The Purpose and Best Uses for a Sans Serif Font

Sans serif fonts perform well in web page designs

Wood Type Mixture

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Fonts that do not have serifs—the tiny extra strokes at the end of vertical and horizontal lines of some letterforms—are called sans serif fonts. Sans serif fonts are relatively new to the world of typography. Although there were some sans serif typefaces in the 1800s, the 1920's Bauhaus design movement popularized the sans serif style.

Sans Serif Font Usage

Sans serif fonts have a reputation of being more modern, casual, informal and friendly than serif fonts, which have a longer history. Although serif fonts dominate the world of print—particularly for long sections of body copy—many web designers prefer to use sans serif fonts for their on-screen legibility. They are also the frequent choice of the publishers of children's books because the letters are easier to recognize. In print, small serifs can break up when they are reversed out of a dark color or photograph; sans serif type is almost always the better choice in this instance.

Sans serif fonts work well for short sections of text, such as credits and captions. When a project calls for very small type sizes, sans serif type is easier to read.

Types of Sans Serif Fonts

There are five main classifications of san serif fonts: grotesque, neo-grotesque, geometric, humanist and informal. Typefaces within each classification usually share similarities in stroke thickness, weight and the shapes of certain letterforms. There are thousands of sans serif fonts available to designers. Here are a few.

Grotesque sans serif typefaces were the first ones that were commercially available. They were designed in the 19th and early 20th centuries and had some awkward curves with little variation in stroke width.

  • Franklin Gothic
  • News Gothic
  • Akzidenz-Grotesk

Neo-Grotesque fonts (also known as Realists or Transitionals) are more polished than the grotesque san serif typefaces. This classification includes the most frequently used sans serif fonts.

  • Helvetica
  • Univers
  • Arial
  • Bell Centennial
  • Geneva
  • Impact

Geometric san serif fonts are built on geometric shapes rather than on early letterforms or calligraphy. They display little or no stroke weight contrast.

  • Futura
  • Avenir
  • Bauhaus
  • Kabel
  • Avant Garde
  • Eurostile

Humanist typefaces are identified by their calligraphic influence, and uneven stroke weights and most of the fonts bearing this description are more legible choices than other san serif faces.

  • Gill Sans
  • Frutiger
  • Myriad
  • Optima
  • Trebuchet
  • Calibri

Informal sans serif fonts are often used as novelties, so they are less frequently used than other sans serif fonts. They include:

  • Eneas Expanded
  • Italo
  • Barrio
  • ABeeZee
  • Bahiana
  • High School USA Sans