Serif Fonts and Their Peculiarities

Typography obviously belongs to the cohort of the fine arts, where even the smallest details and elements are meaningful and can influence the overall perception of the final creation, whether it is a picture or a text, printed with a particular typeface. In terms of fonts design, serifs are those tiny elements, which add a particular character to a typeface, contributing to the unique feel and look every font is characterized with.

By definition, serifs are the small lines or strokes at the ends of the main strokes of the letters in a particular font. Sometimes, serifs are also descriptively explained as “hooks” or “little feet” at the ends of the vertical and horizontal strokes of a letter. Consequently, fonts with serifs are usually mentioned as Serif fonts, for example, Times Roman, Garamond, Souvenir, etc. On the other hand, fonts, where letters are not supplied with such embellishing elements, are called Sans Serif fonts (“sans” means “without” in French).

It is interesting to note that along with purely decorative function serifs are believed to play a role in the text perception mechanism by the human eyes, making the printed text easier to read. This is why Serif fonts have always been among the primary choices for printing books, newspapers, and magazines. However, in electronic media, due to the specificity of perceiving a text on the computer screen, it is preferred to use Sans Serif rather than Serif fonts, because reading letters without serifs is considered to be easier on the screen.

Stemming out of the ancient Roman alphabet with the letters carved into stone, Serif fonts have passed a long way of development and evolution. As the result, now we have several types of Serif fonts, each with its own peculiarities and specific features.

Old Style Serif Fonts

Dating back to the middle of the 15th century, old style serif fonts are considered to be based on the humanist calligraphy. The key features of the old style serif fonts are low line contrast (when there is only a slight difference between thick and thin lines forming a letter) and diagonal stress (the thinnest parts of the letters are those at the angles). It is believed that the combination of diagonal stress and bracketed serifs in old style serif fonts creates a special positive word picture, which is especially favorable for the ease of reading and perception.

Free old style serif fonts

Commercial old style serif fonts

Transitional Serif Fonts

Everyone knows Times New Roman font, which is commonly used as the default font in computer text editors. This font, created in 1932, is the most vivid representative of the transitional serif fonts, which first appeared in the middle of the 18th century and now stands between old style and modern serifs in the typical font classification. Unlike old style serifs, transitional serif fonts feature higher line contrast with more distinctive difference between thick and thin lines. Transitional serif fonts are sometimes called “baroque fonts”.

Free transitional serif fonts

Commercial transitional serif fonts

Modern Serif Fonts

Modern serif fonts first appeared at the end of the 18th century. Also known as Didone serif typefaces, the family of modern serifs fonts has vivid differences from the old style serif fonts. These are the extreme high line contrast, vertical stress instead of diagonal, and long and fine serifs. Vertical lines of the modern serif fonts are usually very heavy, which, in combination with thin and light serifs, makes a text, printed in modern serif font, less readable.

Free modern serif fonts

Commercial modern serif fonts

Slab Serif Fonts

The first slab serif font was presented in the early 19th century by Vincent Figgins under the name Antique. However, in view of public craze in Europe for everything Egyptian at those times, the slab serif fonts were commonly called Egyptian. Virtually no difference between thick and thin lines of the letters is the key feature of slab serifs. With the bold and rectangular shapes, slab serif fonts often have fixed width, which means that every letter occupies the same horizontal space.

Free slab serif fonts

Commercial slab serif fonts

Clarendon Serif Fonts

Clarendon serif font is sometimes classified as the subtype of slab serif fonts. However, unlike traditional slab serifs, Clarendon font has some brackets at the junction of a stem and serifs. Also, Clarendon fonts usually feature heavy and square-cut serifs. This font group was widely used in the Old West in “wanted” posters and later on traffic signs in the USA. Now Clarendon font can be found on the logotypes of many companies with Sony among them.

Free Clarendon serif fonts

Commercial Clarendon serif fonts

Freeform Serif Fonts

Along with the serif fonts, designed in accordance with particular typography rules or tradition, such as old style serif fonts or modern serifs, there are also many freeform serif fonts, developed these days. Designers, inspired by a rich legacy of serif fonts and modern trends in typography, use all their imagination to present serif fonts in a fresh and sometimes completely unexpected way.

Free freeform serif fonts

Commercial freeform serif fonts

This article is originally published on Apr 09, 2010, and updated on Aug 05, 2022.

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