Re: Fonts?

Subject: Re: Fonts?
From: "Janet Swisher" <swisher -at- enthought -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 26 Oct 2004 11:40:44 -0500

Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com> wrote:
> Quoting cchris -at- toptechwriter -dot- us:
> > I keep reading that sans-serif is easier to read on-screen, and in
> > theory it should be.
> The comment about sans-serif is a general rule, not an invariable one.
> There are many serif fonts that read perfectly well on-line.
> Generally, they have very regular strokes and serifs. Most slab serifs
> fall into the category, and so do many more.

The fonts that are most readable on screen are those designed for on-screen
readability. Specifically, Microsoft's Verdana, Tahoma (both sans serif),
and Georgia (serifed) are designed for readability at low resolutions. They
don't always look great on paper. Many of the bold characters are formed by
doubling the thickness of the lines (e.g., from one to two pixels), which
ends up looking very dark on paper.

> > I read somewhere (can't stop to Google it) that the font style used
> > in schoolbooks when you were learning to read will be the most
> > readable.
> That comment suggests that it's a matter of familiarity. There may be
> something to that, but definite characteristics can be defined, so
> it's not all subjective.

Yes, I've also read recently that typeface readability is a matter of
familiarity. (It was probably either in _The Complete Manual of Typography_
or in _The Elements of Typographic Style_.) Sans serif typefaces are more
commonly used for body text in Europe than in North America, and European
readers find sans serif text quite readable because they are used to it.
Even "blackletter" typefaces (think of pre-war German texts) score as well
as other styles for readers who are familiar with them.

I recently went through the exercise of font selection. To answer the OP's
question, for documents where cross-platform compatibility is important, I
chose Palatino (AKA Book Antiqua on Windows). For other cases, I chose
Lucida Sans. In both cases, I use the same type family for headings, in
larger sizes, usually in bold.

For results of an ongoing survey of fonts installed on Windows, Mac, and
Unix machines, see:

If you're producing documents in MS Word, I highly recommend Aaron Shepard's
e-book, "Books, Typography, and Microsoft Word: How to Get High-Quality Type
for Desktop Book Publishing, Self Publishing, and Print on Demand, or Tips
on Typesetting Without Quark, PageMaker, or InDesign":
A short article based on his book is here:

Janet Swisher
Senior Technical Writer
Enthought, Inc.


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