Most Readable Serif Font on Earth

fathairyape's picture

Well. The time has come. I am asking you (politely, of course :D), what you think the most readable serif font is on Earth. Or maybe not on Earth, just in your opinion. Please note that when I mean readable I mean in the sense of viewing in a program such as Microsoft Word.

Let's hear 'em!

Conor's picture

I’d love to see some extraterrestrial typefaces.

clauses's picture

So you are asking about the readability and not the legibility of not print but on-screen type? Georgia?

brett jordan's picture

:-), good point conor... roswell maybe?

to quote emigre/licko...

"legibility is not an intrinsic quality of type but something acquired through use"

so, find out what your target group read the most, and then choose a typeface that is close to the majorities characters

my preferences are the older serifs... caslon, garamond, aries... somehow they blend into the background, allowing you to follow the words, rather than noticing the shapes of the text... but that might just be another 'acquired by use' thing

although, if you are using word, you'll be stuck with its 'if i can't find it, i'll use something else anyway' conventions!

fathairyape's picture

Yeah, Brett. It will be a .pdf file if anyone else reads it--but mainly mostly for myself.

-- David

KenBessie's picture

I'm guessing you want the most readable serif font in the world when set in English. I'd go with one of the older serifs as well. Maybe Goudy Old Style. Or Baskerville.

And I'd offer the qualification that a word processing application doesn't have the typographic wherewithall to offer the most readable setting.

fathairyape's picture

Now, I never said English! (Pero yo olvide escribirlo) Er... :)

-- David

William Berkson's picture

David, for quite a period of time Caslon had the reputation of being the most readable--for print, of course. Printers said 'When in doubt, use Caslon.' And George Bernard Shaw insisted all his plays be published in Caslon, for readability. The digital versions haven't quite had the magic of the metal versions, though. When my new digital Caslon comes out, I hope people will want to give Caslon the crown again. At least that is my goal.

Of course the screen is a completely different animal...

Artform's picture

I fell in love with Perpetua last year. I saw it in a book on Typography and had to get my hands on it. Aside from Perpetua, I use Baskerville quite often.

Focus beyond the dot of the i.

Gary Long's picture

Pretty hard to beat Baskerville, and you can set just about any subject matter with it. But you need a good cut, such as Storm's.

William Berkson's picture

I think Perpetua is beautiful but hard to read in small sizes--because of its small x-height, high contrast and sharp terminals.

Baskerville is indeed hard to beat for readability, but it is a wide typeface, and so not suitable for many settings. Some digital versions are also too light, depending on how it is printed...

ChuckGroth's picture

All the Dr. Seus books are set in Century Schoolbook for legibility...

dberlow's picture

"readable I mean in the sense of viewing in a program such as Microsoft Word."

Mac or Windows?

lapiak's picture

From what I've read, it's hard to beat Garamond. Personally, I love how Utopia flows.

sloopelan's picture

New to the group (yesterday) this is a great subject because we're about to start on seven new logos (OTC meds) and the main job is "ease of read" during that 1-second glance of the shelf.
I am not a designer but if you had to pick one font and the objective is the "1-second glance" - what would be the font of choice.

The longest brand name is 6 letters long. The box is 2 1/4 inch wide by 5 1/4 high.
Your input isn't just welcomed but also respected.

fathairyape's picture

dberlow: I didn't think there would be a difference between the two in readability, but now I understand that you mean font files that'd work for Mac and not Windows (and the other way around, of course). Being a Windows user, I'd have to say that Windows would be helpful, but fonts for Mac are exciting, too :).

-- David

jupiterboy's picture

New to the group (yesterday) this is a great subject because we’re about to start on seven new logos (OTC meds) and the main job is “ease of read” during that 1-second glance of the shelf.
I am not a designer but if you had to pick one font and the objective is the “1-second glance” - what would be the font of choice. The longest brand name is 6 letters long. The box is 2 1/4 inch wide by 5 1/4 high.
Your input isn’t just welcomed but also respected.

Most of the thread is about a longer passage of text—extended reading.

Your situation is different. I can't tell you how to work it out, but with that narrow width you probably want some humanist sans that has characters more on the narrow side. With issues as to shelf height, recognition distance, etc. you may want to make some test mock-ups and get opinions from the people you are working with.

shawkash's picture

Georgia for screens in general.


