Typography – the core of text design – is an ancient craft studied by many. This art form of arranging fonts to make written language legible, readable, and visually appealing goes back as far as 2000 B.C. and can be found in early Mesopotamian writings.
Fast-forward to today, and rest assured that typography still holds its importance.
In our digital world, fonts play a large role in whether our websites will be easily readable to the average site visitor. Aside from having to dictate how printed type will appear to those who still savor reading the newspaper, paperback books, and brochures, website owners have to decide how their content will render to those clicking on their website and absorbing their written work.
In order to help you navigate the thousands of available fonts that you can use on your website these days (can anyone say Google Fonts?), we will discuss how to choose the best sans-serif font for your website. This will include a brief overview of the most common fonts, why typography is important, why sans-serif is your number one option when it comes to web design, and of course, how to choose the perfect sans-serif font for your website.
And as an added bonus, we will include some of the most popular sans-serif font choices you can use on your website right away to get you started.
The Four Most Common Font Categories
There are so many different fonts to choose from these days that it can actually make you dizzy just thinking about it. This is especially true if you attempt to break the craft of typography into its true categories. However, unless your dream is to become a successful typographer, it is safe to organize most fonts into four main types.
Serif fonts are more traditional and have little feet, or tails, attached to their ends. They have a professional look to them and are typically used in printed works. This is because the curves of the feet guide your eyes to follow long-form text and allow your brain to distinguish between each letter more easily.
For example, you can see below that Monotype Garamond, a popular serif font created by Jean Jannon and Robert Granjon, has beautiful tails attached to the ends of every letter.
Sans-serif fonts are serif fonts without the little feet attachments. They are considered modern and mainstream, and they tend to appear slightly thicker than the traditional serif fonts. In addition, they are typically used for online text.
Take a look at one of the most widely used sans-serif fonts, Helvetica. Brought to you by Linotype, this crisp looking font has straight edges with no attachments thus making it easy to view online.
Script font types are the handwritten or cursive styles that have connecting letters. They can be designed as elegant, stylish, fun, or even casual. Moreover, they can be hand-drawn to look like they are handwritten by an actual person.
Check out this eye-catching free brush font, King Basil, brought to you by Missy Meyer. Notice how each letter connects in a fun, yet equally elegant way.
Reserved for the truly unique fonts that do not fit into any other of the three main categories, decorative fonts are varied and meant to grab your attention right away. Typically used in small doses to avoid overwhelming the reader, this font type is not usually very practical for anything more than header or banner text in the web world.
See here how Banten Unfamous, designed by Mikrojihad Inc., catches your attention right away. Mixed with the right color combinations, this type of font is exceptional at solidifying first impressions.
Why is Typography Important on Your Website?
Although often overlooked as a minor design detail, typography plays a large role in the success or failure of your website.
Take a look at why putting thought into your website’s typography is so important:
- Attention Grabber. Your website’s font serves as an attention grabber. It attracts and engages site visitors and ultimately convinces them whether they want to continue reading your content or not.
- Readability. The fonts you choose establish the importance of certain text on your website. In fact, fonts often aid in determining the hierarchy of information based on its size and type. For instance, a headline font is typically the largest because headlines are meant to hook a reader’s attention. In addition, different sized sub-headers ensure easy scanning of all content.
- Visual Harmony. Great looking fonts will create an exceptional visual appeal on your website. They make any kind of text pleasing to your reader’s eyes, especially when used consistently throughout your website.
Serif v. Sans-Serif: Why Sans-Serif is the Winner When it Comes to Web Design
Serifs and sans-serifs are the most basic of all fonts available for use in either the printed or digital worlds. And since this is the case, it only makes sense that one or the other will dominate your website’s text.
But which one are you supposed to use?
The general rule is that serif fonts are to be used in printed works and the sans-serifs are to be used in digital works. This is because sans-serif fonts are easier to read online. Due to the poor pixelated quality often found on the internet, sans-serif fonts are usually clearer because they don’t have the small tail attachments serif fonts have.
What fonts you choose depends on your design goals. Serif fonts have an elegant, timeless feel and could work as a header or banner font. Sans serifs are more modern and versatile, with great readability at small sizes. If you are unsure, it is best to stick to this general rule: serifs for print, sans-serifs for online text. This way you will always know your readers are getting the clearest, most visible font possible.
