sans serif


Sans-serif font
Serif font
Serif font
(red serifs)

In typography, a sans-serif or sans serif typeface is one that does not have the small features called "serifs" at the end of strokes. The term comes from the French word sans, meaning "without".

In print, sans-serif fonts are more typically used for headlines than for body text. The conventional wisdom is that serifs help guide the eye along the lines in large blocks of text. Sans-serifs, however, have acquired considerable acceptance for body text in Europe.

Sans-serif fonts have become the de facto standard for body text on-screen, especially online. It has been suggested that this is because the small size of the font causes serif fonts to appear excessively cluttered on the screen. This is also true of typography on mobile screens, though it is less commonly used in television screens (the United Kingdom uses a Serif font by default on television).

Before the term “sans-serif” became standard in English typography, a number of other terms had been used. One of these outmoded terms for sans serif was gothic, which is still used in Japanese typography and sometimes seen in font names like Century Gothic.

Sans-serif fonts are sometimes, especially in older documents, used as a device for emphasis, due to their typically blacker type color.


Ancient usages

Sans-serif letter forms can be found in Latin, Etruscan, and Greek inscriptions, for as early as 5th century BC. The sans serif forms had been used on stoichedon Greek inscriptions.

Non-Latin types

The first known usage of Etruscan sans-serif foundry types was from Thomas Dempster's De Etruria regali libri VII (1723). Later at about 1745, Caslon foundry made its the first sans-serif types for Etruscan languages, which was used by University Press, Oxford, for pamphlets written by Etruscan scholar John Swinton.

Revival of Latin characters

According to James Mosley's Typographica journal titled The Nymph and the Grot: the revival of the sanserif letter, the sans serif letters had appeared as early as 1748, as an inscription of Nymph in the Grotto in Stourhead. However, it was classified as an experiment rather than a sign of wide-scale adoption.

In late 18th century, Neoclassicism movement led to architects to increasingly incorporating ancient Greek and Roman designs in contemporary structures. Among the architects, John Soane was noted for using sans serif letters on his drawings and architectural designs, which were eventually adopted by other designers, such as Thomas Banks, John Flaxman.

Sans-serif letters began to appear in printed media as early as 1805, in European Magazine. However, early 19th-century commercial sign writers and engravers had modified the sans-serif styles of neoclassical designers to include uneven stroke weights found in serif Roman fonts, producing sans-serif letters.

In 1816, the Ordnance Survey began to use 'Egyptian' type, which was printed using copper plate engraving of monoline sans-serif capital letters, to name ancient Roman sites.

Incorporation by typefounders

In 1786, a rounded sans-serif font was developed by Valentin Haüy, first appeared in the book titled "Essai sur l'éducation des aveugles" (An Essay on the Education of the Blind). The purpose of this font was to be invisible and address accessibility. It was designed to emboss paper and allow the blind to read with their fingers. The design was eventually known as Haüy type.

In 1816, William Caslon IV produced the first sans-serif printing type in England for Latin characters under the title 'Two Lines English Egyptian', where 'Two Lines English' referred to the font's body size, which equals to about 28 points. Originally cut in 1812.

The term Sans-serif was first employed in 1830 by Figgins foundry.

In 1832, Thorowgood of Fann Street Foundry introduced Grotesque, which include the first commercial Latin printing type to include lowercase sans-serif letters.

