Using Serifs and Sans Serifs in Graphic Art Design
All graphic artists need to know how to work with text. Text is a
visual element of design and needs to be treated as a piece of art,
not as just words.
How Design Will Help You
You will have to use it in many designs you will create throughout
your life. Advertisements use text as a design element most often.
Ads ask you to create a visually stimulating design that will display
attractive images with attractive text in a way that compels people to
buy. Put ugly text in weird places on an ad and you will likely never
make a single sale with it.
There are simple rules that govern how you use typography in
graphic arts. First, you must understand the difference between a sans serif and a serif.
Although you’ve likely heard of the two and may even be able to identify the difference between
them—serifs have extra tails on them called ligatures while sans serifs do not have them—but what you
likely haven’t heard is when to use which style. The concept is simple, but the execution can be difficult.
A serif is used for long portions of text—anything bigger than a title, subtitle, tag line or 2-3 sentence
paragraph. The reason for it is because they better imitate the flaws in normal hand-writing.
People are used to seeing writing with flaws. The letters connect better and make more intuitive sense
to their brains.
People can stand to look at it for longer periods of time. They have very little patience for long groups of
text that aren’t formatted this way.
It just hurts their eyes to look at. Sans serifs act as these eye sores after a while.
Although often beautiful, a sans serif can hardly be considered
normal writing. The characters are too perfect and too rigid.
People’s eyes get tired of it and can’t stand them for long. What
sans serifs are really good for are titles, subtitles, tag lines and 2-
3 sentence paragraphs.
Because they differ so much from normal writing, they stick out
to audiences’ eyes. People notice that there is something
different about that design and want to read the thing that seems to be different.
It is therefore an effective tool for announcing something—whether it be a play, movie, or product. Use
your sans serifs sparingly in graphic arts design, but use them to attract attention.
If you have trouble remembering the difference in the words, here is a quick lesson. The words are of
The word serif refers to a ligature, meaning that there is a ligature on the letter. The word sans means
Therefore a sans serif is without a ligature. There are hundreds to thousands of these font styles
available on the internet.
Take your choice when working in graphic arts. If you haven’t entered the field yet but would like to, you
can begin studying up on the subject now.
Get involved in graphic arts by noticing the text you see around you. If you begin noticing the differences
and are intrigued by them, consider beginning a new career in graphic arts.
Photo Credit: Untitled-1 Cristian Mantovani