Serif Style Fonts Information

In typography, serifs are the structural details on the end of strokes that make up letters and symbols. A serif font (or seriffed font) has these features. A typeface (font) without serifs is called sans-serif (from French sans: "without"). Some typography sources refer to sans-serif typefaces as grotesque (or in German, grotesk) or gothic, and serif typefaces as roman; however, these terms are no longer commonly used, except in specific font names.

Serif Example


In the Roman alphabet, serifs originated with the carving of words into stone in ancient Italy. The explanation proposed by Father Edward Catich in his 1968 book The Origin of the Serif is now broadly, though not universally, accepted: serifs exist because the letters were first brushed onto stone, and then the stone carvers followed the brush marks.

The etymology of "serif" is obscure, but in any case almost as recent as the face. The oldest citations in the Oxford English Dictionary are 1841 for sans serif, which the OED gives as sanserif, and 1830 for serif. Indeed, the OED speculates that serif was a back-formation from sanserif. On the other hand, Webster's Third New International Dictionary traces serif to the Dutch schreef, meaning "wrote", and ultimately through Dutch schrijven, German schreiben and Latin scribere, all also meaning "to write". Incidentally, schreef now also means "serif" in Dutch.

The OED's earliest citation for grotesque in this sense is 1875, giving "stone-letter" as a synonym. It would seem to mean "out of the ordinary" in this usage, as in art grotesque usually means "elaborately decorated". Other synonyms include Doric and Gothic, commonly used for Japanese Gothic typefaces.

In Japanese typography, the equivalent of serifs on kanji and kana characters are called uroko (fish scales), and the equivalent of serif fonts are called mincho.


In traditional print, seriffed fonts are used for body text, because they are widely believed to be easier to read than sans-serif fonts for this purpose. Sans-serif fonts are used for shorter pieces of text and for subject matter requiring a more casual feel than the formal look of seriffed types. Sans serif types have recently begun to supplant seriffed types for headings with a cleaner look.

Seriffed fonts are the overwhelming typeface choice for lengthy text printed in books, newspapers and magazines. Sans-serif fonts are more acceptable for these usages in Europe than in North America, but are still less common for these purposes than seriffed typefaces.

Although in print seriffed fonts are considered more readable, sans-serif has proven to be more legible on computer screens; as a result, a majority of web pages employ sans-serif type. Hinting information, anti-aliased rendering and subpixel font rendering technology have partially mitigated the legibility problem of serif fonts, yet the basic constraint of coarse screen resolution-typically 100 pixels per inch or less-continues to limit their readability on screen.


Serif fonts can be broadly classified into one of four subgroups: old style, transitional, slab serif, or modern.

Old Style

Old style typefaces date back to 1465, and are characterized by a diagonal stress (the thinnest parts of letters are at an angle rather than at the top and bottom), subtle differences between thick and thin lines (low line contrast), and excellent readability. Old style typefaces are reminiscent of the humanist calligraphy from which their forms were derived.

It has been said that the angled stressing of old style faces generates diagonal lock, which, when combined with their bracket serifs creates detailed, positive word-pictures (see bouma) for ease of reading. However, this theory is mostly contradicted by the parallel letterwise recognition model, which is widely accepted by cognitive psychologists who study reading.

Old style faces are sub-divided into Venetian and Aldine or Garalde. Examples of old style typefaces include Jenson (Venetian), Garamond, Bembo, Goudy Old Style, and Palatino (all Aldine or Garalde).


Transitional (or "baroque") serif typefaces first appeared in the mid-18th century. They are among the most common, including such widespread typefaces as Times Roman (1932) and Baskerville (1757). They are in between modern and old style, thus the name "transitional." Differences between thick and thin lines are more pronounced than they are in old style, but they are still less dramatic than they are in modern serif fonts.

Slab Serif

Slab serif (a.k.a. "Egyptian") typefaces usually have little if any contrast between thick and thin lines. Serifs tend to be as thick as the vertical lines themselves and usually have no bracket. Slab serif fonts have a bold, rectangular appearance and sometimes have fixed widths, meaning that all characters occupy the same amount of horizontal space (as in a typewriter). They are sometimes described as sans-serif fonts with serifs because the underlying character shapes are often similar to sans serif typefaces, with less variation between thin and thick shapes on the character. (A subcategory of slab serif is the Clarendon typefaces, which do have small but significant brackets, and structures more similar to seriffed typefaces.) Slab serif typefaces date to around 1800. Examples of slab serif typefaces include Clarendon, Rockwell and Courier.


Modern serif typefaces, which first emerged in the late 18th century, are characterized by extreme contrast between thick and thin lines. Modern typefaces have a vertical stress, long and fine serifs, with minimal brackets. Serifs tend to be very thin and vertical lines are very heavy. Most modern fonts are less readable than transitional or old style serif typefaces. Common examples include Bodoni and Century Schoolbook.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Serif".

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