Best fonts for reading

I find that a plain Serif like Helvetica makes reading a paper book or document easier, because your eyes flow along the serifs from letter to letter, and word to word. And glare is rarely an issue. On a screen, however, I find a good San Serif font, like Verdana, is easier to read, for the reasons of space you mention. On the screen, for me, serif fonts are blurrier, despite the spacing in Verdana.

Helvetica and Verdana are both sans-serif fonts.

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I’m glad you said that. I looked at that late last night and thought I was going crazy. I do think I like Verdana better than Helvetica though.


I do think I like Verdana better than Helvetica though.

Verdana was commissioned by Microsoft as a screen font. It might look good on your Mac, but it does not work well in print or on high res screens. (Ms. Typography Snot suspects it will look like hell on the new Mac Pro XDR, not that she could ever afford this screen).

Helvetica was created in the late 1940s/early 1950s, well before PCs hit the market, and it designed to be extremely legible in display and reading sizes. When Helvetics is scaled up or down, the point sizes were carefully designed to space and align properly. There’s an excellent movie, “Helvetica,” available on Amazon or Netflix DVD rental, it talks about how influential Helvetica has been to communications. And the movie is lots of fun.


Check out Frutiger. That’s a really nice font. Designed for legibility too.

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I prefer fixed-width fonts like SF Mono myself.

Voting for the current Apple system font, here. When Apple switched to it from Helvetica Neue a few years back, I was disappointed at first; but now I prefer it.

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Thanks! I will check out that movie. I did Verdana as a test. I haven’t tried it on my larger monitor, just my 13” MBP.


ING used that font! I had to get it to design something that had their name on it.


I also love Frutiger’s fonts, especially the one that bears his name. Avenir, Versailles, Apollo, Univers are among my favorites. But for a sans serif that works very effectively online and on screen (it was designed to do so), I really like Gotham, which resembles another favorite, Gil Sans, and the above mentioned Avenir. I don’t mean to make anything resembling a political statement, but its use in Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign is credited by many respected design thinkers for creating a more modern, energetic, unique and powerful image than that of his competition:

But when in comes to long form reading, serif fonts win, hands down, for legibility, comprehension and speed. For his second campaign, Obama requested Hoefler & Frere-Jones design a serif version of Gotham.

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I’ve been using San Francisco quite a bit since Apple introduced it, people might enjoy the video from WWDC of 2015. Good discussion of the design principles at play in typography. My students enjoy the discussion of the octothorpe, aka the hash or pound sign. This year they re-released New York from back in the day, a serif, it might be interesting to check it out.

FWIW, I’ve been enjoying using Baskerville, a very old face, in a new book I’m working on.


My mistake. I still like Verdana as a screen font. But, yes, Serif fonts work best for print.

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FWIW, I’ve been enjoying using Baskerville, a very old face, in a new book I’m working on.

Another one of my favorites. And I remembered hearing in school that Baskerville became Benjamin Franklin’s favorite when it was released in the 1700s. He even got the US government to use for their documents. Franklin was a printer and typographer by trade, and considered by his peers to be one of the best in the field. A quick search turned up some very interesting facts about how many influential typographers and printers at the time were jealous of Baskerville and waged a trashing campaign against it. Franklin, the wiley master politician, came up with a simple plan that debunked the criticisms:

Thanks for the great link:

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The claim that serif typefaces are easier to read, particularly for long-form texts, seems to be considered established truth. I vaguely remember reading an article, however, that stated that there actually is no scientific study that conclusively supports that claim.

Do you happen to have a source for such evidence?

No, I don’t intend to be snarky at all. I truly haven’t seen any related study and would love to learn whether there is more to this claim than its consistent repetition. The rationale that the more unique shapes of serif glyphs make them easier to visually distinguish sounds perfectly reasonable and “believable;” but that’s not quite the same as actual scientific readability studies, of course.

