SERIFS ARE THE SHORT STROKES on the ends of letters that guide the eye along the line. They originated with Roman stonemasons, who carved them at the top and bottom of letters before carving the letters themeselves, to prevent the deeper strokes from splitting the stone.
“Sans serif” letters are simply those bereft of serifs, from the Latin sans meaning without. Sans serif lettering is closer to handwriting, but didn’t appear much in printed text until the early 20th Century.
Serif fonts are easier on the eye for long passages of text, such as books and magazine articles. The body text of almost every newspaper is set in a serif font, because it’s more comfortable to read at length. This paragraph is set in 12pt Garamond, based on a design by Aldus Manutius dating from 1455.
- Sans serif fonts take up less space.
- That’s because the characters tend to appear larger for the same point size.
- For instance, this paragraph is set in the far smaller 8pt Helvetica, which was designed by Max Miedinger in 1957.
- Sans serif fonts are best used for conveying short bursts of information to be taken in at a glance.
- Newspaper pages such as listings are almost always set in sans serif fonts.