Preface: this is an introductory post to the world of typefaces and how it affects what we read. If you’re already decently versed, it may not be as in-depth as you’re looking for. Regardless, I hope you enjoy!
Let’s talk about something that will not affect you in the slightest as a writer, but that’s fun to talk about anyway because I think we can all appreciate being superfluous sometimes: fonts. As you all know because I won’t shut the fuck up about it, I’m a graphic designer by education. And if you were anything like I was as a child, you spent as much time in a word document choosing a font that was fun and had a lot of personality as you did writing any actual story. Papyrus, Joker, Curlicue, Chiller–anything that didn’t look like it came from a newspaper your parents were reading.
Let’s get down and dirty with fonts. Now, as a writer, the only times you might care about what font you choose are when
- You prefer to have a specific kind of font in your writing program.
- You write for a blog and need to ensure readability for your audience.
- You have some say in designing your cover, and need the typeface to match your genre/tone and the cover art.
Now, as for the first one in the list, I’m going to disregard that. How you prefer to write in your own time is absolutely none of my business–you want to write purple text on a bright orange background in size 60 Pacifico? Have fun! I wish you a high daily word count!
Let’s move on to the second one: ensuring readability for your blog. Please forgive me if the next few sentences seem condescending; I just want to make sure everyone’s on a level playing field when I introduce some vocabulary. Serif fonts are fonts that have tiny ornamental accents on them, like Times New Roman, Courier, or Georgia. They look older, a bit more archaic and proper in the sense that they appear to have been designed for a printing press.
Sans-serif fonts, on the other hand, do not have the fancy extra bits. Helvetica, Futura, and Verdana are some popular examples. These fonts usually look sleek and contemporary in comparison.
So, let’s imagine you’re selecting a font for your self-published book. You find a sans-serif font you like the look of ’cause it’s cool. Before you pick that one for certain, though, you might be interested to know–there’s some research that indicates that swathes of serif type are easier for our brains to read in large chunks when printed. I’m honestly not sure why; my professors theorized that the ligatures (read: little doodads) on the letters of serifed fonts help us register the word as a whole instead of as individual letters. Either way though, if you don’t want to intimidate or fatigue your readers, picking a serif font might help in readability.
And while you might read that last paragraph and think, “Well, that’s easy then, I’ll just put my book and my blog in a serif font,” I’m going to frustrate you a little by adding that design is rarely so straightforward; it’s become a sort of unspoken norm to have text that’s read on a computer be in a sans-serif font. Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia–all are sans-serif.
Ultimately, it’s up to you. You can write your novels in sans-serif and blogs in serif but the choice should be made in consideration of what tone you’re trying to achieve. Tone is everything when it comes to design. You can have a printed book of poetry in sans-serif, but maybe the forceful hand of Impact isn’t what you’re looking for unless they’re poems about memes? Feel free to use serif fonts on your websites (as we do; hello!), but make sure the content of your site is appropriate for the feeling of serif. I probably wouldn’t make a DIY site using a serif font, for example.
It wouldn’t be a real blog post about fonts without a mention of Comic Sans, but before you rush to find the freshest memes bashing the font (trust me, design school gave me plenty of those), consider for a moment that there is actually some anecdotal evidence suggesting that Comic Sans is useful in helping those with dyslexia read (especially children). Ugly font or not, that’s objectively awesome!
If most serif and sans-serif fonts are considered “body fonts,” in that they are typically used for copy writing, then let’s talk about display fonts. They’re just what they sound like: the big, busy fonts with tons of personality–Lobster, Trajan, Joker would fall into this category. These fonts are usually not intended for a lot of characters at once, which is why they’re good for book covers and logos and website headers.
Writing a steamy romance? Zapfino might work well.
Middle grade sci-fi thriller? Blackout is a personal favorite.
Historical nonfiction? Give Copperplate a spin and see what you think.
Whatever you end up choosing, make sure you’ve purchased the correct license to use it. Designers use a lot of time and labor creating fonts, and they need to be paid for their efforts. A quick search should show you who licenses it, and the purchasing packages for commercial use.
Phew! I think those are the very basics I can pass along for what I know of fonts and writing. I hope something in here was helpful, and if not, then I at least hope you learned something interesting!