Serif Vs Sans Serif – The Dispute Of Fonts
Both are readable, both are charming and both are practical – then how do you pick one? That’s perhaps the confusion that runs in the mind of a marketer trying to narrow down a font – to choose between serif and san-serif fonts. Well, you are not alone. The serif vs sans serif dispute is real.
The decision matters! If graphic design is like a game of Jenga, then typography is like the solid base you build. One slip-up and the tower comes crashing down.
That’s why designers prioritize font decisions over most other tasks while tackling any design project. So, what really is the serif vs sans serif confusion? Which one should you use where? This blog will answer all your questions.
- Serif vs sans serif – the anatomical difference
- Serif vs sans serif – the psychological difference
- Serif vs sans serif – when you have to pick only one
- Combining serif and sans serif fonts for balance
- Combining serif and sans serif fonts for hierarchy
- Leveraging the strengths of serif and sans serif in your designs with Kimp
Serif vs sans serif – the anatomical difference
First things first, let’s establish the clear and straightforward difference between serif and sans serif fonts.
When you look at a font, you might notice that there are the main strokes that form the basic structure of each character. If you notice small decorative strokes or extensions added to the main strokes, (the red portions in the above image), these are called serifs. Fonts with these serifs are serif fonts and they are some of the oldest out there.
The below image shows the inscriptions on the Arch of Titus, the historic structure constructed approximately in 81 AD. And it features serif-style fonts. This shows the long and rich heritage of serif fonts.
Considering the rich history and the widespread presence of serif fonts, these are often associated with conventional styles.
The Vogue logo is an example of serif fonts in branding.
Sans serif – the name must give it away – yes, these are fonts sans (without) serifs in them. As a result, these are sleek, simple, and more modern.
While sans serif fonts have been around for a long time now, their popularity shot up in the digital era.
The BMW logo is an example of sans serif fonts in branding.
Serif vs sans serif – the psychological difference
In addition to the anatomical difference of the presence (or absence) of serifs in the characters, the other major serif vs sans serif difference is the kind of emotions these fonts evoke.
Take a look at the example below. The same word but in different fonts. Do they have the same vibes or different?
The first one is a sans serif font (Montserrat) and the second one is a serif font (EB Garamond).
The first one looks more modern, clean, and easy to read. Whereas the second one – it’s easy to read, yet there’s a subtle elegance to it. The second one also has an authoritative ring to it. So, when it comes to establishing trust, perhaps the second one does a better job, what do you think?
That’s the serif vs sans serif difference.
Serif fonts evoke “trust” and a sense of “tradition”. On the other hand, sans serif fonts are seen as more forward-looking.
Google’s font incorporated a traditional serif font in the past. But the brand has been evolving and progressing unstoppably. In 2015, Google unveiled its new logo featuring a sans serif font. This step was part of the brand’s evolution and its expansion in the form of more tools and appearance on more screens in addition to desktop computers.
Google’s old logo (until 2015)
Google’s new logo with a sans serif font introduced in 2015
With this rebranding, the logo became more dynamic and adaptable to the various offerings of Google. Considering that Google is a future-focused tech company, the new sans serif logo looks much more relevant to the brand than the serif logo used earlier, don’t you agree?
Serif vs sans serif – when you have to pick only one
Having spoken about the nitty-gritty of serif vs sans serif differences, let’s get to the topic of using the strengths and weaknesses of these font categories for your brand. Each of these font categories has its own perks and so they can both be used in branding elements like logos and also in marketing designs like social media images. So, let’s look at some tips to make your decision easier.
Choose a style that looks and feels like your brand
When you have to choose between serif vs sans serif for your branding elements like a logo design, choose the category that resonates with your brand personality.
To explain this idea, we’ll give you an example.
Consider a coffee shop with a contemporary ambiance and a decades-old book publishing company. If you look at the target audience for both these brands, there’s definitely an overlap. There might be people sitting in the coffee shop reading a book sipping their favorite coffee.
But, go a layer deeper and analyze the brands the customers are interacting with simultaneously. The brand personality that the customer expects in a decades-old book company and the personality they anticipate in a contemporary coffee shop are going to be different.
The serif vs sans serif personality difference can be handy in capturing the difference in brand personalities. While serif fonts might appear more traditional and elegant, sans serif fonts might appear more modern and fuss-free. In other words, for the decades-old book publishing company’s logo, a serif font makes a good choice while for the contemporary coffee shop logo, a sans serif font might work better.
Take a company offering leadership consulting services. Which category do you think will be more fitting? Serif or sans serif? You guessed it right – the authoritative trait of serif fonts give them a clear advantage. The below logo proves that.
Even for prestigious educational institutions, the distinct character of serif fonts feels more suitable. Take a look at the below logo and you’ll understand what we mean. Because when it comes to educational institutions, people think of traits like “discipline”, “trust”, and “reliability”. And serif fonts meet all these requirements.