Ex Libris's picture

I concur that Georgia is tops for viewing on screen, but to me it looks too dark in print. It works great for on-screen forms in MS Access. Palatino Linotype reads well in MS Word on a Windows machine. I've personally been using Mercury Text for the past year for all of my reports and other mundane paperwork because it outputs well on the inexpensive laser printer my employer provides. It's a little light on the screen, but not bad. The one problem I have with Mercury (or most other typefaces, for that matter) is that Word doesn't handle ligatures - especially noticeable with the Mercury italic.

raph's picture

First of all, I see confusion between "legibility" and "readability". Not to oversimplify, legibility is the ability to decipher in adverse conditions, such as poor lighting, fog, visual impairment, etc. The gold standard for legibility ought to be ClearView, which was designed for road signage, and has some impressive research backing it up. Of course, other contenders such as Frutiger are perfectly viable alternatives.

I assume "readability" to mean performance in an immersive reading environment, meaning in a nice long passage of text, in a comfortable chair, with good lighting etc. It's harder to quantify what "performance" even means (unlike a road sign, where you have a good decipher / no decipher test), but I take it to mean the combination of reading speed and comprehension.

The science on readability is sparse in the extreme, but for print, I think it's hard to beat any of the classic metal Monotype (and Lino) faces: Baskerville, Bembo, Sabon, Caledonia. As William points out, Caslon is also very nice, but there are many different cuts, and not all are especially nice, especially the digital ones. Similarly for Garamond. The Harry Potter books are set in the Adobe version, which is pretty good, but I did not like the spacing. Oh, and by the way, for both legibility and readability, spacing is even more important than the shape of the letterforms themselves.

On screen, it starts depending a lot on the rendering technology. Georgia is a pretty good bet, though. On Vista, I think Constantia is likely to be a pleasant and readable font, but I haven't spent enough time with it to say for sure.

Best of luck!

Thomas Phinney's picture

I think most people missed the point that you were asking about viewing *on screen* in Word.

However, you also need to specify the operating system version and other considerations - if Windows XP, whether CoolType is on.

If one were to assume XP with default settings (no CoolType) then I'd be inclined to suggest Georgia and Verdana are top choices.



dberlow's picture

"...I’d have to say that Windows would be helpful,"
So then, what version of windows? and what setting do you normal use in "appearance settings?" and...*

"I understand that you mean font files that’d work for Mac and not Windows..."
and more than that, most who just shout out typeface names, don't perhaps realize it is a font you are looking for ;)

So, I try to get the specification down to a size* or a small range thereof before I make specific recommendations, ever, these daze.

Otherwise, I might say something funny, like, "The Most Readable Serif Font on Earth would have to be Verdana."


Thomas Phinney's picture

Oops, yes, somehow I had lost track of that part of the request in reading through the thread.

(Yes, my three-year-old daughter knows the difference between serif and sans serif by heart, but seemingly I do not.)



Choz Cunningham's picture

Whichever one is biggest.

metalfoot's picture

I like them all. Maybe it's Century Schoolbook, but opinions will differ. I'm pretty sure I've recently digitized the crappiest, least-readable serif ever though. It needs a TON of woodshedding before I'm even willing to bring it into the critique forum...

foldingdummy's picture

Within the new group of OpenType typefaces released just recently with Vista and Office2007, I really like Cambria. A _lot_! In some ways, it reminds me of Cheltenham, which I love and have always thought was a great onscreen typeface.

These new fonts were specifically designed for reading onscreen. They have larger, more open counters and less difference between the thinner and thicker strokes (more like Old Style, in this regard).

Nonetheless, I do find the "3 Ls" -- letterspacing, leading, and line length -- to have AS MUCH to do with readability onscreen as font choice.

Point size is an issue too, if you are reading onscreen, because your monitor/display is much lower res than the clarity obtainable in print. I would _hate_ bodycopy larger than 10 point in print, but sometimes even 13 point is easier to read on the computer. Somewhere between 11 and 13 point is often where the thickness of the strokes onscreen "jump" from one-pixel-thick to two-pixels-thick. This threshold has a lot to do with clarity and type color within each paragraph.

And, as was mentioned above, depending on your monitor, ClearType may be a help. Same goes for the font smoothing options in Acrobat Reader. But this is an interaction between the technology and personal taste. I always turn them OFF for small type sizes. YMMV.

jasonc's picture

"All the Dr. Seuss books are set in Century Schoolbook for legibility..."

This is something I've always wondered about. I'm not sure that an experienced designer made the decision to use Century Schoolbook because it's "more legible" for beginning readers. I wonder if the choice has as much to do with the name having "Schoolbook" in it, so the assumption is made that it's supposed to be more acceptable for beginning readers.

Jason C

Don McCahill's picture

> I wonder if the choice has as much to do with the name having “Schoolbook” in it, so the assumption is made that it’s supposed to be more acceptable for beginning readers.

Ah yes, Marketing 101.

