The Best Fonts to Use in Print, Online, and Email
Have you ever visited a website that seemed to contain the information you were looking for – but you found yourself clicking on the "back" button of your browser simply because …
… you didn't like the font they used?
For the owner of that website, I represent an opportunity lost – one less person who will potentially click on one of their ads or buy one of their products.
In fact, Colin Wheildon, author of Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes?, says:
"It's possible to blow away three-quarters of our readers simply by choosing the wrong type. If you rely on words to sell, that should concern you deeply."
Blow away 75 percent of your readers! If you're the copywriter who wrote the copy for that site, it's a surefire way to go from copywriting hero to copywriting zero.
So, as a copywriter, it just makes sense to make sure the font you or your clients use is one that doesn't hinder sales in any way.
To help you, I did some research into the best fonts to use for print, online, and email. Let’s start with:
The difference between 'serif' and 'sans serif' fonts
Serif fonts have little feet and embellishments on the tip and base of each letter, making them more distinct and recognizable. Popular serif fonts are Times New Roman, Palatino, Georgia, Courier, Bookman and Garamond.
Nearly all books, newspapers, and magazines use a serif font. It's popularly accepted that – in print – serif fonts are easier to read. The idea being that the serifs actually make the letters flow together – and subsequently easier on the eyes.
As the name states, 'sans serif' fonts are fonts without serifs. While some sources say sans-serif fonts have existed since the 5th century BC, it wasn't until the 1920s that they became somewhat popular – mostly being used in advertisements.
One of the reasons for their lack of popularity was that typographers stuck with serif fonts because they felt they were easier to read.
It's been said that serif fonts are for "readability," while sans-serif fonts are for "legibility." Which is why, in print, sans-serif fonts are often used as the headline font and serif fonts are used for the body text.
Some popular San Serif fonts are Helvetica, Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic and Verdana.
Best fonts for print
In his book Cashvertising, Drew Eric Whitman cites a 1986 study of fonts (printed on paper) that found only 12 percent of participants effectively comprehended a paragraph set in sans-serif type versus 67 percent who were given a version set in serif typeface.
Those who read the sans-serif version said they had a tough time reading the text and "continually had to backtrack to regain comprehension."
In a test of three different fonts, two serifs (Garamond and Times New Roman) and one sans serif (Helvetica), he found 66 percent were able to comprehend Garamond; 31.5 percent Times New Roman, and 12.5 percent Helvetica (out of a total of 1,010,000 people surveyed).
The conclusion being that serif fonts are easier to read when it comes to fonts on paper. So, if you're sending out a sales letter or brochure in the mail, you probably want to use serif font (but, as mentioned in the first point, you could use sans-serif font for your headlines).
Here are the print font preferences of three of the copywriting greats: 1) advertising great John Caples liked using Cheltenham Bold for headlines; 2) advertising legend David Ogilvy preferred the Century family, Caslon, Baskerville, and Jenson; and 3) direct marketing guru Gary Halbert used Courier in his sales letters.
Best fonts for online
Now, one might assume that what works on the printed page will be similar to what works on the computer screen. But that's not the case.
In order to make the little serifs appear legible, a high degree of resolution is required. The more pixels, the more details of the font you can display.
Back 10 or so years ago, the best computer screen resolution was 800 x 600 pixels – which wasn’t great for defining the intricacies of a serif font. Screen resolution has increased through the years (resolutions of 1024 x 768 pixels or greater have become the norm). This makes serif fonts more legible but still generally not as easy to read as sans-serif fonts.
Plus, now you have to consider how your site or email will look on handheld devices, such as the BlackBerry and iPhone. The latest model of iPhone has a screen resolution of 960 x 640 pixels. The BlackBerry Bold has a screen resolution of 480 x 360 pixels.
So online, the best font to go with is sans serif.
A 2002 study by the Software Usability and Research Laboratory concluded that:
- The most legible fonts were Arial, Courier, and Verdana.
- At 10-point size, participants preferred Verdana. Times New Roman was the least preferred.
- At 12-point size, Arial was preferred and Times New Roman was the least preferred.
- The preferred font overall was Verdana, and Times New Roman was the least preferred.
So here are your marching orders:
For easiest online reading, use Arial 12-point size and larger. If you're going smaller than 12 points, Verdana at 10 points is your best choice. If you're after a formal look, use the font "Georgia." And for older readers, use at least a 14-point font.
Best fonts for email
Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, an e-commerce consultant, did a series of tests in 2001. He also came to the conclusion that the sans-serif fonts are more suited to the computer screen.
Some of the highlights of the test results were that at 12 points, respondents showed a preference for Arial over Verdana – 53% to 43% (with 4% not being able to distinguish between the two).
Two-thirds of respondents found that Verdana at 12 points was too large for body text, but Verdana at 10 points was voted more readable than Arial at 10 points by a 2 to 1 margin.
In conclusion, for the best font readability, use Arial 12 point or Verdana at 10 points and 9 points for body text. For headlines, he suggests using larger bold Verdana.
Deciding on a font
If they plan to use a serif font online or in an email, you might want to gently nudge them away from it and recommend a more easily readable sans-serif font.
If they also plan to send your copy to their list via regular mail, it's not a bad idea to suggest they switch over to a serif font at least for the body text.
It could mean the difference between a winning piece of copy and one that only delivers so-so results.
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