There are "rules" that sans-serif look better for headlines, serif for plain text.

Are there "rules" that specify what to do if I'd wanted to mix serif and sans-serif on plain text elements (not headlines), like Twitter does on its individual tweet pages?

  • 1
    Note that, while technology continues to improve, sans-serif typefaces are still easier to read than serif ones on a computer monitor. It seems the reverse is true for printed matter, and depends in some part upon the uniqueness of the letterforms.
    – horatio
    Apr 5, 2011 at 15:17
  • @horatio What about so-called "retina displays" - which font type would you recommend for medium-size basal text?
    – julien_c
    Apr 5, 2011 at 16:03
  • @horatio: I was under the impression that the jury was still out on whether serif or sans-serif typefaces are more readable (both in print and electronic media), or whether there's a meaningful difference at all: alexpoole.info/… en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serif#Readability
    – Steve S
    Apr 5, 2011 at 16:51
  • @julien: no idea. I just know that the rendering of serifs at the typical 9-11px is below the pixel size. The jury may be out NOW, but in the past is was a pretty obvious win for sans serif on computer monitors. As I say: it is technology dependent.
    – horatio
    Apr 5, 2011 at 16:53
  • @steve: regarding the wikipedia entry, there are plenty of examples on that page of serif readability issues: note the small lower case specimens, compared to the sans-serif captions below each specimen. The inset scan of a french dictionary is misleading as it is obviously a low-res scan which was bitmapped (not greyscale). The section you link also mentions the need to use several methods to mitigate serif rendering and legibility. As I said: technology improves the rendering at typical sizes, but it still needs to be addressed.
    – horatio
    Apr 5, 2011 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


Absolutely you can do this. Some of (or a lot depending on your perspective) of the principles of print definitely carry over to the web.

There have been a lot of questions about choosing type. That is a largely subjective questions, but a very valid one and I'll it the already existing questions to answer it.

UPDATE per the OP's addition:

Mixing serif and sans-serif in basal text is okay when it is used under the general rule that text set in a different type from the basal text is because it signifies something of importance to the reader. By way of example, a link within the text or a call-out to a figure somewhere on the page. It isn't enough to change the type for the sake of changing it because it will stand out from the rest of the text, like adding a spot of color to a field of grey.

Beyond that, the usual rules for selecting typefaces still applies, but this is still subjective and open to amendment. The only caveat I would think applies here is that it is typical for the basal text to be in a serif font, and any highlighted text due to special meaning would be in the sans-serif and not the other way around. The only exception to that would be in the case of math, which is invariably better displayed in serif.

  • Thanks Philip! What I wanted to know was a bit more specific though (mix serif and sans-serif on plain text elements). I'll detail my question.
    – julien_c
    Apr 5, 2011 at 13:40

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