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A feature on fonts - what is best to use where?

We thought we would write an article to inform you a little about fonts and the differences between the two main types of font that you will encounter.
Every single type of font that is available to use when we are word processing or designing falls under one of two categories. These are serif or sans serif. What does this mean?

A serif font is one that contains small decorative markings at the ends of the characters, or ‘serifs’. Probably the most common and universally used serif font is Times New Roman. Here is a picture of a variety of fonts, both serif and sans serif.

Now on to sans serif fonts, can you guess what they are? Well ‘sans’ of course means ‘without’ in French so these are fonts without the little decorative touches we described above. Arial is probably the most well-known and widely used of this font group (and indeed the Tahoma font that this article is typed in!

So, when is it recommended to use each type of font? Are there any rules? Whilst it is not set in stone, some general guidelines are offered below in terms of when to use each font style:

Serif Fonts

Serif fonts are commonly perceived to be easier to read in printed work than sans serif fonts. This is thought to be because the serifs on each letter make the letters easier to recognise and more distinctive, meaning our brains have to spend less time working out the shape of each letter. However sans serif fonts are still commonly used in printed works, you will often see serif fonts used in headings and captions whilst sans serif fonts are often used for the body text.

Sans Serif Fonts

It is often advisable to use sans serif fonts where possible for main copy intended for on screen viewing, such as on the Internet. The reason for this is that our computer screens have lower resolutions than printed media generally does, which means it can often be very hard to distinguish the decorative markings on serif fonts. The last thing you want people to be doing is squinting to read the content of your website; so whilst it is safe to use serif fonts sparingly, best to stick to sans serif fonts for main copy!