According to an answer on: How are Serif and Sans-serif fonts different, and when should one use one over the other?

For print, in the U.S., body copy is usually set in serif, while in Europe it's set in sans serif, and that readers in the various regions are trained to that.

Linotype Helvetica is the standard typeface for books printed for non English Western Europe, and their ex-colonies in Africa. They prefer sans-serif fonts even in Print, and that carries through to some major newspapers and official government sites.

My question:

Is there any supporting evidence or research showing that American literature is more likely to be printed in Serif while Western European literature is more likely set in Sans-Serif? Preferably, research with reasoning behind it.

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  • @Scott : while an answer describe it, my question is not about the differences of serif and sans-serif themselves. – user2284570 Jun 10 '15 at 19:34
  • I don't think there'd be any authoritive and conclusive data in this. – DA01 Jun 10 '15 at 19:50
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    Linotype Helvetica is the standard typeface for books printed for Latin, Western European, and their ex-colonies in Africa. – This is almost certainly wrong I am consuming large quantities of text typset by Europeans and I cannot even remember the last instance of sans-serif body text outside a children’s book (and I believe to notice such things). Even if this is particular to the languages I read (German and English), it’s definitely not , this statement would be overly generalising. – Wrzlprmft Jul 5 '15 at 13:12
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    @go-me: The question is asking for studies, which I cannot provide. Thus I am only commenting on the strong claim that the question makes (despite seeking evidence for it) without any evidence whatsoever. — The statement of user2284570 isn't totally wrong if it's mentioned in Wikipedia. – You know how Wikipedia works? Anyway, even Wikipedia says: “[For printed text] sans-serif fonts are more acceptable in Europe than in North America, but still less common than serifed typefaces”, which directly contradicts the claim. – Wrzlprmft Jul 8 '15 at 6:20

As a European I don't know about US preferences but I can certainly assure you that a continental based typeface preference does not exist.

I'd like to see a scientific study who says otherwise.

Most books in Europe are set in serif, with exceptions everywhere and everything in between. Some are even set in Papyrus or Comics-Sans. Who would have guessed :-D

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  • Ok looks like at I would upload pictures of printed text to prove the contrary. – user2284570 Jul 8 '15 at 23:50

According to Wikipedia

Serifed fonts are overwhelmingly preferred for lengthy text printed in books, newspapers and magazines. For such purposes sans-serif fonts are more acceptable in Europe than in North America, but still less common than serifed typefaces. (CITATION NEEDED)

Even on Wikipedia, it's not clearly confirmed.

The first font types were probably sans-serif if you go far back in time and if you look at how letters were often carved (eg. runic). And then the script became more popular with the transcriptions and later the serif with the invention of printing. Apparently, sans-serif became really popular for body text only after WW2. It could be cute to think that Western Europe has some old genetic memory of their ancestors writings, but... that's sounds a bit like a nationalistic or sentimental point of view!

I couldn't find any paper or studies about Western Europe vs America preferring sans or with serif but I'm tempted to think it's a cultural and artistic difference more than some kind of standard. What I've read seemed based on opinions rather than real studies.

I think we can agree that Western Europe has been a pioneer with modernism and America is considered more conservative; these trends influence pretty much every aspect of life for each population. In a lot of case, you can look at art posters and easily guess if it was created in France, Germany or America.

For people with dyslexia, I also found out that the readability of a font type could be related to familiarity; it could be the same for people who don't have any reading disability as well. That's why I don't think there's any real study on this; human beings can read pretty much anything and it's a matter of training and quickly recognizing "symbols". For example, most designers recognize faster and more easily a wider range of fonts and styles of letters than non-designers; their brain has recorded more symbols in a lifetime than "untrained" people. Some people even have hard time recognizing letters like in this example below.

LOVE written with guns

People in Western Europe are probably simply more used to read the sans-serif than the "classical" America who is shown most of the body text in serif, and got used to it. The reason why Americans probably used serif fonts more often in the body text could be again related to cultural distinction; they also have other standards different than Europeans such as the units they use and some grammar differences (color, colour), etc. The only other reason I could see why one side of the world prefers sans-serif or not could be to look at the statistics on dyslexia in these 2 populations; Since it has genetic causes, that could make sense but it seems a bit far fetched. According to this small study, sans-serif is easier to read for people with dyslexia.

And if you compare digital versions of newspapers or government websites between Western Europe and America, you will find that both use a lot of sans-serif and it probably has more to do with style than standards/preferences (Canada gov., USA gov., Time Magazine, CNN, USA Today, The Globe and Mail, etc.) If you look at The New York Time, they use serif but it also makes sense because it's kind of part of their branding and the conservative image they want to project to their audience.

It seems like there's no supporting evidence (data) that Western Europe or America prefers one type or another, besides cultural and artistic preferences. There's observational evidence though. It might have been more obvious 20-30 years ago, but not anymore. There's also less "standards" in design now, no more "iconic" font creator and art is going through some kind of open-source new age; there's not as many school of thoughts or tradition left on that matter as there were in the last decades. In 10-20 years, maybe most of the hardcore American designers who have as standard to use serif for the body text will be retired and no one will be able to claim that America = serif.

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  • It seems like there's no supporting evidence that Western Europe or America prefers one type or anotherexcept if you buy printed books the difference is very clear. – user2284570 Jul 5 '15 at 10:00
  • Yes, and the difference is also clear in their artistic styles! As a personal note, I'm based in America and did layouts of hundreds of books; I'm the one pushing on the serif for body text, I always strongly recommend it to my clients! Now your question made me doubt about the reasons why I should do it. But I've seen a lot of new designers using sans-serif here because they find it more "modern". They put a priority on style, and I prioritize comfort (probably according to my own perception of "comfort".) If I were in France, maybe I would recommend sans-serif instead, by habit or comfort! – go-junta Jul 5 '15 at 10:07
  • You're right that american litterature is more likely to be printed with serif, but what I'm saying is this preference is likely to slowly disappear with time and the use of digital media; people in America will get used to sans-serif and designers who have their "standards" will also be replaced ;) The same thing probably happened back when printing was invented and we're in the same kind of transition. As for studies, I really couldn't find anything really "solid" about all this! I can only think the standards are based on "symbol recognition skills" in a way. – go-junta Jul 5 '15 at 10:15
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    The recomendation is to use sans-serif text because of screen dpi. but this is likely to change. – user2284570 Jul 5 '15 at 10:37
  • Good answer (especially the last paragraph) but some nitpicks: Runic wasn't a font. It was lettering (the term 'font' came around when metal type was invented). And while that didn't have serifs, the first roman lettering likely did. The use of serif faces post WWII really started prior to that...with the Bahaus being a major influencer in that realm. – DA01 Jul 5 '15 at 16:22

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