Fonts play an important role in the readability of online and print articles, and different typefaces can color our messages with different meanings. In addition to dozens of studies done in the past few decades, several tests have been conducted to determine which fonts are easiest to read.
To save the day, we share with you some font suggestion.
✎ Serif or Sans Serif ?
Do you know the difference between a serif and a sans serif typeface? Your eye certainly does. A serif typeface is one that has little feet and embellishments on the tips and base of each letter; whereas Sans (the Latin word “without”) serifs have no such serifs. The serifs make each letter more recognizable.
Multiple researchers confirm that serif fonts make words easier to read. (Wordon, 1991; Hartley, 1994). Examples of serif fonts are Times New Roman, Palatino, Schoolbook, Georgia, Courier, and Garamond.
In 1926, The British Medical Council reported that sans serif type causes irradiation: an optical anomaly in which space between lines intruded into letters, creating a light-vibration that made reading more difficult.
In a substantial test of several hundred thousand readers, Wheildon set one ad in three different faces: Garamond, Times Roman (both serif), and Helvetica (sans serif). Here’s what he found:
√ Garamond was read and comprehended by 670,000 people—66 percent of the test subjects.
√ Times Roman was comprehended by 320,000—less than half of Garamond.
√ Helvetica was comprehended by only 120,000 people— 12.5 percent of the subjects.
Conclusion: To our dear freelancers, serif fonts are simply easier to read, and maybe that’s why most newspaper and magazine publishers set their body copy in a serif typeface.
As to exactly which serif font to use, there is no certain answer. You can surely choose the font you like. Here are some opinion from the researchers:
John McWade, publisher of Before & After magazine, recommends: Adobe Caslon, Adobe Garamond, ITC Stone Serif, and Janson Text 55 Roman.
Coauthors James Craig, Irene Korol Scala, and WilliamBevington, of Designing With Type: The Essential Guide to Typography, say, “Baskerville is considered one of the most pleasant and readable typefaces.”
Advertising copy great John Caples liked using Cheltenham Bold for headlines.
David Ogilvy preferred the Century family, Caslon, Baskerville, and Jenson.
Direct marketing guru Gary Halbert swore by Courier for sales letters.
Ascender Corporation’s study “Fonts on the Front Page” revealed the 10 most popular typefaces used by the top 100 U.S newspapers (by circulation), in order:
Century Old Style.
✎ Serif or Sans Serif for Online Reading?
What looks good on paper doesn’t necessarily read well on screen. Some researchers used proofreading to determine readability, such as Tullis, Boynton, & Hersh in 1995 for their study for Fidelity Investments. They looked at 12 different fonts in sizes from 6 to 9.75 points.
Results: The most preferred fonts were Arial and MS Sans Serif at 9.75 points.
Two other researchers (Bernard and Mills, 2000) evaluated 10- and 12-point Arial and Times New Roman fonts.
Results: No reliable differences in reading speed or in error detection. However, the readers said they preferred the 12-point fonts.
Bernard didn’t stop there. He put three different font sizes (10, 12, and 14 points) in eight different typefaces on the chopping block (Bernard, et al., 2001)— four serif fonts: Century Schoolbook, Courier New, Georgia, and Times New Roman, and four sans serif fonts: Arial, Comic Sans, Tahoma, and Verdana.
Subjects read Arial and Times New Roman faster than Courier, Schoolbook, and Georgia.
Subjects read the 12-point fonts faster than the 10-point fonts.
Subjects preferred all the fonts—except Century Schoolbook—over Times New Roman.
In 2002, the Software Usability Research Laboratory published the results of a study titled “A Comparison of Popular Online Fonts: Which Size and Type is Best?”
The most legible fonts were Arial, Courier, and Verdana.
At 10 points, participants preferred Verdana. Times New Roman was the least preferred.
At 12 points, Arial was preferred and Times New Roman the least preferred.
The preferred font overall was Verdana, and Times New Roman was the least preferred.
Conclusion: For easiest online reading, use Arial for 12-point text and larger. Smaller than 12 point? Verdana, but rarely go smaller than 10 point. For a more formal look, use Georgia. For older readers, use 14 point.