Friday, March 27, 2009

|font lesson #1: serif vs. sans serif|

By definition, a font is the complete character set of a given typeface style and size: all capitals (ABC), lower case (abc), numbers (123), and punctuation (.!%). Additionally, typography is the art and technique of designing, arranging, and modifying type. Most typographers use the terms font and typeface interchangeably, as do I.

Once defining what a font is, the next level of broad classification is serif or sans serif. Serifs are semi-structural extensions at the end of some letter and symbol strokes. The term sans is French for "without"; thus, sans serif fonts lack these extensions. See two examples below:

{This type is Times, a serif font.}
{This type is Trebuchet, a sans serif font.}

Surprisingly, serif fonts tend to be more readable than sans serif at small sizes (about 12 pt and smaller), so the majority of books, magazines, newspapers, and other lengthy documents are printed with seriffed typefaces. Also, serif fonts typically have a more formal look.

On the other hand, sans serif fonts are the preferred choice for Web pages because they are more legible than serif fonts due to the resolution of average computer screens. Sans serif fonts usually look more casual than serif typefaces and are widely used for small amounts of type, such as headlines and headings.

Just as the English language has its endless exceptions, the font world has Optima. Though probably more likely to be classified as sans serif, its delicate variation of stroke width mimics the effect of a serif font, so Optima can be doubly classified.

We have officially dipped our toe into the world of typography. Hang on for the rest of the ride.

-J. Gibb