Other names for sans-serif

  • Egyptian: The term was first used by Joseph Farington after seeing the sans serif inscription on John Flaxman's memorial to Isaac Hawkins Brown in 1805.
  • Antique: In about 1817, the Figgins foundry in London made a type with square or slab-serifs which it called 'Antique', and that name was adopted by most of the British and US typefounders. An exception was the typefounder Thorne, who confused things by marketing his Antique under the name 'Egyptian'. In France it became Egyptienne, and to worsen the confusion, the French called sans-serif type 'Antique'. Some fonts, such as Antique Olive, still carry the name.
  • Grotesque: It was originally coined by William Thorowgood of Fann Street Foundry, the first person to produce a sans-serif type with lower case, in 1832. The name came from the Italian word 'grottesco', meaning 'belonging to the cave'. In Germany, the name became called Grotesk. German typefounders adopted the term from the nomenclature of Fann Street Foundry, which took on the meaning of cave (or grotto) art. Nevertheless, some explained the term was derived from the surprising response from the typographers.
  • Doric: It was the term first used by H. W. Caslon Foundry in Chiswell Street in 1870 to describe various sans-serif font at a time the generic name 'sans-serif' was commonly accepted. Eventually the foundry used Sans-serif in 1906. At that time, Doric referred to a certain kind of stressed sans-serif types.
  • Gothic: Not to be confused with blackletter typeface, the term was used mainly by American type founders. The term probably derived from the architectural definition, which is neither Greek or Roman; and from the extended adjective term of 'Germany', which was the place where sans-serif typefaces became popular in 19th to 20th century. Early adopters for the term includes Miller & Richard (1963), J. & R. M. Wood (1865), Lothian, Conner, Bruce McKellar. Although the usage is now rare in the English-speaking world, the term is commonly used in Japan.
  • Heiti (Chinese: 黑體): Literally meaning 'black type', the term probably derived from the mistranslation of Gothic as blackletter typeface, even though actual blackletter fonts have serifs.
  • Lineale, or Linear: The term was defined by typographic historian Maximilien Vox in the VOX-ATypI classification to describe sans-serif types. Later, in British Standards Classification of Typefaces (BS 2961:1967), lineale replaced sans-serif as classification name.
  • Simplices: In Jean Alessandrini's désignations préliminaries (preliminary designations), simplices (plain typefaces) is used to describe sans-serif on the basis that the name 'lineal' refers to lines, whereas, in reality, all typefaces are made of lines, including those that are not lineals.


For the purposes of type classification sans-serif designs broadly divide into four major groups:

Note that in some sans-serif fonts, such as Arial, the capital-i and lowercase-L appear identical. Verdana, however, keeps them distinct because Verdana's capital-i, as an exception, has serifs. Other fonts may have two horizontal bars on the capital-i, a curved tail on the lowercase-L, or both.

British Standards classification

In British Standards Classification of Typefaces (BS 2961:1967), the following are defined:

  • Grotesque: Lineale typefaces with 19th century origins. There is some contrast in thickness of strokes. They have squareness of curve, and curling close-set jaws. The R usually has a curled leg and the G is spurred. The ends of the curved strokes are usually horizontal. Examples include Stephenson Blake Grotesque No. 6, Condensed Sans No. 7, Monotype Headline Bold.
  • Neo-grotesque: Lineale typefaces derived from the grotesque. They have less stroke contrast and are more regular in design. The jaws are more open than in the true grotesque and the g is often open-tailed. The ends of the curved strokes are usually oblique. Examples include Edel/Wotan, Univers, Helvetica.
  • Geometric: Lineale typefaces constructed on simple geometric shapes, circle or rectangle. Usually monoline, and often with single-storey a. Examples include Futura, Erbar, Eurostile.
  • Humanist: Lineale typefaces based on the proportions of inscriptional Roman capitals and Humanist or Garalde lower-case, rather than on early grotesques. They have some stroke contrast, with two-storey a and g. Examples include Optima, Gill Sans, Pascal.

PANOSE classification

In PANOSE 1.0, if E, A, and N glyphs are serifed and the TipRat variable is greater than or equal to 0.1, it is classified as serif, otherwise it is sans-serif. The classification system picks out the type of sans-serif subclasses, in the order specified below:

  • Flared: The designs are typified by stems that widen slightly at their base.
  • Rounded: If the RonRat value is less than 0.2 then the stem end is not considered rounded. If the RonRat value is greater or equal to 0.2 then the Serif Style is classified as Rounded.
  • Perpendicular Sans Serif: It is determined by the slant of the bottom of the leg end of non perpendicular stems. If the FootPitch is equal to 0, then the stem end is not considered serifed. If the FootPitch is greater than 0, then the design is classified as Perpendicular Sans Serif.
  • Obtuse: If the SerOb value is either greater than or equal to 1.03 or less than or equal to 0.97, then the design is classified as Obtuse Sans Serif.
  • Normal: If the SerOb value is both less than 1.03 and greater than 0.97, then the design is classified as Normal Sans Serif.

See also


External links

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