Sans serif fonts for digital designs
One of the main reasons why we see sans serif fonts dominating the market is the clear advantage this font category has on digital screens. Serif fonts were predominant for as long as print media was the dominant mode of communication.
However, ever since digital spaces became the focus, minimalistic sans serif fonts have been prioritized in several places. That’s because on smaller screens, on a smaller scale, in other words, in a small resolution, sans serif fonts are much more convenient to read. Serifs and other details sometimes end up creating clutter and thus affecting readability.
The slick sans serif font in the below social media design makes the text comfortable to read even on a small mobile screen.
As you can see, when you have to scale down the text and still maintain the readability, sans serif might feel like the best choice, especially in designs created for digital media.
Kimp Tip: Though sans serif fonts look good when scaled down, choose font families with good line weight. Fonts with a very narrow line weight might be difficult to read and you cannot expect users to always zoom in to read the text.
Having trouble choosing the right sans serif font that does not look unprofessional but stays readable? Leave it to the Kimp team.
The serif advantage for legibility on print and elaborate content
When there is a lot of text, some sans serif fonts might lag when it comes to “legibility”. Legibility is the ease of distinguishing one character from another. It can depend on a variety of factors like font color contrast against the background color, line width, kerning (spacing between letters), and so on. But there are also the inherent shapes of sans serif font characters that sometimes fall behind in comparison to serif fonts.
We’ll give you an example. The below image contains uppercase “i”, lowercase “l” and the number “1”. See if you can tell one apart from the other with ease in both the cases.
The first line is in the serif font and the second one is in a sans-serif font. Notice how uppercase “i” and lowercase “l” are nearly indistinguishable with sans serif but very clearly distinguishable with serif fonts. That’s an area where the serif font category has a clear advantage. That’s also one of the reasons why you will find serif fonts being used in a lot of places involving wordy content.
In the below brochure design, there is a lot of text and the copy contains both numbers and alphabets. So, the use of serif fonts maintains the legibility of the content.
Kimp Tip: Within the serif font category there are multiple sub-categories like old-style, transitional, didone, slab serif and more. And each has a different visual mood. Ensure that you compare all these options before you find the right one to suit your brand’s visual style.
Combining serif and sans serif fonts for balance
In the above section, we spoke about the nuances of serif and sans serif fonts to help you choose between the two. That’s the case when you only have to use one of these categories. But the deep-rooted beauty in font psychology is that both these font categories have the ability to balance each other.
From most of the above examples, you might have noticed that serif fonts, in general, have a strong personality. When you wish to create drama, when you want to draw attention, they come in handy. But if you need something subtle, and non-distracting, a sans serif font might be just what you need.
In places like logo design where the main idea is to draw attention, you can choose just one of these fonts. But in places like ads, social media designs you need to draw attention while also providing a harmonious design that is easy for your audience to consume. In such cases, you can use a sans serif font to balance the strong dynamics of a serif font. In other words, you can use them together for a more stabilized design that is easy on the reader’s eyes.
After all, the subject of pairing the right fonts is a whole topic in itself. The variety these font categories bring can add a whole new dimension to your design. But yes, stick with as few font variations as possible since you do not want a very distracting, very confusing design where the fonts are all over the place.
The billboard design in the below image shows how you can create balance by combining serif and sans serif fonts.
Combining serif and sans serif fonts for hierarchy
Another good way to use the serif vs sans serif font category differences is to achieve the right hierarchy in your design with them. Since these two categories have very different personalities, you can use them to create emphasis in certain portions of your copy.
Take a book cover design for example. On a book cover, the title text is meant to be bold, and attention-grabbing. That’s when it convinces the reader to pick the book off of the shelves. However, there should also be a clear distinction between the title text and the rest of the copy on the cover. That’s because a lot of information is presented on the cover and every little detail can make or break the first impression of a book.
The above book cover uses a bold slab serif font that instantly attracts attention. And the rest of the text in sans serif gives the whole design a recognizable hierarchy.
Leveraging the strengths of serif and sans serif in your designs with Kimp
In some places, you are forced to choose between serif vs sans serif fonts. And in some places, you end up using both. Once you have understood the way in which these fonts affect the readability and moods of the overall designs making a decision feels so much easier.
But yes, within each font category, there are several font families. There are intricate serif fonts that are difficult in terms of legibility and weak or cliched sans serif fonts that lack the professional feel. (read Comic Sans).
Working with a designer makes it easier to weigh your options correctly and make the right choice for each of your designs. And with the dedicated design team, you get with Kimp subscriptions you can stick with these font choices in order to deliver your brand to your customers in a more consistent manner.
Want to see how our subscriptions make your job easier? Register for our free trial today.