Fonts may just appear to be letters, but in the world of marketing, they are critical components that grab attention and make messaging readable and legible. While there may seem to be unlimited options, we can break them down into two categories, serif and sans serif, which are suited for certain uses.
Serif fonts have a little flair—decorative strokes at the end of the characters. Well-known examples are Times New Roman and Cambria. Sans serif fonts are those without the strokes, such as Arial and Calibri.
The unspoken rule of thumb used to be that serif fonts were for printed copy because they were viewed as being more readable. The strokes were believed to help us better identify letters and guide the horizontal flow of our eyes. However, the strokes looked fuzzy on old, low-resolution CRT TVs and computer monitors. Sans serif fonts were the go-to styles for digital formats because their simple lines were more legible onscreen.
Nowadays, LCD and LED screens are providing a high-resolution view, and font selections are mostly guided by the medium (print or digital), the sentiment you are setting (think wedding invitation vs. garage sale poster), or a company style. Generally speaking, if you’re setting large blocks of text, such as an article, a serif font would be a good choice. However, if you’re putting together brief text, captions, or a chart, a sans serif may work best.
Some designers even get crazy and use both styles on the same piece. It’s not uncommon to see an article with a heading in a sans serif font and copy in a serif. But don’t overdo it…you aren’t preparing a ransom letter.