.

  • Mister Thorne

    What an interesting question!

    Studies consistently show that serif type is easier to read. But that’s when the type is printed on paper. When it comes to on-line type, other issues weigh in, especially the size of the type.

    If you want to know how to set type, just look around — a newspaper, a magazine, that horrific looking piece that just came out of a laser printer .…

  • Achim

    Either OR! But never mixed!

  • Genius Girl

    There is no right or wrong. The answer is “C” both.

    Serifs are good on lengthy texts due to its legibility and readability. They are prefered on the context of physical pages (i.e., books, mags, etc).

    Sans serif are more stylistic and works well on short context (i.e., titles, headings, etc). However, sans serif are much more legible and appropriate on screen (i.e, online text).

    Right now, this type choice is all wrong–we should be on a Sans Serif typeface, because we are all straining our eyes trying to read this blog. How sad is that? =(

  • Tom Cruise

    Well said Genius Girl. I totally agree with you 100%. Everything you said is correct and you definitely hit the target on that one. You are definitely the genius and I commend you. For sure, Genius Girl knows what she’s talking about!

    Right now, I am definitely hurting my eyes reading this serif text. What a bummer!

  • Theodore Rosendorf

    Sorry about the type here…

    Quality on-screen type rendering has not been a priority for Microsoft. They’ve passed that savings on to you.

    [Note (August 08)]
    [This thread is old. The site has been redesigned since]

    My rational for the use of the Georgia face on this site was that Microsoft would release their new version of Windows with better type rendering soon enough. Now that’s been postponed…again.

    Now I’m in a position of needing to redesign the site, so by the time I do that, Vista may be out and the serif type—I plan to continue its use—will look right to [some] of you.

    For those of you running Windows: You will have to wait until Vista is released before you’ll have quality type rendering on-screen. Serif and Sans Serif..

    You can also try tuning your ClearType:

  • Alex Lotensin

    My theory is that legibility has much to do with familiarity. One who grew up with Helvetica, Times, etc. will scan those faces faster…

  • Kevin

    I code small e-commerce websites all day, 99% of the fonts we use are all sans serif.

  • Katherine

    I have no problem with Georgia on screen. Infact, Georgia was created with that intent in mind. While I also believe in using sans serif for on line and serif for print, I think the exception is Georgia.

  • Some Guy

    To be honest, I’m still very suprised that many sites still use Serif fonts. I find that Serif fonts are slightly harder to read then sans-serif fonts. When i design i usually stick to sans-serif fonts.

  • Mortal

    I agree with Katherine. I think Georgia is one of the few fonts that can and should be used online and on-screen.

  • Ted Swart

    It is always best to use an actual example:

    Go to the February 2007 issue of Discover magazine and turn to facing pages 12 and 13. On the left is serif font and on the right a sans serif font(in the same size). I challenge anyone to deny that the serif font is both aesthetically more pleasing and easier to read. Of course there are circumstances in which a case can be made for using serif fonts. But in the main, sans serif fonts are massively overused because of the faddish notion that they are more modern and high tech. Donald Knuth — who is high tech par excellence — designed some of the most beautiful fonts which have ever existed for use in TeX and Latex. Go for beauty I say.

  • Kevin Harrison

    Any e-commerce site that i have my hands in, i always make sure every font is sans-serif.

  • dont talk fluff.. talk fact and justify fact

    Mr. Ted– Don’t tell me you are unaware of other visual variables and composition techniques that can help govern the readability of text on a page in comparison to another other than the font and its treatment itself.


    need to put all the information in spanish if someone does not know how to read english.….

  • Steph

    Pointless discussion — sorry.

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  • Robin Clarke

    I get lots of direct marketing mailings here. These people thoroughly research what mailings make them profits v losses. They know what theyre doing (have built millionaire businesses on these letetrs) and they nearly *never* use sans-serif fonts.
    I rest my case.
    Meanwhile the early computers weren’t up to serif and the computer world has therefrom got stuck in its rut of “modern” tradition.

  • robert moyerman

    the federal government has gotten in the act with new directives for city street signs. FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez says, “RESEARCH SHOWS THAT OLDER DRIVERS ARE BETTER ABLE TO READ SIGNS WHEN THEY ARE WRITTEN IN BOTH CAPITAL AND SMALL LETTERS”.i would like to see the study. there may or not be much difference for reading. this problem is maybe like flash cards. it is hard enough to read street signs when you’re driving.
    Easier or EASIER. try this yourself with DeJaVu Serif.

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  • Mucy

    Which is better — 2 seater roadster or a bus. You can’t have 18 people in a roadster and you can’t do NASCAR with a bus. Sans serifs are good for one thing, serifs are good for another. Try Times New Roman on a black surface. Or reading a book in Arial. Your eyes will hurt. But all designers know: client is god. And when the clients want to have it done wrong, I give them URW Classico.

  • Theo Rosendorf

    @Mucy I began this post as an experiment… to stir up trouble. Your comment is by far the best one yet.

  • Mucy

    Haha :) Thanks… :)
    I’ve been designing books ‘n’ stuff for about 15 years and there’s always the same problem.

    The usual conversation about books for children:
    “Make a book in Sans Serif” they say.
    “Why? I told you it’s wrong.” I say
    “Well, children have difficulties reading.” they say.
    “Have you asked yourself WHY they are having difficulties?“
    And this goes on and on (for as long as I have patience). Then I use URW Classico, which is technically Sans Serif but a hint of serifs make it more readable.
    And everyone’s happy. I probably made some 100 children’s books using that writing. It’s easier than arguing.