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The main difference between serif and sans-serif fonts comes down to decorative flourishes but there are other things to consider when choosing between the two types of fonts.

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What Is a Serif Font?

Serif fonts are typefaces that have serifs, which are extra strokes on the ends of their letterforms. These typefaces evoke feelings of history, tradition, honesty, and integrity. There are many fonts that fall into the serif category containing different shapes, thicknesses, and lengths. Some different types of serif fonts include:

  1. Old style: Old style serifs have wedged ascenders in the serifs and high contrast between thick and thin strokes in the letterforms. This is the most traditional and classic of all the serif categories. Garamond is an old style of font—named after the sixteenth-century Parisian engraver Claude Garamond—characterized by slanted counters or scooped serifs, and are seen often in body text and book publishing.
  2. Transitional: Transitional serifs contain more contrast between stroke thickness and wider, bracketed serifs evolved from the old style serif typeface. Times New Roman is a transitional font and a frequent choice for plain text reading because the letterforms make economical use of space. Libre Baskerville is a traditional serif letterform designed specifically for digital body copy with wider counters and less contrast than the traditional Baskerville font.
  3. Slab serif: Slab serif fonts like Clarendon are distinguished by their thick, blocky serifs that are sometimes as thick as the letter strokes themselves. Other slab serif fonts include Courier, Excelsior, and Rockwell.
  4. Didone: Fonts in the Didone family—also known as Modern serifs—are characterized by high contrast in stroke thickness. These fonts are not meant for body text or long-term reading but can evoke a sense of luxury or elegance. Fonts like Didot and Bodoni are considered Didone fonts.

What Is a Sans Serif Font?

Sans-serif fonts are typefaces that do not have serifs on the ends of their letterforms. They are considered more modern and minimalist and are known for their high legibility. These fonts lack additional flourishes and have a more orderly and clean appearance. Some different types of sans-serif fonts include:

  1. Grotesque: Grotesque sans-serif fonts don’t vary much in their stroke widths, and uppercase letters are relatively uniform in appearance. Franklin Gothic is an example of a grotesque sans-serif font with an extra-bold design.
  2. Neo-grotesque: Neo-grotesques emphasize neutrality and simple legibility. These fonts have fewer strokes than standard serif typefaces and are more refined than traditional grotesque fonts. Arial is a neo-grotesque typeface with fewer strokes than standard serif typefaces. The curves in Arial sans-serif fonts are fuller and softer, with terminal strokes cut on the diagonal. Helvetica is a dense letterform with high x-height and tight spacing between the characters.
  3. Geometric: Geometric fonts have letterforms that are influenced by geometric shapes and have a more modern look. Futura is an example of a geometric sans-serif typeface with its letterforms carrying more weight than their predecessors. Avant-Garde Gothic is another example of a geometric font family.
  4. Humanist: Humanist sans-serif fonts are inspired by traditional letterforms that may alternate between thin and thick strokes. This font is characterized by loose letter spacing, wide counters, and a large x-height, making it easier on the eyes for smaller text. Calibri is an example of a humanist sans-serif that has a rounder and warmer aesthetic.
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