What The Font? Understanding Typefaces On The Web
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you operate a website, send out electronic newsletters
or e-mail campaigns? Have you ever experimented with
the different fonts (typefaces) available? If you
have, you probably discovered there are numerous fonts
available on your computer – in some cases 100-200
or more. How then do you decide which font to use?
article will give you a brief overview of choosing
fonts for the internet, so that the next electronic
piece of information you send achieves the desired
the Font Do We Start?
First, even though there are thousands of fonts available
to us, each computer usually only has a hundred or
so installed for use. Different operating systems,
and various other files or programs you obtain can
install various fonts on your computer and add to
that number. Those fonts are usually compatible across
programs, meaning you will be able to use all of your
system fonts in any program. Let’s say your computer
came pre-installed with 150 fonts. Then you bought
a common software program that added 50 more fonts
to your computer. You now have 200 fonts you will
be able to use in any program that is designed to
allow font selection.
that great? You instantly have more fonts to choose
from. If you’re working in print materials or graphics,
then you actually do have the freedom to choose whatever
fonts you want. However, if you are not printing the
final version but instead delivering your material
via the internet, whether it be on a website, by email,
or any other type of electronic media, you don’t actually
have as much freedom as you may think. There are several
factors to take into consideration that could influence
your choice, including perception, usability and availability.
The typeface that you select needs to accurately reflect
the mood of your message. Do you want the tone conveyed
to your reader to be formal or informal, friendly
or serious, professional or playful? If the message
is of a professional and formal nature, then your
font should accurately portray that. But if the message
is to a group of friends inviting them to a party,
you can have a little fun and take a more informal
approach with your fonts. Always consider the audience
for which the piece is intended, and then choose a
font that achieves the perception you desire.
After you have established the intended audience for
your message, make sure they can actually read it!
Many fonts are hard to read simply because they are
so small in size (like 8 point or 10 point). Cursive
and italic fonts can be hard on the eyes and are strongly
discouraged for the purposes of main bodies of text.
Italics should only be used for emphasis or as graphical
elements. You also don’t want your font too large,
as this can make it difficult for the eyes to scan
across a large body of text. There are many fonts
available intended specifically for headings and logo
text that would be inappropriate for the main body
of a message. To maximize usability, make sure to
choose a font that is legible and easy on the eyes.
This is the most easily overlooked aspect of font
selection and can result in completely unexpected
results. To insure the recipient sees the same message
style you created, the fonts you use must be available
on their computer. When you create a website for example,
the HTML code will “call” the font that is supposed
to be displayed. This tells your browser program what
font it should display on that particular page. Even
though you may have 200 fonts installed on your computer
and you see your fonts fine and dandy, that doesn’t
mean that the person on the other end viewing your
website has the exact same fonts as you. In a case
where he doesn’t, his browser will substitute a different
font of its own choosing, which could completely change
their perception of your intended message. At the
very least, they may think you were sloppy in putting
your material together. Email programs, and electronic
newsletters, all work the same way. So bottom line,
you need to use fonts that you are positive your entire
web audience will have available on their computer.
We call these “Web-Safe” fonts.
thousands of fonts out there, you’re probably thinking,
“No big deal, there are still plenty of choices”.
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there
are only 9. Yes, you read that correctly, there are
only NINE web-safe fonts that you can be assured are
on every single computer out there! Those fonts are
Arial, Arial Black, Courier New, Comic Sans, Georgia,
Impact, Tahoma, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, and Verdana.
Let’s take a couple of minutes to understand the differences
in these fonts.
are two basic types of fonts; serif or sans serif.
