Selecting a font may seem as basic as clicking on a drop-down menu, but in reality, professionals in the commercial printing industry may explain there is more to Times New Roman than meets the eye.
A very important piece of advice for anyone choosing a font for a printed document is to avoid those that are highly stylized. For instance, it may be tempting to use a font with letters that look like flames to type a paragraph about “lighting the fire within”, but in such a case, it is often better to let the words tell the story, not the font.
As an alternative, writers have several other options to add emphasis to their text. Italics, bold, and sometimes underlining can draw attention without distracting from the overall message. It is important to limit the use of these styles, however, because over-use can cause a loss of the desired impact. Using these tools for emphasis works best when limited to titles, section headings, or quotations.
Color is a characteristic of the font that should be carefully considered. For purposes of reading clarity, contrasting colors should be chosen. Consider is the impact color blindness which is common among men (1 in 12) and less so among women (1 in 200). The same contrasting colors that are seen in this link look like this to someone who is colorblind.
A somewhat confusing aspect of choosing a typeface is whether to use a serif or sans serif font. Serif fonts have flares, tails, or stylized extras. These serifs are designed to guide the eye and make letters more defined and recognizable. Common Serif fonts are Cambria, Bookman Old Style, Garamond, Palatino, and Times New Roman.
Sans means “without”. Sans Serif fonts are made of mostly solid strokes without any “tails” that extend out from the letters. These fonts usually appear darker and more block-like. Popular Sans Serif fonts include Arial, Calibri, Gills Sans, Helvetica, and Verdana.
To see examples of Serif and Sans Serif fonts and compare their readability, click here.
When, then, should each of these families of fonts be used and for what purposes? Within the commercial printing industry, it has generally been accepted that serif fonts are best for print. Sans Serif fonts, on the other hand, are lauded for their readability on computer and mobile technology screens. Another commonly held belief is that Serif fonts should be used for the body of the text and Sans Serif fonts are to be used for headings.
Although these are commonly held to be the appropriate uses, current research doesn’t support this dichotomy of uses for Serif and Sans Serif fonts. Some studies have shown that the readability of fonts is defined more significantly by factors other than the presence or absence of the serif. Such factors include line spacing, characters per line, height and width of characters, whether the paragraph is justified, and color of the font in relation to the background.
In summary, the best advice available from printing professionals is to carefully review draft and proof copies with an eye toward readability and visual appeal. Although it might be nice to have a set of clear, specific rules for choosing a font, like with most art forms, the beauty of typography is in the eye of the beholder.