Serif or Sans Serif fonts: What’s the difference and which should I choose? These are the most common questions I hear on the designers’ circuit in regards to fonts, so I wanted to offer the following breakdown on Serif vs. Sans Serif fonts and typefaces:

Serif or Sans Serif: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between Serif and Sans-Serif fonts and typefaces are that Serif fonts have a small line or tail connected to the edges of each letter or character. In the image to the right, you can see an example of a Serif font versus a Sans Serif font, both stemming from the Museo family of typefaces.

The top, Serif font example is Museo Slab, a friendly yet professional choice for websites and other design projects. The bottom example is Museo Sans, a font that is built to look like Museo Slab, but without the Serif tails on each character edge.

The main example that is usually offered to demonstrate the difference between Serif and Sans Serif fonts is Times New Roman or Times (both Serif typefaces) versus Arial or Helvetica (both Sans Serif typefaces). These are the stock Serif and Sans Serif typefaces on Windows and Mac, respectively.

Style wise, Sans Serif fonts are commonly referred to as “Gothic Typefaces”, while Serif fonts are usually called “Roman Typefaces”. That’s why we see Serif fonts out there with names like “Times New Roman”, and Sans Serif fonts with names like “Gotham.”

Serif or Sans Serif: Which Should I Choose?

It’s generally a good idea to NOT mix Serif and Sans Serif fonts within the same design, whether that’s a website design or some other design project. Occasionally, you can get away with using a Serif font for Heading and Title text, and a Sans Serif for body text, but generally I would choose one or the other to bring a more unifying typographical element to your design.

So which one should you choose? Generally, Sans Serif fonts are unassuming, non-intimidating, playful and inviting. Using Sans Serif fonts in lowercase can add to this principle. If you’re designing websites or graphics for children, non-profits, online stores or artists then a Sans Serif font may be a good choice.

On the other hand, Serif fonts exude a feeling of integrity, luxury, longevity and respect. You often see Serif fonts featured in sites for Realtors, Plastic Surgeons, Hotels and Expensive Restaurants. If you’re trying to project a professional elite aura with your design, a Serif font might be the choice for you.

There are certainly ways to cross over between Serif and Sans Serif fonts in the Design World. Check out the website for the watch company Nixon. They use Sans Serif for their logo to establish a sleek look to the brand as a whole, but they use a Serif font everywhere. Since they sell relatively high-end accessory items, using a Serif font throughout the site helps them communicate with their target market, who respond well to the feeling of polished integrity that is conveyed by a Serif font.

If you enjoyed this post, check out our list of the Best Sans Serif Fonts for Designers! Thanks for reading!