How To Choose A Font

Every computer-user has a different strategy for choosing the best font for long periods working at the computer. They all involve many metrics, strategies, and rubrics. Based on that, they are probably all wrong. Well not really, they are right based upon experience, and experience is really all that matters.

I was curious about whether my experience had any basis in reality, and I really wanted to dig into what is the “right way” to choose a font for any particular user or situation. The following are notes and ultimately a decision on what is the best for me. Hopefully the notes alone are revealing and help you reach your own conclusion, too. At the very least you ought to be educated, informed, and probably surprised, too, about some of the factors involved in font selection.

This might be interesting for programmers, UX people and probably every computer user out there.

What’s the most readable font for the screen?

  • Serifs are tips for the reader’s eyes for flow.
  • San-serifs are better for low-res.
  • Simultaneously states that is no difference between serif and san-serif.
  • Rec: Helvetica/Arial
  • Comment recommendations:
  • Designed for digital, Hermann Zapf’s Optima, or as a backup Verdana
  • Designed for digital, Open Sans
  • Both, Calibri
  • San-serifs are easier on the eyes as you get older, citing retinal tears specifically

Time to change your fonts

  • Designed for screen: Verdana, Trebuchet MS, and (the serif) Georgia.
  • Easy to read, available on virtually all machines.
  • Let go of times new roman, Arial, and Helvetica.
  • Traditionally a serif font was used for the main body of a document, and sans-serif for headings. Today, those principles are often reversed.

The Best Fonts to Use in Print, Online, and Email

  • Popular serif fonts are Times New Roman, Palatino, Georgia, Courier, Bookman and Garamond.
  • Some popular San Serif fonts are Helvetica, Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic and Verdana.
  • It’s been said that serif fonts are for “readability,” while sans-serif fonts are for “legibility.”
  • Best fonts for online: go with sans-serif.
  • 2002 study by the Software Usability and Research Laboratory:
  • The most legible fonts were Arial, Courier, and Verdana.
  • At 10-point size, participants preferred Verdana. Times New Roman was the least preferred.
  • At 12-point size, Arial was preferred and Times New Roman was the least preferred.
  • The preferred font overall was Verdana, and Times New Roman was the least preferred.
  • For easiest online reading, use Arial 12-point size and larger. If you’re going smaller than 12 points, Verdana at 10 points is your best choice. If you’re after a formal look, use the font “Georgia.” And for older readers, use at least a 14-point font.
  • Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, an e-commerce consultant, did a series of tests in 2001. He also came to the conclusion that the sans-serif fonts are more suited to the computer screen.Some of the highlights of the test results were that at 12 points, respondents showed a preference for Arial over Verdana – 53% to 43% (with 4% not being able to distinguish between the two).Two-thirds of respondents found that Verdana at 12 points was too large for body text, but Verdana at 10 points was voted more readable than Arial at 10 points by a 2 to 1 margin.In conclusion, for the best font readability, use Arial 12 point or Verdana at 10 points and 9 points for body text. For headlines, he suggests using larger bold Verdana.
  • Comments: Good.
  • My comments: no links to cited papers

Which font is the most comfortable for on-screen viewing?

  • Post: Advice to use san-serif is outdated and inappropriate for today’s high resolution screens. San-serif or not is irrelevant; instead the measure of success is to use a large font that was specifically designed for on-screen usage. For inspiration, look at the free fonts listed at the Google Web Fonts directory, especially Vollkorn or the Droid Serif font which was particularly developed with small font size in mind.
  • GCR: That post is confusing because he later explains that we are not there yet, but rather getting close.
  • Post: Sans-serif are best for on-screen.


  • No comment

Droid Serif

  • No comment

Font readability

  • Legibility refers to being able to read a text in bad conditions. “Legibility is concerned with the very fine details of typeface design, and in an operational context this usually means the ability to recognize individual letters or words. Readability however concerns the optimum arrangement and layout of whole bodies of text”
  • Studies that contrast serif vs. non-serif fonts seem to be controversial.
  • There are some ground rules one can find, like:
    • Don’t make long lines nor too long paragraphs
    • Use wide fonts such as Palatino or Verdana for small fonts
    • Use spaces between lines, e.g. about 1.2 at least. E.g. in Word 2007,
  • 1.15 is the default I believe. to be controversial.
  • Sans serif: Verdana (a humanist font) or Arial
  • Serif: Georgia
  • Some references for studies and research done on fonts.
  • “two roles for type: a functional role (relating to legibility) and an aesthetic/semantic role, which impacts the “apparent ‘fitness’ or ‘suitability’ for different functions, and which imbue it with the power to evoke in the perceiver certain emotional and cognitive response” (p. 38)””
  • In her study: Calibri came out as a winner against Courier New and Curlz.
  • GCR: Very exciting and interesting with good links

The Effect of Typeface on the Perception of Email

  • People take Calibri seriously via this study.

Know Your Typefaces! Semantic Differential Presentation of 40 Onscreen Typefaces

  • Study showing how people emotionally react to certain fonts.

