Classifying Fonts

Updated at 2017-07-10 16:08

Classifying typefaces is equally hard as classifying art.

Fonts can be divided into classes. Font classification can be done by character style, character width or emotion they give.

Character style:   serif, sans-serif, script, display.
Character width:   proportional, monospaced, narrow, wide.
Emotion:           formal, informal, classic, modern, dramatic, neutral.

Usually fonts are divided by character style. Most widely used is sorting by character style because font emotion can be affected with effects and character width doesn't tell a lot about the font itself.

# Some Examples
Times New Roman is proportional formal serif font.
Verdana is proportional modern humanist sans-serif font.
Helvetica is proportional neutral neo-grotesques sans-serif font.
Consolas is monospaced neutral neo-grotesques sans-serif font.
Goudy Old Style is proportional classic old serif font.

Serif Fonts

Serif fonts have fine details that help to separate characters. Those details are called serifs, those extra lines on characters. Two main differences between different types of serif fonts are how the serif lines look and the stroke width contrast. Serifs fonts are more popular in print because a block of serif text is faster to read as characters have more distinct differences. On the down side, they require high point density as they have very fine details. On digital media, using serif fonts requires a good quality font.

Modern Serif Fonts: Thin serifs and high contrast between thick and thin strokes.

Usage: headlines
Emotions: structured, clear, elegant
Context: arts, culture
Fonts: Didot, Bodoni, Computer Modern

Transitional Serif Fonts: Medium serifs and medium contrast between thick and thin strokes. Called transitional because between old and modern.

Usage: body text
Emotions: strong, stylish
Context: legal, academic
Fonts: Baskerville, Times New Roman, Georgia

Old Style Serif Fonts: Thick serifs and low contrast between thick and thin strokes.

Usage: body text
Emotions: classical, traditional
Context: historical
Fonts: Caslon, Adobe Jenson, Goudy Old Style

Slab Serif Fonts: Thick serifs and close to no contrast between thin and thick strokes. Characters are block-like.

Usage: headlines
Emotions: authoritative, friendly
Context: marketing, promotional
Fonts: Rockwell, Courier, American Typewriter

Sans-serif Fonts

Sans-serifs lack the fine details of the serif fonts. Sans-serifs are more popular on digital media because they don't need high point density. The main difference between different types of sans-serif fonts is the stroke contrast.

Humanist Sans-serif Fonts: High contrast between thin and thick character strokes. Most legible sans-serif so they are very popular on the web. Usually modern characters e.g. two-storied a-character.

Usage: body text
Emotions: contrast, dynamic
Context: government, educational, finance
Fonts: Gill Sans, Frutiger, Tahoma, Verdana, Optima, Lucide Grande

Grotesque Sans-serif Fonts: Medium contrast between thin and thick character strokes. Usually transitional e.g. three-storied a-character.

Usage: headlines, body text
Emotions: stable
Context: family business
Fonts: Franklin Gothic, Akzidenze Grotesk

Neo-grotesque Sans-serif Fonts: Low contrast between thin and thick character strokes. Require a lot of white space and hard to use in branding as they have little personality. Usually traditional e.g. three-storied a-character.

Usage: headlines
Emotions: unassuming, modern
Context: technology, transportation
Fonts: MS Sans Serif, Arial, Helvetica

Geometric Sans-serif Fonts: No contrast between thin and thick character strokes. Constructed from basic geometrical shapes like circles or squares. Usually modern characters e.g. two-storied a-character.

Usage: headlines
Emotions: strict, objective, universal
Context: science, architecture
Fonts: Futura, Erbar, Eurostile

Script Fonts

Script fonts try to mimic handwritten text. You should never use scripts for body text. They focus on personality and branding, not readability. Usually used for making message appear personal.

Formal Script Fonts: Mimic old handwritten letterform.

Usage: headlines, annotation
Emotions: formal, safe
Context: legal, business
Fonts: Kuenstler Script, Snell Roundhand

Casual Script Fonts: Mimic modern handwritten letterform.

Usage: headlines, annotation
Emotions: casual, friendly
Context: referrals
Fonts: Mistral, Brush Script, Comic Sans.

Display Fonts

Display fonts are attention drawing typefaces. All fonts that cannot be generalized as serif, sans-serif of script are display fonts. Sometimes script fonts are also grouped with display fonts. Display fonts are never suitable for body text and rarely for headings. Usually only used in logos and branding where extra personality is required.

Usage: logos, headlines
Fonts: Broadway, Arnold Böcklin, Banco, Exocet