Sans serif vs. serif : What’s the difference, and what’s best?

Selecting the right font for your brand takes a lot of thought and care. Just like the colors and shapes that you choose to represent your company, the font used in your logo, on your website, and in your print marketing material contributes to your overall brand reputation. It also plays a significant role in communication: In addition to the role they play in your brand, easy-to-read and visually appealing fonts ensure that your customers can read and digest the important information you’re trying to convey.

Many available fonts fall into two major categories: serif fonts and sans serif fonts. (There are also script fonts — check out our guide to script typefaces to learn more about those.) What are the differences between these two styles, and which is right for your company? Read on to learn more.

If you’re looking to develop your own font for your business or personal branding, Qwerty can help you by generating your own font — with options for both sans serif and serif fonts

Sans serif vs. serif

Serif fonts feature a decorative stroke called a serif, while sans serif fonts, as the name implies, do not. Generally, serif fonts are considered more traditional and formal, while sans serif fonts are regarded as more minimalist and modern.

You probably come across some of the most common serif and sans serif fonts in your everyday life. Times New Roman, Garamond, and Courier New are among the most well-known serif fonts. Arial, Calibri, and Helvetica are some of the most common sans serif fonts.

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Here, you see the same sentence typed in Times New Roman (top) and Calibri (bottom). The line in the Q is straight in the Calibri font, while the Times New Roman Q has a bit of a curl to the end of it. That curl is the decorative element that defines a serif font and sets it apart from a sans serif font. Similar elements at the top and bottom of the J and accents on the Y are among some of the more prominent differences in this example. These small yet noticeable tweaks are what make a serif font appear as more ornate or traditional compared to a simple, minimalist sans serif font.

How and when to use serif fonts

Serif fonts tend to crop up in more traditional settings. Associated with newspapers, books, and other educational or academic pursuits, serif fonts offer a classic look and feel while conveying a sense of authority. Oftentimes, brands will use serif fonts if they want to appear as if they have stood the test of time, combining trustworthiness, reliability, and an air of seriousness into their branding. As a result, you’ll often see serif fonts utilized by law firms, accountants, and other professional services. You’ll also likely see more serif fonts applied in print, such as books and newspapers, because the style is generally considered easier to read in those mediums.

How and when to use sans serif fonts

Sans serif fonts are seen as more modern and tech-oriented than their serif counterparts. They are considered to look and feel less traditional than a serif font, bringing freshness and youthfulness to your brand. A sans serif font is a good choice if your brand is a tech startup, stands for accessibility or approachability, or aims to reach a younger or more modern audience. Sans serif fonts are often used in digital publications because the lack of decorative embellishments makes these typefaces easier to read on a screen. However, as digital display resolution improves, this distinction is becoming less concerning for online publishers.

Why is it important to choose the right font?

Words are important, but so is the way they’re portrayed. These five reasons explain why it’s so important to choose the right font, whether you opt for a serif or sans serif style.

  • It’s part of your brand identity. Your brand goes beyond just a logo you create for your company. Your brand identity is made up of multiple parts, including your font, which all come together to tell your company’s story. Each of these components eventually comes to represent your brand. Your font choice — whether bold and commanding or gentle and elegant — plays a role in telling your company’s tale in a similar way.
  • They set the tone for all your communications. Whether authoritative or whimsical, fun or serious, your font can help convey the overall message you’re trying to send. Seriousness or levity can be reinforced through the font you choose.
  • Good fonts attract readers. How information is presented is just as important as the information itself. Using an easy-to-read, attractive, and professional font can draw in your reader’s eye and help them better digest what you’re conveying.
  • They can help establish an information hierarchy. One of the core design principles, hierarchy is the art of laying out a design that puts the most important information prominently on the page. Headlines, subheadings, and body copy all play a role in sharing those details. The right font choices can reinforce the most important information in a design, whether that’s your name on a business card or a header on a website
  • It looks professional. Sharing a serious message in a silly font can downplay the importance of the information. Choosing the right font can reinforce the professionalism of your brand, instilling trust in your customers so that they’ll believe what you’re writing.

How these 4 famous brands use serif vs. sans serif fonts

After weighing the unique value serif and sans serif fonts bring to the table, you may still be wondering precisely how each one can uplift your company. Take some inspiration from how these four brands utilize the power of a font to help reinforce its standing and role in their respective industries.

1. The New York Times

One of the most well-read and trusted newspapers in the United States and the world, The New York Times utilizes serif fonts to help reinforce its authority as a key source of reliable information. The paper, which once used Times New Roman in the body of its digital articles, now uses Georgia. At the time of the switch, the paper said that they chose Georgia because some readers believe it’s easier to read.

2. Apple

As one of the largest consumer technology companies out there, it’s no surprise that Apple opts for the modern, digital-first San Francisco sans serif typeface. Made for legibility, especially on smaller screens and in other digital applications, San Francisco was designed by Apple for use across all its products. The tech giant famously switched to San Francisco from Helvetica Neue, another sans serif font they used for more than 20 years prior. 

3. Vogue magazine

The fashion magazine of record uses the serif font Bodoni on its cover. It’s a classic choice for a magazine that’s known for being the authority on all things in the fashion industry. The timelessness of this font gives the magazine authority in an ever-evolving world. 

If Bodoni looks vaguely familiar to you, it’s likely you’ve seen this font in other mediums. It has been used by the Broadway play Mamma Mia!, clothing retailer Zara, and high-end fashion brand Valentino.

4. Aol

One of the earliest mass internet service providers, Aol. (formerly America Online, and once stylized as AOL) has a unique place in the world of home tech. To that end, the brand uses the sans serif font Avenir to signal the role it plays in the modern, internet-driven world. Coupled with colorful images and fun characters, the brand successfully pivoted from its once-dated look of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, embracing the future with a sans serif that’s clean, clear, and unmistakably forward-thinking.

Choosing the font that’s right for you

Simply put, there’s no wrong answer as to which font is “right” for you. Whether you choose a serif or a sans serif wholly depends on your company goals, values, and brand statement, and what you want potential and current customers to take away from your company. If you’re looking to establish a reputation for authority and trustworthiness, you may opt for the traditional accents and flourishes added to a serif font. If you’d rather establish yourself as a sleek and modern company, a sans serif font without any embellishments may be right for you. No matter which you go for, make sure you choose a font that’s easy to read and clearly communicates key information with your audience.

Importantly, the typeface you choose is only one part of your brand identity. Your logo, patterns, brand voice, and so much more all come together to reinforce your brand values. So as you explore all the possibilities, turn to Namecheap’s Guru Guides for more advice on how to select the right colors, shapes, tone, and so much more. You can also experiment with fonts and branding with Namecheap’s Logo Maker by using it to build your own logo for free and get an idea of your brand’s direction and design.


Nick Allen

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is a writer, photographer, and content marketer. He’s also the founder of BrainBoost Media, a boutique content and operations studio. With a wide range of interests, he enjoys reading and writing about sports, entrepreneurship, and start-ups.
More articles written by Nick.

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