In response to a question about the best fonts to use for something that's going to be printed (as opposed to on-screen fonts) Dave shares "The basic rules I learned long ago, for printed stuff" including font recommendations for body text and headlines, thoughts on indents, and the "proverbial pinch of salt" (from the forum). Here's what he had to say with links inserted to articles and tutorials I've written on these same topics.
Body text (the main stuff you read):
Serifed type is best - for example, Times, Palatino, Melior, Century, Bembo, etc etc - anything with (to put it crudely) those little stickey-out bits at the bottom/tops of the letters, which seem to make it easier for the eye to follow from one letter to another. Don't take my word for it, it's been tested - sure you can find stuff online, via Google, if you need :)
Upper and lower case, NOT ALL CAPS. Your eye 'n' your brain seem to learn the "shape" of a word, if it's in u/lc. Shape, or shape, is easier to read than SHAPE, for example. Caps you have to read letter by letter.
Maximum column width for text - about 65 characters. There's a bit of leeway, obviously - narrower or wider - but this width seems optimum for the eye to get to the end of one line and flick down to the next line, without getting lost. Great huge wide columns make this a lot more difficult.
Indents at the beginning of each paragraph - or, alternatively, some spacing between paragraphs - also help your eye and brain keep track of where you are on the page.
If you're using paragraph spacing, the best is about half your line spacing. For example, if your regular text is 10pt on 12pt leading, use 6pt paragraph spacing. Any less looks too cramped, any more seems too gappy.
Headers & subheads
Many of the above rules apply, but loosely - there's more freedom.
Should be bigger, obviously. U/lc is still probably best, but if the headline/subhead is reasonably short, ALL CAPS will be okay.
Sans-serif type - Helvetica, Arial, Futura, Franklin Gothic, etc - can be used, as a contrast to the body type face.
Hmmm. Seems to me that, if you're including a lot of text, then the "rules" for print should still apply broadly to a website, or a presentation, or whatever. Most of the REASONS for the rules still apply, like being able to read it easily, so...
The proverbial pinch of salt...
Of course, none of the above "rules" are set in stone, for good reason. Generally, on average, they'll result in a nicely readable page, but not necessarily a nicely designed one.
Bear them in mind. Break them if you feel like it - for example, set all the body text in Arial. ALL CAPS, if you feel like it. It can work, but it's up to you as a designer to make sure it does.
Making it pretty is one thing. At the end of the day, though, people still need to be able to read it easily, and get the info they need. Balancing both of those objectives - that's the designer's job. (Originally posted on July 27, 2003 by Dave)
Agree, disagree, have something else to add to his tips and guidelines? Sound off in the comments.
You might also want to read:
- Best Fonts for Books - Readers offer general and specific advice.
- Classic and Favorite Fonts - You won't go too far astray using these serif and sans serif choices.
- Composing Type - Breaks text composition into components of placement, style, spacing, and fine-tuning.
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