Open Microsoft Word and you will see about 150 font choices (Office 2003 on XP) or even 250 (Office 2007 on Vista). Some of them are for symbols or different languages, but you still have a dizzying array of choices. Where to begin?
Let's start with two basic categories of fonts:
- Serif fonts have little embellishments on the ends of the letters:
- Sans serif fonts are often used for headings and do not have embellishments on the ends of letters:
Serif fonts are often used for body text in book publishing or print magazine articles. The London Times newspaper created the Times New Roman font which is perhaps the most common choice for body text such as in a newspaper article. The curly terminations help the eye scan words quicker when reading lines of text.
Here are some serif fonts:
- Times New Roman
- Goudy Old Style
Sans Serif fonts such as Arial or Helvetica are often used for headings or for large lettering such as signs.
Here are some sans serif fonts:
- Arial Black
- Arial Narrow
Which newspaper headline has the most impact?
Viewing Fonts Onscreen
Georgia (serif) and Verdana (sans serif) were designed for use on computer screens and are easy to read on screen at small sizes.
Some designed-for-print fonts lose their subtle variations in line thickness and gentle curves, especially at some point sizes (type is measured in points, 72 pts per one inch. Traditional printers had a limited selection of point sizes. That's why you often see 10pt and 12pt sizes for body text and 24pt and 36pt for headings.
Generally you should still use these conventional settings because the eye sees a 12pt body text or 24pt heading as normal and correct. But you can use the computer's ability to scale fonts to any size. There are sometimes I find that 10pt is too small and 12pt too large. Try using Verdana 11pt for emails you write.
Other Types of Fonts
There are several other specialty classifications of fonts:
- Calligraphic or script fonts
- Decorative casual informal fonts
- Symbol fonts (Dingbats or Wingdings)
- Monospace fonts (Courier and the like)
For the quotes from Ben Franklin in my previous post, I used Garamond as it is an old fashioned font often used by printers. I used a bold version for the heading and regular for the individual quotes.
You can mix traditional and modern fonts sometimes for a nice effect. Here is my .NET samples page, where I used Verdana for the heading and Garamond for the list items:
You can use informal fonts for large lettering, as I did here (you wouldn't want to read paragraphs of text in this font).
And finally, sans serif fonts are traditionally used for negative space (white text on a dark background):
This used to be done because ink would seep into the small curly serifs on letters. Now it just looks right because we've seen so many examples of sans serif used to define negative space.