The Academic Evidence Base for Typeface Readability

  • Study.
  • Young people like serif; older like sans-serif.

Bibliography on font readability

  • Links to papers on font readability.

Best Fonts for the Web

  • Serif: Georgia. It was designed especially for screen. Other options are listed.
  • Sans-Serif: Tahoma. Geneva, Tahoma, and Verdana were designed especially for the screen. Tahoma in particular is cited for legibility. Another pick: Lucida Sans Unicode: Cited as remarkably legible for some reason.
  • Monospaced: Monaco/Lucida Console.
  • GCR: Great article.

A Comparison of Two Computer Fonts: Serif versus Ornate Sans Serif

  • Another study, unsure what to conclude from it.

A Comparison of Popular Online Fonts: Which Size and Type is Best?

  • Excellent details.
  • Tahoma and Verdana, sans-serifs, were designed specifically for viewing on computer screens. J, I, and 1 were made distinguishable. Tahoma is wider than Verdana.
  • Great article but leaves so many questions and stuff unanswered and explored.

A Comparison of Popular Online Fonts: Which is Best and When?

  • Big fonts generally don’t matter and are easy to read.
  • Tahoma is well-read.
  • Verdana and Georgia have good legibility.
  • Whole other range of evaluations: personality, elegant, youthful and fun, business-like,
  • Most legible: Courier, Comic, Verdana, Georgia, and Times.


  • Ideals
    • Current state of technology along with aging-eyes means that sans-serif is the best option
    • Emacs suggest mono-spaced fonts for coding
    • Experienced teaches me that Unicode support is mandatory
  • Matching
    • Prefer fonts that focus on legibility over emotional evocation
    • Results: Verdana, Calibri, Tahoma, Lucida Sans Unicode, Lucida Sans
    • Console
  • Notes: Best Unicode Fonts for Programming
  • DejaVu Sans Mono: best Unicode support
  • Based on Andale Mono, a monospaced san-serif designed for coding
  • What are the best programming fonts?
  • Tons of coding related fonts. Why not for reading?!
  • Source Code Pro is highest ranked, then Consolas, and Monaco
  • Font Survey: 42 of the Best Monospaced Programming Fonts
  • The options, although only 42, are insanely overwhelming.
    • Comments
    • There isn’t a ton of digestible info available on Unicode support for the fonts that I listed.
      • I am recalling now that my original selection of DejaVu Sans Mono was specifically for its excellent Unicode support; specifically that it had better support than Lucida Console which is monospaced but lacked characters and looks at least as nice.
  • Seems like it is just haphazard and quasi-scientific how people are choosing fonts; and maybe even designing them.
  • Founds evidence that Lucida is just fine for display; and thus DejaVu Sans Mono is fine for display.


  • DejaVu Sans Mono is the best available font for computer work.

3 thoughts on “How To Choose A Font”

  1. Older fonts contain amazing amount of fine-tuning and precise pixel art for display on screen. They look perfect on monochome screens of standard resolution. On modern screens with clear-type enabled, they do not look so good: the vector outlines of Tahoma Bold express a more bold (heavy, black) version than the embedded bitmaps for standard 8 and 10 point sizes, and the font becomes more difficult to read. Most fonts that predate clear type, and haven’t been hinted for it, have a sheer amount of color fringe, usually purple. (Most pronounced in Courier New.)
    I prefer pixel-perfect fonts on GUI rendered in monochrome: the kind of “screen” that Tahoma and Trebuchet MS were made for. I do not find them harder to read on an LCD, as has been claimed multiple times. Since they are pixel art, they benefit from accurate addressability of pixels and no fuzz. I strongly dislike ClearType; it is only better with fonts made for it by Microsoft – Consolas, Segoe. Adobe’s OTF greyscale render, and the one used in PDF-Xchange is good enough.
    With a high quality renderer, most serif fonts look good in body copy on screen. I like Google’s abandoned Giovanni. Adobe’s PostScript fonts tend to look better on screen in general, compared to TrueType without precise hinting. Adobe has many serif fonts with reduced contrast, and optimized Caption optical sizes, which are closer to hinted screen fonts with all strokes having the same 1px width. Most free software fonts and those from Bitstream have horrible hinting and they require high dpi or a supersampling renderer. Most fonts from Monotype, ITC and Bigelow and Holmes are almost as good as Microsoft’s classic web fonts.
    Georgia’s lowercase, old style numerals are unusual add a bouncy decorative flavor to it. Most other fonts have normal digit glyphs and may only offer old style as options buried in the symbol set or opentype tables. This font transforms into what look like 3 different families depending on the pixel height, as the resolution becomes high enough for its Contrast and serifs. At screen height it looks more like a slab-serif font, similar to Chapparal. Perhaps I see Georgia as old style because it was featured in Microsoft’s Age of Empires II.

  2. Thanks for sharing that j7n.
    My research narrowed it down to:
    – Programming: DejaVu Sans Mono
    – Printing on paper: Garamond
    – Publishing to the computer: Georgia

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