How to Choose the Best Sans-Serif Font for Your Website
1. Make it Readable
People come to your website to read your content, so why make it impossible for them to do so by using a sans-serif font that is unreadable?
There are many things to consider when it comes to the readability of your sans-serif fonts. Let’s look at some of the most important factors.
Thinking about how you will style your website’s font is crucial to readability.
When you hear the term “style” in relation to fonts, you can usually assume it means the following:
- Plain. No stylistic effects added. Used as the main body of the text with a light colored background such as white.
- Bold. Used sparingly and for emphasis. Examples include headings, sub-headings, keywords, text menus, and small blocks of words.
- Italics. Also used sparingly and for emphasis. Examples include keywords, quotes, photo credits, captions, and titles.
- Capitalization. While following the basic rules of grammar, you typically capitalize text only in the case of headings. Avoid ALL CAPS as this can be distracting and difficult to read.
- Underlining. With online text you usually do not want to use underlined fonts because they are easily mistaken for as links.
Be mindful of the font sizes you use in your online content. Size not only includes the height of the lettering, but the width as well. Here are the typography sizes most websites use:
- Main Content Text: 10px or 12 px
- Main Headings: 14px, 16px, or 18px
- Sub-headings: 12px or 14px
- Captions: 8px, 9px, or 10px
When creating a sense of hierarchy on your website using your sans-serif font, be careful to think about size, color, style, and even placement on the webpage. Bigger does not always mean better. Though the point of headings and sub-headings are to draw attention to specific content, you do not want them to distract. The key is to establish a clear hierarchy of your content.
2. Carefully Evaluate Combined Fonts
Sometimes you’ll want to use two different sans-serif fonts on your website. And, while this can be very effective at boosting content engagement, consider the following tips:
- Use two different font types to create a dynamic visual appeal to your website
- Find the balance between too similar and too different
- Do not use more than 2 fonts on any given webpage to avoid distraction, clashing, and poor readability
- Try to use font types that have similar heights, widths, or basic structures
- Use varying styles of the same font to create a subtle difference that is noticeable but not overbearing
If you stick to these basic rules, you will be able to have two different font types on your website without causing any negative reactions amongst your site visitors.
3. Watch Browser Compatibility
Popular browsers constantly change and update which can cause glitches in your custom web fonts. The last thing you want to do is harm your website’s readability by including a font on your website that does not support all web browsers. In making sure that your font choices are cross-browser compatible, and that your website renders correctly for all visitors no matter what browser they are using, test your website here.
If you would rather forgo having to manually test every popular web browser there is for font compatibility, use fonts that were created solely for websites as they will have built-in cross-browser compatibility. One great option? Google Fonts.
4. Think About Color
Though not an actual typography issue, the color of your sans-serif font will make a huge difference when it comes to your success. For example, a dark text (primarily black) on a bright background is the best contrast. If you do use a color other than black, save the brightest colors for emphasizing an important point or grouping a block of text together. Lastly, make sure any colored fonts you use complement your website’s overall design.
Popular Sans Serif Fonts You Can Use on Your Website
Though there are literally thousands of popular sans-serif fonts you can use on your website, and everyone’s individual needs will differ, there are some excellent choices to pick from if you are not sure where to start. Here are some of the most popular sans-serif fonts:
And in the end, if you really aren’t sure and have some time on your hands, you can always browse Google Fonts by filtering them to display only sans-serif options.
In the end, typography is an important aspect of web design. In fact, that’s why so many WordPress themes, whether free or premium, promote the fact that several typographies come built-in and ready to use. Theme developers understand that readability of web content is crucial to keeping user engagement and satisfaction up, so they cater to that need.
It is no lie that site visitors will leave your website if they feel the font types are clunky, unclear, distracting, or too flashy. That’s why using fonts wisely and paying attention to the minor details related to your font choice is more important than most people want to admit. So admit that font is significant and choose carefully. Your website’s success might hinge on one of the oldest art forms in the world – typography.
Do you use sans-serif fonts on your website? Which one do you use and why? I would love to hear all about it in the comments below!