One of the first decisions to make when selecting a typeface for text, and an important one, is whether to choose serif or sans serif. This determination should not be arbitrary. It should be based on several key points with respect to the project at hand. Once this determination is made however, your typeface search should begin to narrow down significantly.
While most people may look upon serifs as being purely decorative, they serve a useful purpose. At least in the eyes of some.
One school of thought is that serif typefaces increase the readability, and the reading speed, for long passages of text. Serifs are said to help the eye travel across a line, and thereby avoiding lapses in concentration over long passages of text.
The other school of thought is that we read best what we read most, and what we see in most long passages of text are serif typefaces. The serif typeface has been dominant in magazines, books, and newspapers for many years.
Dominance, or popularity for that matter, should not necessarily be equated with readability. Many sans serif typefaces are more legible at a given size than are many serif designs. This appears to be particularly true on the web, especially so in low resolution systems or on small displays.
Whatever style you choose, pay close attention to particular characteristics of a font’s design and how it relates to legibility and readability – and do so for both Roman and Italic.
As you browse these 15 examples, there are no doubt some that you would choose based purely on style, while other choices may depend more upon the scenario in which the font will appear, and likely be a best choice. Either way, choosing free fonts like these will mean more money in your pocket.
This clean, dark serif font is somewhat reminiscent of Times New Roman. It is, to some degree, Dutch-inspired, with its large height, short extenders, and compact width. Neuton is a good choice for screen use, where economy of space is often an important factor.
Yeseva One is bold, but nevertheless very feminine. This very unique font appears to flow from letter to letter. The name is a take-off on “Yes Eva”; and it could be taken as a sign of complete agreement between a man and a woman.
Homestead and Museo fonts provided the inspiration for Palacio. This very simple font, designed by Nathan Thomson, is most notable for its thin, graceful lines.
Zorus Serif speaks of yesteryear. Filled with charm and elegance, this font was designed by Jérémie Dupuis.
GLUK fonts designed this traditional font with its very exquisite letter strokes.
The city of Korneuburg in Lower Austria was the inspiration for this gritty, quirky masterpiece. It was designed by Flö Rastbichler, and will make a great paragraph font.
Museo is a semi-slab family of fonts. It was designed by Jos Buivenga, who is said to have taken his inspiration from the uppercase letter U.
As noted previously, books and newspapers, as well as most magazines use serif typefaces, in part out of historical precedent, and in part out of readability considerations. Sans serif text typefaces are more likely to be found in brochures, flyers, and annual reports. Some magazines use sans serif type as a means of establishing their brand.
Sans serif is being used more and more in headings, captions, charts, and graphs even though serif typeface is used in body text. Sans serif has one distinctive advantage over serif; the letterforms tend to be simplified, and readability problems caused by serifs for very small sizes tend to be avoided.
Audience can be important when selecting a typeface. Sans serif is usually a better choice for children and beginning readers, since the simplified letterforms are more recognizable. The same can be true for people who have certain visual impairments (thick block letters may be best, for example). The likely audience of what you publish, whether in print, or on the web, should be taken into account when deciding on the primary typeface you plan to use.
Type Treatments – Including Color
Serif strokes can be light or heavy, subtle or robust, thick or thin. Delicate serif fonts can sometimes become difficult to produce or read under certain scenarios. Backgrounds, particularly dark backgrounds, can cause problems. Background patterns can sometimes cause serif type to appear to break up; serif fonts in CMYK may take on a weak or fuzzy look at the edges. A safer bet is to use serif typefaces featuring robust strokes, or stick with sans serif.