I think it’s true that the scientific evidence is not strong. Serifs and font legibility found “When text is small or distant, serifs may, then, produce a tiny legibility increase due to the concomitant increase in spacing. However, our data exhibited no difference in legibility between typefaces that differ only in the presence or absence of serifs.” The study used both computer monitors and paper.

In A matter of font type: The effect of serifs on the evaluation of scientific abstracts, “The results show that missing serifs led to increased reading speed. However, and in contrast to the perceptual fluency hypothesis, the presence of serifs had a positive effect on all evaluation dimensions. The results of a second study with 187 participants also indicated that reading fluency counteracted the liking of texts.” These studies were done online so text on screens, not in print.

Those are just a couple which can lead many more with varying results.

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A quick search turns up thousands of studies. This is one of many recent studies, and the like other recent studies, the tests were conducted on screen, and it details a slight advantage to fonts with serifs that are in a 5% range. It didn’t stress comprehension, it mostly focused on speed:

Older studies were done with print, and the advantages are more significant. Studies of children show even bigger advantages to serifs.

I also don’t intend to be snarky at all. The study I quoted, and most recent studies done on screen are not focused on long form reading. Long form reading is different than short, and on screen different than paper. I truly haven’t seen any related, reputable studies on long form reading and comprehension online, and would love to learn whether there is more to this claim than its consistent repetition.

I don’t mean to be snarky here either, but readability studies have been conducted since moveable type became generally available and education requiring literacy became widespread. Anyone on this list has the ability to do a search. In the case of something that has been studied extensively for centuries, anyone can find studies with results that prove whatever point they want to make. It’s kind of like anti/pro vaccinations.

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I believe Helvetica is used by the IRS on many if not all forms. People subconsciously have developed a bad feeling about it.

Frutiger is one of my favorite fonts. For every day communication I use Palatino.

415 272-1944


    June 21

I believe Helvetica is used by the IRS on many if not all forms. People subconsciously have developed a bad feeling about it.

Helvetica is also used by American League Baseball, Bloomingdales, BMW, Target, Microsoft, Panasonic, Verizon, Crate & Barrel, Intel, American Airlines, National Basketball Association, CVS, Mattel, Harley Davidson, Toyota, Discovery and History Channels, General Motors, Jeep, Lufthansa, Subway, Skype, McDonald’s, A&E, CBS, Fendi, CVS, National Basketball Association, What’s App, Staples, NYC and NJ transit, US highway signage, Nestle, Sears, Tupperware, 3M and Scotch Tape and PostIt, Evian, National Car Rental, and tons of other familiar companies.

The New York Times and other newspapers use it in their charts. It’s also a very popular font that’s heavily used in movies and TV shows for credits and titling. Alfred Hitchcock used it frequently in movies (including Psycho) and his TV series. Helvetica Black extended was used in Zero Dark Thirty and Viceland.

The condensed version also heavily used in packaging. Even if it’s not the logo or tagline font, chances are that Helvetica Condensed is used for the ingredients list for food, drugs, cosmetics, etc.

Helvetica Neue was one of Apple’s most frequently used fonts, Avenir, one of my favorite fonts from Adrian Frutiger, is another. They now use the new version of San Francisco.

Yes, Helvetica is also used by the IRS and other US government departments. But the vast majority of US residents don’t often see IRS documents very much throughout any given year. But chances are that almost all US residents will see Helvetica more than once on any given day used by companies, associations, products, and road and street signage that give off good vibes.

Thanks for sharing those two studies, @cwilcox. You’re right, of course, that there are “many more.” It’s just that there seems to be none that conclusively demonstrate that “serif fonts are easier to read” is actually true.

In particular, the first of your links leads to a study that shows good, rigorous science, and “even” they came to the conclusion that:

The data show no systematic effect of serif size on reading speed. This was corroborated by a repeated measures ANOVA, which resulted in no significant effects.

(Then again, I’d not feel comfortable generalizing the outcomes of any study that’s based on a sample size of six… :thinking:)

Thanks again, Curtis. I guess we’re simply free to choose between serif and sans-serif as we please. :slight_smile: