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Serif and sans-serif 01.svgSans-serif font
Serif and sans-serif 02.svgSerif font
Serif and sans-serif 03.svgSerif font
(serifs in red)

In typography, a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, san serif or simply sans typeface is one that does not have the small projecting features called "serifs" at the end of strokes.[1] 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.[2] 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.


Ancient usages[edit]

Sans-serif forms can be found in Latin, Etruscan, and Greek inscriptions, for as early as 5th century BC.[3] The sans serif forms had been used on stoichedon Greek inscriptions.

Early Non-Latin types[edit]

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[edit]

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.[3] However, it was classified as an experiment rather than a sign of wide-scale adoption.[4]

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.[3]

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.[3]

Incorporation by typefounders[edit]

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).[5] 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.[6] The design was eventually known as Haüy type.[7]

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.[8]

The first Grotesque face complete with lower-case letters was probably cast by the Schelter & Giesecke Foundry as early as 1825.[9]

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[edit]


The Franklin Gothic typeface (Grotesque)
The Helvetica typeface (Neo-grotesque)
The Tahoma typeface (Humanist)
The Futura typeface (Geometric)

For the purposes of type classification, sans-serif designs can be divided into four major groups:[18]

British Standards classification[edit]

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

Sans-serif analogues in non-Latin scripts[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "sans serif" in The New Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 15th edn., 1992, Vol. 10, p. 421.
  2. ^ Serifs more used for headlines
  3. ^ a b c d e James Mosley, The Nymph and the Grot: the revival of the sanserif letter, London: Friends of the St Bride Printing Library, 1999
  4. ^ a b The Nymph and the Grot, an update
  5. ^ The First Book for Blind People
  6. ^ Does your font choice measure up?
  7. ^ How Braille Began
  8. ^ William Caslon IV's sans serif
  9. ^ Lawson, Alexander S., Anatomy of a Typeface, David R. Godine, Publisher, Boston, Massachusetts, 1990, ISBN 0-87923-333-8, p. 296.
  10. ^ Grotesk
  11. ^ Why Gothic?
  12. ^ OED Definition of Gothic
  13. ^ The Sans Serif Typefaces
  14. ^ Yannis Haralambous, P. Scott Horne. Fonts & Encodings. O'Reilly Media, Inc. Page 411.
  15. ^ Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) Version 1.2, Part 1: Introduction and OpenDocument Schema, Committee Draft 04, 15 December 2009, retrieved 2010-05-01 
  16. ^ OpenDocument v1.1 specification (PDF), retrieved 2010-05-01 
  17. ^ Microsoft Corporation (June 1992), Microsoft Product Support Services Application Note (Text File) - GC0165: RICH-TEXT FORMAT (RTF) SPECIFICATION (TXT), retrieved 2010-03-13 
  18. ^ lists five categories for sans-serif fonts

External links[edit]