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Serif font (serifs in red)
In typography, a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, san serif or simply sanstypeface is one that does not have the small projecting features called "serifs" at the end of strokes. The term comes from the French word sans, meaning "without". Sans-serif fonts tend to have less line width variation than serif fonts.
In print, sans-serif fonts are used for headlines rather than for body text. The conventional wisdom holds 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 most prevalent for display of text on computer screens. This is partly because interlaced screens have shown twittering on the fine details of the horizontal serifs. Additionally, on lower-resolution digital displays, fine details like serifs may disappear or appear too large.
Before the term "sans-serif" became common 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 East Asian typography and sometimes seen in font names like Century Gothic or Trade Gothic.
Sans-serif fonts are sometimes, especially in older documents, used as a device for emphasis, due to their typically blacker type color.
Sans-serif 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.
Early 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 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 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
The January 13, 1898 edition of L'Aurore (the "J'accuse" issue): An early example of sans-serif in the media. Select headlines are in a sans-serif typeface.
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.
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, though today the term is commonly used to refer to slab serif, not sans serif.
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 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 fonts 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 (1863), 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 and South Korea.
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.
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.
Swiss: It is used as a synonym to Sans-serif. The OpenDocument format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) and Rich Text Format can use it to specify the sans-serif generic font family name for a font used in a document.
Neo-grotesque, modern designs such as Standard, Bell Centennial, MS Sans Serif, Helvetica, Univers, Highway Gothic, and Arial. These are the most common sans-serif fonts. They are relatively straight in appearance and have less line width variation than Humanist sans-serif typefaces. Also called transitional sans-serif, or even "anonymous sans-serif" due to its relatively plain appearance.
Geometric (Futura, ITC Avant Garde, Century Gothic, Gotham, or Spartan). As their name suggests, Geometric sans-serif typefaces are based on geometric shapes, like near-perfect circle and square. Note the optically circular letter "O" and the simple construction of the lowercase letter "a". Geometric sans-serif fonts have a very modern look and feel. Of these four categories, geometric fonts tend to be the least useful for body text.
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 oblique. 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 horizontal. Examples include Edel/Wotan, Univers, Helvetica.
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.
Geometric: Lineale typefaces constructed on simple geometric shapes, circle or rectangle. Usually monoline, and often with single-storey a. Examples include Futura, Erbar, Eurostile.
Sans-serif analogues in non-Latin scripts
The concept of a typeface without traditional flourishes spread from the Western European typographical tradition to other scripts in the late 19th century. Like their Latin counterparts, non-Latin linear faces are popular for on-screen text due to their legibility. Sans-serif analogues are in common use for Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, and Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. See also East Asian sans-serif typeface.