The Difference between Serif and Sans-Serif Fonts - Easil
Serif vs San Serif Fonts

Serif and Sans-Serif Fonts – What’s the Difference?

You’ve no doubt heard the terms Serif and Sans-Serif Fonts when it comes to design – but what’s the difference? In this post we break down the key differences between Serif and Sans-Serif fonts, how they came to be. We also look at how you can use them most effectively in your designs and promotions.

In the complex world of typography, it can be hard to know how to use different fonts, let alone what type of “Serif” they are. If you’re a designer you will totally understand all of this, but for those who haven’t studied or worked in design, it can be a little confusing.

Let’s change that!

While you read this article’s guide to using Serif and Sans-serif fonts – remember that both families of font exist within Easil. Our team of Easil Graphic Designers have carefully chosen fonts for you. You can see them in our our professionally designed templates and text graphics. So, your job has been made that much easier.

So, now you can get started straight away, playing with different kinds of fonts for your designs!

What is the Difference between Serif and Sans-Serif Fonts?

When creating your own text, one of the first decisions to be made is whether to select a font that is Serif or Sans Serif.  But what are they and how do they differ, exactly?

In a nutshell, it’s all about the small features on the ends of strokes in some fonts. Those fonts that have them are called “Serifs” or “Serif fonts”.  Those that don’t are called “Sans-Serifs” or “San-Serif Fonts”. Here’s an image showing the difference between Serif and Sans Serif fonts:

The difference between serif and sans serif fonts illustrated

Choosing between Serif and Sans Serif Fonts should be based on several considerations pertaining to the project in hand – and style of design.

The origin of serifs

Serifs were believed to have originated in the Latin Alphabet with words carved into stone in Roman Antiquity. The Roman letter outlines were first painted onto stone, and the stone carvers followed the brush marks which which flared at stroke ends and corners, creating serifs.

Serif fonts are usually used in lengthy text, such as books, newspapers and most magazines and are the most commonly used printed typestyle due to perceived readability. After all, when you strive to create something beautiful and remarkable to look at, the main goal is to have your message clear and readable!

Some common Serif typefaces are Times New Roman, Georgia, Palatino and Garamond – however there are thousands more.

The origin of Sans-serif fonts

Sans-serif letters began to appear in printed media as early as 1805. They were popular due to their clarity and legibility in advertising and display use when printed very large or very small.

Sans-serif fonts have become the most prevalent for display of text on computer screens, partly because screens tend to struggle to show fine serif details in small type.

Some commonly used Sans-serif typefaces are Arial, Helvetica and Tahoma, but again, there are thousands more.

Hot Tip: For other shorter text settings – such as titles, credits, column headings, as well as text in infographics – a Sans-serif typeface is a good choice. Its simplified letterforms are unencumbered by Serifs, which can impede the readability of characters at very small sizes.

6 Tips for Using Serif and Sans Serif Fonts Together

  1. Be Guided by Designers and use Templates – If you’re not a designer, you don’t have to learn how to be one! This means you don’t have to learn how to be the perfect font-pairing master for Serif and Sans Serif fonts.  Instead, use font combinations that exist, designed by designers. All you have to do is take advantage of someone else doing all the hard work. For example, use the templates in Easil to find great font combinations that feature Serif and Sans-Serif fonts together.
  2. Get inspired with Free Fonts. Check out our complete guide to using Free Fonts to find Serif and Sans-Serif Fonts.
  3. Use our mega Font Pairing Guide. It is perfect for discovering combinations of fonts (including Serif and Sans-Serif fonts) that work together.
  4. Don’t add too many fonts. Restrict your design to 2 x fonts if possible so that your ratio of Serif vs Sans-Serif fonts can be balanced. One of each should be enough for most designs.
  5. Consider the “mood” of your fonts. There is a key difference in “mood” between Serif and Sans Serif fonts. Serif fonts tend to be classic or formal. Some might even say they are elegant! Sans Serif fonts are usually described as modern, friendly and minimal. They are stylishly simplistic in the absence of decorative strokes.
  6. Determine the font that suits best for you.  When looking at Serif and Sans Serif fonts, how you use them will vary depending on a number of factors. It depends on the type of project, and the mood you want to convey. Things like color and the types of images that you are designing with, are also worth considering. When it comes to Sans and Sans-Serif fonts, there will always be a difference – but both types of font can be used in a wide number of projects and applications.

Myths about Serif and Sans-Serif Fonts

Although there are guidelines to how to use Serif and Sans-Serif fonts, there are always exceptions to the rule. As such there are a few myths we should debunk:

  1. Serif Fonts are More Formal than Sans-Serif – although the “mood” of Serif Fonts can be formal or classic, it’s not clear cut. It’s possible for Sans-Serif fonts to also have the classic feel of yesteryear! When you pair the right type of Serif font with a Sans-Serif, both can be classic!
  2. Sans Serif Fonts are more suitable for Heading Text – yes they do suit headings but there are so many factors that come into play when it comes to “attention-grabbing” fonts.  A Serif font can also command attention. Think about traditional newspapers!  They often have bold Serif fonts as headings.
  3. Serifs are for traditional print and Sans Serifs are for the web – it’s not that black and white. Some Serif typefaces can look beautiful online and you’ll see many Sans-Serif fonts used effectively in printed material, books and magazines.  Screen resolution has changed and the way we consume material has changed. It’s all about choosing the right font for the project, so don’t be afraid to debunk a few myths.

Other Related Fonts

Without trying to confuse the issue, there are many other fonts used and available in Easil. There are Slab fonts, Handwritten fonts and Display fonts, the list goes on.

Display fonts are quite ‘unique’ or ‘fancy’ by appearance and are used primarily in large headings and in minimal application – you’ll see a lot of these font families in our post about free fonts here, and also our post about font pairing here.

In Conclusion

You’ll be spoiled with a number of type styles and font families to choose from in Easil and in our Easil templates. Take advantage of it and use this post to help you determine the most effective use of a Serif or Sans-serif font… or both.

Generally – your message needs to be clear and concise. A Sans-serif font is a good choice for headings and small text where clarity and readability is paramount. A Serif font is good to use on larger blocks of printed text like on a flyer.

But remember to consider the whole context, rather than just relying on a set of rules when you make your design choices. Try different font combinations and be creative!

Over to You

Are you all schooled up now in the difference between Sans and Sans Serif Fonts?  Ready to rock your designs with fonts? 

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