Serif by definition has a fine line finishing off
the main strokes of a letter, or letters may end with
a rounded tip. And “sans” is a French term meaning
“without”, so in the case of sans serif it would be
without those fine lines. The most common serif font
is Times New Roman and the most common sans serif
font is Arial, both of which are web-safe fonts. Of
the nine web-safe fonts there are only 3 serif fonts;
Courier New, Georgia and Times New Roman. Serif fonts
in very small text sizes can be hard to read, therefore
caution should be used when selecting those for small
(properly pronounced "are-ree-al")
Arial was introduced as the default typeface for Windows
3.1 when it was released by Microsoft in the early
1990s. It is not difficult to read unless used in
very small sizes, and it is the most popular sans
serif font today. It is however quite plain, and people
tend to get bored of Arial because they see it every
where. But, since it’s so widely available, easy to
read, and the default for Microsoft products, it is
a great font to use for main content areas of your
marketing materials, newsletters, websites, etc.
Arial Black is one of many versions of Arial, released
with Internet Explorer 3. It is a bolder font than
Arial and is great for headings and short sections
of text that require emphasis.
Courier New, a serif font, was primarily a font used
in old typewriters. Not normally used as main bodies
of text, it is still used to display code in documents
or when the writer wants the old-fashioned typewriter
look in their document.
Comic Sans started shipping with Windows 95 as a preinstalled
font. Designed to look like comic book lettering,
the font was created for informal copy. Regarded today
as unprofessional, this sans serif font is not recommended
for materials of a professional nature. Comic Sans
became a more popular font when it started being used
as the text inside the tags on Beanie Babies!
Georgia, a serif font, was created for Microsoft in
1993 to provide a clean font for use on the web that
would display well even in small sizes. Georgia font
letters are taller than most other web-safe fonts,
making them easier to read when used in smaller sizes.
Georgia is a great alternative when you’re tired of
traditional Times New Roman, but still want a serif
Impact is a very bold sans serif font. By it’s name,
it was designed to impact the reader, and is therefore
recommended only for headings, small blocks of text,
areas on the page that you want to grab the readers
eye. Because of it’s thick block style, Impact looks
best when there is plenty of space around it otherwise
it looks cluttered.
Tahoma, a very close cousin of Verdana, was designed
in 1999 for Microsoft. It is so similar to Verdana
that many don’t see the difference in the fonts. Mainly,
Tahoma keeps its lettering tighter so that text does
not spread out as far as Verdana does. Tahoma is a
great font option for those needing a sans serif font
but who are getting bored of Arial.
Times New Roman is the most widely used serif font,
developed in 1931 for use by The Times newspaper in
London. It has remained a very popular font for setting
type in books, magazines, newspapers, etc. The U.S.
State Department has been using Times New Roman 14
point on all diplomatic documents since 1994, replacing
their old font of choice Courier New 12 point.
(properly pronounced "treb-u-shet")
Trebuchet was designed in 1996 for Microsoft and is
a popular sans serif font for those bored with the
plain appearance of Arial. Having a definite style
all it’s own, Trebuchet is easy to read for large
or small type and works well for main bodies of text.
Due to its unique styling though, it can be seen as
a feminine font and if your audience is all men they
may not relate well to that font.
Verdana, designed for Microsoft in 1996 is probably
the most easy to read web-safe sans serif font available.
With its taller lettering, and more evenly spaced
letters it can be easily read in larger sizes as well
as small sizes. It does extend the width of text on
a page, so it’s great for filling design that have
a lot of space with a small amount of copy.
Font do YOU Want?
Now that you understand the differences between the
9 web-safe fonts, which one will you choose for your
internet communications? If you’re looking for a serif
font, then Georgia is our recommendation. It is the
clearest serif font on the web, since it was designed
for just that purpose. If you are looking for a sans
serif font, Verdana is the clearest on screen font
for readability and is our number one recommendation,
with good old Arial pulling up a close second.
the Author: Angela Nielsen is President of
NIC Media Group, an award-winning web development
company located in San Diego, California. To find
out more about Angela Nielsen, and NIC Media, visit
2006 by Angela Nielsen.
Professional editing provided by http://www.sharpediting.com.
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