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Which font is best? Editor's Notes #126
July 15, 2012

I'm all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools.
Let's start with typewriters.

--Solomon Short

In this issue:

1. Which is the best font?
2. Tickled my funnybone
3. Interesting Web site

1. Which is the best font?
I asked myself the question about the best font when I saw this graphic on Facebook recently. My apologies to those of you who do not belong to Facebook, because you won't be able to see the graphic. You'll have to take my word for it that it's a big capital S with a chunk missing at the top right. Below the letter is the caption, "I shot the serif." More about serifs below. I shot the serif.

After chortling about the pun and sharing the graphic with friends on Facebook, I got to thinking about fonts: why we have so many options and which ones are best?

Fonts are like clothes. Which are my best clothes? Depends on what I'll be doing when I'm wearing them. For example, I'm typing this wearing a pair of capris, a linen blouse, and a sweater with three-quarter sleeves. This is because the day began with the promise of sun (capris) but the possibility of cooler weather (linen blouse). Later it got downright cold (sweater). I didn't wear my swimsuit or my parka. I love both, but they won't work in the situation I'm in now.

I've got clothes for cold weather and clothes for hot weather. Lots of people store one set of clothes for half the year and switch when the weather changes.

There are two basic types of font: serif and sans serif. Those of you who learned French, know that sans means without.

Serif fonts have those little feet on them. They help a reader to track across a page of text. And of course serif fonts have other decorative bits to them besides just the feet. The graphic I told you about was missing the top of the serif on the capital S, nowhere near it's bottom. Many serif features are purely for balance in design.

San serif fonts are like Swedish furniture: nothing extra. Certainly no little feet.

Most books and newspapers use serif fonts. If you are designing a book, you still have many choices because there is wide range of serif fonts. Some have high ascenders (the part of letters like b and d that go above the bump of the letter); some have low ascenders. Some squish letters close together; others space them farther apart.

Magazines and Web sites usually use sans serif fonts. There is no definitive reason I can find for newspapers to be in serif and magazines to be in sans serif, but I do know why Web sites use sans serif fonts.

The resolution on older monitors meant that the serifs were hard to see and seemed to cause stumbling in reading. These days, the problms in seeing serifs when reading digital material are minimal, if indeed there are any at all. But the standard was set, and unless you want to make some point by using a serif font online, you are best to stick with a sans serif font there.

The best way to decide exactly which font to use is to look at a full page of text in the fonts you are considering. Then ask yourself some questions.

How easy is the text to read?

What general feeling to you get from looking at the text? Is it formal or playful?

How does the spacing of the letters in relation to each other impact the number of pages or amount of space you need for your project?

What are other designers in your genre or venue using? Do you need to stand out or fit in?

Just as most of us keep a variety of clothes in the closet, those who make choices about fonts for publishing do well to learn what we can about fonts and choose ours carefully.


2.Tickled my funnybone
A bicycle can't stand alone because it is two-tired.


3. Interesting Web site
For more on choosing a font, read this blog post by a designer.


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