Can’t Decide: Serif or Sans-serif

This is my first ever post using a sans-serif font. For anyone the slightest bit interested the font being used is Franklin 12pt—a very popular sans-serif font. All my previous posts were done using the serif font Gorgia (which is rated in the Top 10 of readable fonts).

The general basic rule of thumb—for people who pay attention to these things—is that you should always use a serif font for the body text of ‘copy’ that is intended to be consumed printed; and use a sans-serif font for body text that is intended to be consumed from a computer screen.

Also whenever a sans-serif font is to be used the column width should not exceed ten words. The science of this being that long lines written using a sans-serif font are harder to read and even harder to ‘comprehend’.

The theory is that the shorter line length counters this characteristic of using a sans-serif font. The line re-read factor when using sans-serif fonts increases significantly compared to serif fonts as the line length gets longer. At a line length of 20 words the re-read rate for a sans-serif font is 15 compared to five for a serif font. This indicates the number of lines out of 100 that the a grade 10 reader will need to re-read in order to comprehend what has been written.

The average line length for my site post is 18 using this font, or at least that is what Live Writer tells me—when I picked a couple of lines at random and counted the words there seems to be more than 18, but I must be wrong. This is eight words longer than is recommended if a san-serif font is going to be used.

Also if a sans-serif font is to be used then it is highly recommended that ragged right margins are used. Well at least I am complying with that rule. I have never used a justified right margin. I hate justified right margins.

Another problem with sans-serif fonts is that some letters can be hard to tell apart. For example the following word is “ill” using a capital “i” … Ill. Also sans-serif fonts tend to look smaller due to the way the decender and mid-lines are calculated. This text is 12pt in Franklin. This text is 12pt in Gorgia. The same sized Gorgia serif font appears slightly larger although technically it is not. This due to the reading ‘hints’ (the little blobs on the letters) and how the decenders and the midline is set.

Also due to the way sans-serif fonts are defined the default line spacing is usually about 10 percent wider than for the same size serif font. This gives sans-serif fonts a sort of ‘cleaner’ look due to the increased inter-line spacing. However, should the writer like increased spacing between lines almost all modern word processors allow the user to increase the line spacing a tiny bit whether they are using a serif or sans-serif font.

There is a huge amount of science behind font design and layout, and what font to use.

While sans-serif fonts tend to look more slender and ‘stick’ like, and do not have the reading ‘hints’ that serif fonts have, the idea is that when displayed on a computer screen a sans-serif font looks crisper and more solid.

Anyway … I have been thinking for some time of converting to a sans-serif font so I thought I would try a few posts using a sans-serif font—this being the first.

I did do a check around at some of the more serious and professional Web sites and at this stage most of them are still using a serif font even though they are ‘consumed’ from a computer screen. For example the New York Times (here), the Australian (here), and the Huffington Post (here) are all still using serif fonts for body text.

Well I plan to try using a sans-serif font for the next few posts and see how I feel about it.

If you have an opinion please do let me know.

BarryMark