Mark Typo's picture

Has there been a study on which fonts tend to be more legible and or readable for dyslexics. I am dyslexic and read blocks of text at a painfully slow rate. It is impossible for me to simply recognizes words and groups of words without actually reading each one letter by letter. I do find clearview to be far easier for me read than other fonts. I guess the aspects that it was designed to address maybe similar to those that inflict me. Most words in our environment don't register with me, for unless I read them they have no meaning. I believe most people walk through life reading everything that passes though their field of vision, whether they want to or not, but if I were to try and read every passing word It would be crippling. I wonder if a font that could help dyslexia would also provide a normal reader with greater speed and comprehension as well? Especially if it were used in text book.

p.s.- I had to look up the spelling of dyslexia for the spell checker had no suggestions for the word I originally spelled. If you are naming a disability that effects a person ability to read and write words, why pick a word that is a terror to spell. Why not "It", "At", "Cat", "Dog", or "Tim". All of these were needled into my toddler brain a million times over and they were the only ones I didn't have trouble with. Yes, I have Tim, thank you very much. Don't ask ME to spell that word, I am Timic, look it up.

timd's picture

>I have Tim oi :)
There are many threads about legibility and readability, and some about dyslexia. Out of interest how do you look up the spelling?


Don McCahill's picture


Lighthouse International does a lot of research on reading, particularly with disabilities. You should be able to google them.

Mark Typo's picture

Thanks Tim and Don,
Very interesting stuff. as or spelling, I look up words that I can't come close to spelling correctly by doing and associated google search. For example to look up dyslexia I would google reading disability, select site that would list these disabilities and find the spelling I need. It works very well but you need to run the word through the spell check anyway, not everyone has the best editor especially the .org's. We may not be able to spell but we sure can problem solve.

Sans Serif is for Europeans's picture

As far as most readable I'd probably say Bodoni MT or Times New Roman. Most readable with pizazz, Gilibert.
Sans Serif is Grotesque.

kuroneko's picture

I vote for Times too.

John Hudson's picture

Please note that when I mean readable I mean in the sense of viewing in a program such as Microsoft Word.

Georgia, but be sure to adjust the interline spacing appropriately for the measure (width of text block). The default linespacing determined by the font vertical metrics in Georgia (and Verdana) is too tight and needs to be increased even in quite narrow measures.

verdiinpink's picture

In my opinion, the most readable serif in displaying on screen with MS Word on Windows XP and Smooth font setting on would be Century Schoolbook because of its clear contrast and nice shape. The second rank goes to Georgia, though in print it is a little bold. Third is Times New Roman, I have to admit that it may not be the most beautiful but it is readable at small size on screen even with anti-alaising mode off. Cambria and Segoe Print, which are pre-loaded in Vista are also great.

For Mac OSX, I'd say Adobe Garamond, Hoefler Text and Century Schoolbook are my choice. Baskerville and Caslon as some mentioned earlier that the digital versions may not fully be appreciated as the original but they are still of good quality.

Maybe you might need to compare different typefaces of choice on screen and do some survey on your colleagues to finally decide the winner.

--- pinky winky kinky ---

KateGladstone's picture

You might want to read "Through the eyes of a child: Perception and type design" by Rosemary Sassoon in COMPUTERS AND TYPOGRAPHY (Oxford [UK]: Intellect Books, 1993) which she edited: font legibility tests to design a font for children's books. Early versions of Adobe's Sassoon font-family came out of the research detailed in that chapter.

ChuckGroth's picture

I wonder if the choice has as much to do with the name having “Schoolbook” in it, so the assumption is made that it’s supposed to be more acceptable for beginning readers.

that's possible, of course. but hopefully not the case. for instance, i think few designers (experienced or otherwise) would choose Century Gothic for a book on castles, despite the name.

Thomas Phinney's picture

“legibility is not an intrinsic quality of type but something acquired through use”

This is demonstrably false. Which is not to say that there is no role of familiarity, but the idea that there is no such thing as intrinsic legibility is just silly.

Last week at the TypeTech section of the ATypI conference in St Petersburg, Karin von Ompteda gave a really good presentation about legibility research that specifically tries to ferret out what exact qualities of type contribute to legibility, focusing on the work of Arditi. His stuff is significantly flawed, but still gives inspiration for more useful work... such as what Karin is planning.



William Berkson's picture

Thomas, is this presentation available in some form on line?

Thomas Phinney's picture

Not that I'm aware of. My recollection is that it would need the verbal part as well as the slides to be meaningful.


_Palatine_'s picture

My guess is any darker face with a (relatively) large x-height, if we're talking about print.

I think it could be as simple as that, really.

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