Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Do-It-Yourself Typography: Serif and Sanserif

The Basics: In typography, regular fonts fall into two major categories--serif and sans-serif. "Serifs" are little nobs or slight ornamentation on the ends of letters. Fonts that don't have these bits are called "sans-serif," from the French sans meaning without. Here are a few rules of thumb:
  • For printed works, use a serif font like Times New Roman for your body text. It will be easier to read as text than a sans-serif font like Arial.
  • For online works, use a sanserif font for your body text. For reasons that have something to do with light, sans-serif fonts read more easily on current computer screens.
  • If you want to use more than one font family, use (for a printed application) a serif font for your body text and a sanserif font for display or non-body text applications (e.g., chapter headings, subheadings, and the like). This works because serif and sans-serif fonts are so different from each other that your choice will look deliberate. On the other hand, if you try to combine serif (or sans-serif) fonts from different families, it will look like you don't know what you are doing.
  • In general, you don't want too many font families in your book. For most purposes, two font families are plenty. You can get more than enough variety from variations in style (i.e., Roman, Italic, Bold, Bold Italic, Large Caps, Small Caps, Underscoring, and the like). The Publishing Pro, LLC