Vitaly Friedman April 9th, 2010

Serif Fonts and Their Peculiarities

Typography obviously belongs to the cohort of the fine arts, where even the smallest details and elements are meaningful and can influence the overall perception of the final creation, whether it is a picture or a text, printed with a particular typeface. In terms of fonts design, serifs are those tiny elements, which add a particular character to a typeface, contributing to the unique feel and look every font is characterized with.

By definition, serifs are the small lines or strokes at the ends of the main strokes of the letters in a particular font. Sometimes, serifs are also descriptively explained as “hooks” or “little feet” at the ends of the vertical and horizontal strokes of a letter. Consequently, fonts with serifs are usually mentioned as Serif fonts, for example, Times Roman, Garamond, Souvenir, etc. On the other hand, fonts, where letters are not supplied with such embellishing elements, are called Sans Serif fonts (“sans” means “without” in French).

serif fonts

It is interesting to note that along with purely decorative function serifs are believed to play a role in the text perception mechanism by the human eyes, making the printed text easier to read. This is why Serif fonts have always been among the primary choices for printing books, newspapers, and magazines. However, in electronic media, due to the specificity of perceiving a text on the computer screen, it is preferred to use Sans Serif rather than Serif fonts, because reading letters without serifs is considered to be easier on the screen.

Stemming out of the ancient Roman alphabet with the letters carved into stone, Serif fonts have passed a long way of development and evolution. As the result, now we have several types of Serif fonts, each with its own peculiarities and specific features.

Old Style Serif Fonts

Dating back to the middle of the 15th century, old style serif fonts are considered to be based on the humanist calligraphy. The key features of the old style serif fonts are low line contrast (when there is only a slight difference between thick and thin lines forming a letter) and diagonal stress (the thinnest parts of the letters are those at the angles). It is believed that the combination of diagonal stress and bracketed serifs in old style serif fonts creates a special positive word picture, which is especially favorable for the ease of reading and perception.

Titus Buzuku old style serif font

Free old style serif fonts

Riven: The Font free old style serif font

RM Typerighter old free old style serif font

BergamoStd bold free old style serif font

Menaion Medieval free old style serif font

Paramount bold free old style serif font

Commercial old style serif fonts

Bembo old style serif font

Dante old style serif font

Garamond old style serif font

ITC Usherwood old style serif font

Columbus MT old style serif font

Transitional Serif Fonts

Everyone knows Times New Roman font, which is commonly used as the default font in computer text editors. This font, created in 1932, is the most vivid representative of the transitional serif fonts, which first appeared in the middle of the 18th century and now stands between old style and modern serifs in the typical font classification. Unlike old style serifs, transitional serif fonts feature higher line contrast with more distinctive difference between thick and thin lines. Transitional serif fonts are sometimes called “baroque fonts”.

KacstPoster transitional serif font

Free transitional serif fonts

Zebraesq free transitional serif font
Itsadzoke free transitional serif font
Aboriginal Serif Bold free transitional serif font
Librarian Regular free transitional serif font

Commercial transitional serif fonts

Adriane Text transitional serif font

Magneta transitional serif font

Goudy Modern transitional serif font

Fleischman BT Pro transitional serif font

ITC Esprit transitional serif font

Modern Serif Fonts

Modern serif fonts first appeared at the end of the 18th century. Also known as Didone serif typefaces, the family of modern serifs fonts has vivid differences from the old style serif fonts. These are the extreme high line contrast, vertical stress instead of diagonal, and long and fine serifs. Vertical lines of the modern serif fonts are usually very heavy, which, in combination with thin and light serifs, makes a text, printed in modern serif font, less readable.

Justus Bold modern serif font

Free modern serif fonts

Achilles Italic free modern serif font

Maenan2 free modern serif font

Zippo free modern serif font

Revive OV free modern serif font

Type3 free modern serif font

Commercial modern serif fonts

Monotype Modern modern serif font

Inflex modern serif font

Normande modern serif font

Fat Face no. 20 modern serif font

Baskerville modern serif font

Slab Serif Fonts

The first slab serif font was presented in the early 19th century by Vincent Figgins under the name Antique. However, in view of public craze in Europe for everything Egyptian at those times, the slab serif fonts were commonly called Egyptian. Virtually no difference between thick and thin lines of the letters is the key feature of slab serifs. With the bold and rectangular shapes, slab serif fonts often have fixed width, which means that every letter occupies the same horizontal space.

