I hear all the time that "serif is better in print and sans is better on screen", but I've never seen any research backing that up. It seems like it's just based on people seeing serif in print their whole life.

Is there any slightly modern research on the subject at all?

I know similar questions have been raised. People don't seem to understand what "facts" are and just go back to their suggestions.

Here are a few:

  • Possible link (thought they were doubtful on citations also): graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/54806/…
    – johnp
    Mar 7, 2016 at 20:19
  • 3
    I have read an interesting suggestion: The way that scientific studies measure legibility is different from the way that designers and typographers understand legibility. If you sit people down and ask them to read text in serif, sans, or even all caps they will get through it. The differences that these sorts of tests show are pretty small. A more difficult question is, how likely is someone to stop reading while they are not being tested. This would take the kind of experiment that is more in depth; perhaps that is why we haven't seen as much data on that idea.
    – Jory L
    Mar 7, 2016 at 21:03
  • 1
    @JoryO I think a bigger issue is that it's next to impossible to compare broad categories of type with each other. There are very legible sans faces, and very ugly illegible sans faces. Same goes for serif. And nearly any other aspect of a typeface you may be interested. At best, one can only test a specific 'font X' vs. 'font Y' in a 'very specific context Z'. And even then, if the writing is boring, people wouldn't want to read it anyways :)
    – DA01
    Apr 22, 2016 at 5:35

2 Answers 2


but I've never seen any research backing that up

There is little-to-no conclusive research on what fonts are more legible than others.

There is some evidence that people read best what they are used to reading.

And there is some evidence that on low-resolution screens, the less details, the better.

But beyond that, don't put too much weight into legibility studies. They usually suffer from common problems:

  • too small of a test group
  • only compare a limited number of specific typefaces (making it hard to say with any certainty that a particular aspect makes or break legibility)
  • rarely take into consideration the range of other factors that go into legibility (color contrast, line spacing/leading, justification, size, viewing distance, etc.)

as for the phrase:

serif is better in print and sans is better on screen

The only part of that that really holds true is the 'sans is better on screen' if you are setting relatively small type for viewing on relatively low resolution screens.

But for high resolution sreens and print, it really doesn't matter. The world uses both sans and serif faces all the time in many different contexts.


The main problem of serif fonts on screen is that doesn't render properly, which leads to illegibility. But I guess this paradigm has changed now that we have high resolution screens.


  • It's not that they didn't render properly as much as it was that a lot of serif faces simply weren't designed for the screen. So they weren't typefaces that were optimized for the context they were being used in. The same could be said for serif faces in that a lot of those were also not designed for the screen...but admittedly the screen was a little more forgiven of those faces.
    – DA01
    Apr 22, 2016 at 5:35

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