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Skaertus Ron

Confused in choosing a good font

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Skaertus Ron

First, a disclosure. I am no typographer, I am a Brazilian attorney who just wants to share academic and professional material which is easy (and inviting) to read. I do not care if the typeface is too common, or if it has been overused in a zillion documents before, all I care is that it makes the reading experience better.

For instance, I have just finished a 40-page article which I am going to publish online in PDF form. The general rule is that I should use a serif font for body text in long documents, but I have some doubt. Serif fonts are better for printed documents, but these days nearly everyone will read online and just a few will print. I have always been told that serif fonts are not good for reading on the screen, but at a time when monitors had low screen resolutions. These days, many monitors have higher, and even retina-like, resolutions, which make serif fonts better to look at.

I have also been told that free fonts and fonts that come with Windows and Office are not good at all, and that I should use paid fonts. I am not sure if this is the case. If a document is to be shared online, then it should be better to use a font that everyone has (unless the documents contain the embedded font, I suppose).

So, I am puzzled. Would there be a good serif font that is both good for printing and online reading? Georgia came to my mind, but the numbers look kind of unprofessional as they do not have all the same size. Georgia Pro looks better in this sense. Cambria could be an alternative as well. Or maybe Century Schoolbook? I have read somewhere that serif fonts with a high X-height were better for online reading. There are other good serif fonts, such as Garamond, Constantia, Palatino Linotype and Baskerville, but they seem to have a lower X-height, which would make them more difficult to read online. And there is also Times New Roman, of course, which everybody uses, and many typographers love to hate. I still cannot understand what the problem with Times New Roman is, as it looks perfectly fine for me. 

At the same time, I wonder whether sans serif fonts would be appropriate for long documents which are supposed to be read online. Calibri is a font that looks really easy on the eyes (and Calibri Light looks even easier). Would it be that bad to use such a font in a 40-page article, for instance? Verdana does not look as nice; Verdana Pro looks better but I still prefer Calibri. Anyway, I also cannot see a big problem with it.

Any suggestions or recommendations? Thanks for the advice.

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Greg Yerbury

The one issue is that  Calibri, Arial and Times are fairly ubiquitous and so they communicate this isn't that exciting. I would have a look at some of the free fonts recommended on this website or Buttericks.

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Abraham Lee

While there are many wonderfully readable body text faces out there, I'm in complete agreement with @Riccardo Sartori and @Greg Yerbury, I can vouch for Matthew Butterick's font called Equity. Aside from it's very pleasant appearance (at least to me, I use it quite a bit), it's a metric-equivalent drop-in replacement for Times New Roman, meaning that if you create a document in TNR, then switching it to Equity won't change the layout or cause any re-flow of paragraphs.

MB has other fantastic fonts as well, such as the recent addition called Century Supra, which is another take on the famous Century Schoolbook face. Either of those should do very well for you.

Here are direct links:

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