TypoSlabserif slab serif font

Free slab serif fonts

Freshman free slab serif font

The Great Thunder free slab serif font

Tiza free slab serif font

Plumber's Gothic free slab serif font

SF Big Whiskey free slab serif font

Commercial slab serif fonts

Karnak Pro slab serif font

Prelo Slab slab serif font

Girder Heavy slab serif font

Museo Slab slab serif font

Rockwell slab serif font

Clarendon Serif Fonts

Clarendon serif font is sometimes classified as the subtype of slab serif fonts. However, unlike traditional slab serifs, Clarendon font has some brackets at the junction of a stem and serifs. Also, Clarendon fonts usually feature heavy and square-cut serifs. This font group was widely used in the Old West in “wanted” posters and later on traffic signs in the USA. Now Clarendon font can be found on the logotypes of many companies with Sony among them.

Grandesign Neue Serif clarendon serif font

Free Clarendon serif fonts

BigMummy free Clarendon serif font

Usenet free Clarendon serif font

TeXGyreBonum free Clarendon serif font

Saloon free Clarendon serif font

FetteEgyptienne free Clarendon serif font

Commercial Clarendon serif fonts

Walken Clarendon serif font

Zapatista Clarendon serif font

Gold Fever Clarendon serif font

Aurea Ultra Clarendon serif font

Cowboyslang Clarendon serif font

Freeform Serif Fonts

Along with the serif fonts, designed in accordance with particular typography rules or tradition, such as old style serif fonts or modern serifs, there are also many freeform serif fonts, developed these days. Designers, inspired by a rich legacy of serif fonts and modern trends in typography, use all their imagination to present serif fonts in a fresh and sometimes completely unexpected way.

Fairies Wear Boots freeform serif font

Free freeform serif fonts

Kingthings Eggypeg free freeform serif font

Pasión Acústica free freeform serif font

Greetings Bold free freeform serif font

Sidhe Noble free freeform serif font

Kawoszeh free freeform serif font

Commercial freeform serif fonts

Summerisle freeform serif font

Tenderfoot freeform serif font

Viva Olivia freeform serif font

Rehwon Roman NF freeform serif font

Fairmont Clarendon serif font


  1. This post really helps me a lot. I’ve had some problems lately finding the right fonts… They are very important when making a good design.

  2. Thanks for this educational post and also for some wonderful examples of each category of serif font.

  3. I am so glad that there are those who still appreciate serif fonts. My last employer and I frequently had friendly battles over the use of what he loved to call “font with feet”. I love them when they’re appropriate; he tended to stick with Verdana.

  4. Unless you are applying for a real job, then your employer would probably care less about what bloody typeface your resume was in but rather what content it contained.

  5. A little bit disappointing to see no mention made of two particular high quality free (gratis and libre) serif typefaces:

    * The very modern and legible DejaVu Serif (the successor to Bitstream’s Vera Serif)
    * The classical and elegant Gentium

    It would also be nice if the article could distinguish between “freeware” and free software fonts.

    1. Kevin,

      You’re wrong. Baskerville is Modern serif. Gotta check all characters. If you check M or N, you’ll see yourself.

    2. In addition, three of those free Moderns are not at all Moderns. One is Old Style, and two are Transitional. There are lots of errors in this article.

  6. Not to be pompous…I can appreciate individuals exposing type classification to others, but there are many grave errors here. Baskerville is a transitional. MODERN refers to a style with hairline serifs with high contrast between the strokes.

    Breaking Clarendon and slab serif/Egyptian into two categories is debatable. But not completely off base.

    Classification is HIGHLY debatable and often breaks down to categories within categories, e.g. Venetian Old Style, Geralde, Aldine, Baroque. Really, classification boils down to a combination of proportions, periods, and serifs.

    Here is a more accurate summary from Elen Lupton’s Thinking With Type.

    And a more detailed opinion from Jonathan Hoefler.

    1. Thank you! It was driving me nuts that Baskerville was listed as a Modern typeface. That type classification page you linked to is much clearer than a lot of the examples here.

    2. I’ve been a typographer for many years now and right now i’m having trouble remembering if there is a different category for Wedge Serifs of if they’re just considered Serifs.

  7. I don’t know if there’s so many type of serif fonts out there. All I thought was that Times New Roman, Garamond, Goudy, etc are serifs, without any further classification. Thanks Noupe

  8. I agree with the Type Professor above, in that it’s great you are exposing readers to type classification. S/he is also correct in pointing out that Baskerville is most certainly Transitional; in fact, Baskerville is the archetypal Transitional typeface. There are quite a few others that are wrongly classified, but … I’ll keep my mouth shut, and just congratulate you for spreading the word.

    See also this article for an explanation of the Transitional classification:

  9. This article is going to help a lot with my clients. Most of them have no idea about any of the basics of design. Letting them see this ad will make explanation much easier.

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