Serif vs. Sans-Serif Fonts

One very often debated topic in web design is which font face is best: serif or sans-serif? Is there really any difference?

Serif fonts have small decorative flourishes, small tails that extend from the edges of the letters. Sans-serif, as you would expect, do not have these little tails (in fact, “sans” pretty much means “without”). Some of the most prominent examples of both types is Times New Roman for serif and Arial for sans-serif (as shown in the image below).

sans versus sans-serif


Arguments have been made for why one font type is superior over the other in different applications. For serif, it has been said that the small tails help to guide the eye from one letter to the next, helping to increase contrast and spacing between letters to make them more distinctive. This makes serif typefaces ideal for body text where eye fatigue could be an issue. Sans-serif fonts, on the other hand, are said to be great for adding emphasis to words and are very scalable. Since it retains its general shape at any size its ideal for when a design calls for small font sizes, whereas serif fonts tend to become a little blurry at smaller sizes due to those little tails that does not scale as well. This makes sans-serif fonts good for small disclaimers, tables, captions, and headings.

However, there are still some arguments that these ideas have not been thoroughly tested, and after some further testing there is actually no difference between serif and sans-serif as far as legibility and readability is concerned. It’s up to you whether or not you believe these ideas or not, but there is something that you SHOULD consider: what kind of experience do you want your user to have when they are visiting your website?

Things you should keep in mind when picking a font type are things like color and contrast, size, and style. Carrie Cousins of Design Shack comments that serif font tends to feel more “classic, elegant, formal, confident and established”, while sans-serif is more associated with “modern, friendly, direct,  clean and minimal” feelings. What font you decide on should be based on what your options are and its application. Serif fonts can be simple or decorative, curved or blocky, while sans-serif fonts can be sharp or rounded, and more often than not, your website will benefit from incorporating both types. The best thing you can do is explore your options, and test them on real users.


Sources: [ Serif vs. Sans: The Final Battle ], [ Serif vs. Sans Serif: Is One Really Better than the Other? ]


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