Serif Fonts

What are serif fonts?

In type design, two categories are often used to classify fonts: sans serif and serif fonts. Serif fonts have been used since Roman times. Roman inscriptions were the basis for capital letters as we know them today—a frequently discussed inscription plate is located on the base of Trajan’s Column, completed in AD 113. Carvers added serifs, the little feet on the letter stems, to give the chiseled letters a cleaner finish.

It wasn’t until the early 19th century, when a font by William Caslon IV appeared in a type sample book in 1816, that sans serif fonts started to circulate. However, serif fonts were used for body text much longer—until after World War II.

Brand expression using serif fonts

After two decades of minimalism and the feeling that sans fonts are the only typefaces there are, serif fonts experience a true renaissance. Serif typefaces are much more personal and warmer. When serif fonts have rounded terminals, ample counters, and handwritten characteristics, they can be—surprise!—more approachable and friendlier than sans-serif fonts.

The following features strengthen or counterbalance traits of serif fonts:

The nature of serifs

Serifs come in so many styles that they alone can significantly impact a brand’s visual identity. Short and edgy serifs, like those found in Quil, suggest a crafty brand personality. In contrast, long and sharp serifs, as used in Rozi, convey a sense of strength. Warm and round serifs, such as those in Mod, underline a brand’s warmth and elegance.

Serif fonts are more often used for longer text, although they can also make an excellent choice as a brand font for display applications such as logo, title, and headline design.

The influence of stroke weights (thin to thick)

Stroke weight, the thickness of the lines that make up a glyph, plays a more essential role in typography than is often acknowledged. It influences not only the style and readability of text but also the mood it shares. Thin stroke weights are usually associated with elegance and sophistication, creating a light, airy feeling that speaks of refinement.

On the other end of the spectrum, bold stroke weights communicate a broader range of characteristics by emphasizing the character of a typeface more; for example, they can say strength, assertiveness, or youthfulness, demanding more attention with their presence.

This range allows designers to choose either from different typefaces or within a type family and pick a weight that aligns closely with a brand’s personality, whether they’re aiming for minimal sophistication or a bold announcement.

Common font weights range from Thin (100) to Black (900). Mid sizes are Regular (400), Medium (500), and SemiBold (600). Bolder weights are Bold (700) and ExtraBold (800), whereas lighter weights are ExtraLight (200) and Light (300).

The dynamics of contrast in fonts

Contrast fonts feature a more or less dramatic variation between their thinnest and thickest parts, creating a visually dazzling effect with more contrast or sometimes simply providing better readability when there’s just a little bit of contrast. The opposite is monolinear fonts, where the stroke stays the same width from start to end. Contrast fonts can be sans-serifs, e.g., the Chez typeface, but most often, you’ll connect contrast to serif fonts.

High-contrast typefaces can prompt feelings of drama and elegance; they can look cute and pretty, too, while those with less contrast might appear more down-to-earth and practical. The bolder (thicker) the contrast font, the more contrast you’ll have within the same font family. Compared to a lighter weight, the contrast will not be as strong.

Typical applications for contrast typefaces are wedding invitations, beauty branding, and projects that require elegant, fancy, and luxurious lettering.

The mindful selection of contrast paired with font weight is an easy dial to influence the perception of a brand, making these features basic tools for designers.

Using wide and open letterforms

Wide and open letterforms, characterized by their spacious counters and broader widths, enhance accessibility and make the overall look and feel friendly, cool, and more modern versus classy or retro. They’re often an excellent choice for brands aiming to present themselves as open, transparent, and affordable.

Examples of letters that are more open are the lowercase letters e and o.

Examples of wider (extended) sans typefaces are Mosy, Desk, and Byrl. They feel more contemporary and are popular choices in 2024.

Rounded stems and what they mean

Rounded stems in typefaces bring a sense of comfort and an organic feel to the text. These features soften the overall appearance of the type, making it feel friendlier. The bolder the typeface, the more pronounced the curvy stem will be.

Typefaces like Soft and Kijs exemplify how rounded stems can be used to convey warmth, making them ideal for brands that want to appear more relatable.

Bringing out the best in serif fonts

Understanding the differences in stroke weights, contrast, variety of letter forms, rounded vs. straight stems, and the overall nature of serifs offers designers a more extensive catalog for expressing brand identity through typography. The resurgence of serif fonts highlights their timeless appeal and shows versatility in conveying brand values. By carefully diving into these different details, designers can craft applications with typography that communicates effectively, resonates emotionally with their audience, and creates a more robust character for the brand.