Why do a lot of popular online publications still use serif fonts?

Started by AlexMerchant, Apr 21, 2023, 12:17 AM

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AlexMerchantTopic starter

Greetings to all,

We cannot read the text on websites like www.theguardian.com and www.bloomberg.com properly.
Many books related to web design suggest that the use of serif fonts for the main text is not recommended since it becomes hard to read content from a screen.


The books on web design that advise against using serif fonts were written at least 5-8 years ago, when the most popular screen resolution was 1024×768 and three-column sites were in fashion.

Due to limited space, the main text had to be between 10-14px in size, making serif fonts appear dirty and straining to the eyesight. However, it is now considered best practice to use a font size of at least 16px and serif fonts look good with subpixel smoothing.

In fact, at sizes of 20px and above, serif fonts look even better than sans serif fonts. To see this in action, one can look at websites such as theguardian.com, where the main font is 16px with serifs, and bloomberg.com, where the main font is 18px and small texts are sans serif. Therefore, the recommendations from the outdated books are no longer applicable since we have new screens.


The purpose of using serifs in main texts is to enhance their readability by making them easier and faster to read, as they guide the view horizontally like a floor and ceiling and prevent accidental line-jumping.

Additionally, the greater number of details makes it easier to distinguish letters. While this is theoretically true, nowadays, the use of serifs is more associated with style. Serifs are considered old, reliable, authoritative, or hipster, while sans-serif fonts are viewed as modern, free, and young.


Printing long text is easier to read with a serif font as it guides the eye along the line. However, on the computer, even a single pixel can make a difference, and many letters with serifs lose their curves.

Thanks to subpixel rendering and high DPI, serif fonts have been optimized for screens, and Korolkova is leading the way. On a tablet, anekdot.com looks great, while PT Serif is the best choice for a reader with 200 dpi. But on a desktop with ClearType turned off, it may not be as sharp.


Many popular online publications still use serif fonts for several reasons. First, serif fonts are often associated with a more traditional and authoritative feel, which may be in line with the branding and image that these publications want to portray. Additionally, serif fonts can enhance readability in printed materials, and some people may find them aesthetically pleasing.

However, it's true that for on-screen reading, sans-serif fonts are generally considered more legible, especially at smaller font sizes. This is because the serifs in serif fonts can become less distinct and may cause letters to blur together, making it harder to read.

In the case of websites like www.theguardian.com and www.bloomberg.com, the use of serif fonts may be a part of their branding and design choices. While it's important to consider readability, online publications may prioritize other aspects of their design and brand identity.

Serif fonts have a long history of use in traditional print media, such as books and newspapers. They are often associated with a more formal, classic, or elegant style, which may be appealing to certain publications and their target audiences. The use of serif fonts can also help create a distinctive visual identity for a publication and differentiate it from others in the digital space.

In addition, some readers may find serif fonts more comfortable to read for extended periods due to the guiding strokes and the way the serifs lead the eye along a line of text. This can be especially true for longer-form content, where readability and eyestrain become significant factors.

While serif fonts have historically been associated with print media, the shift to digital platforms has prompted ongoing discussions about font choices and readability. Many web design experts have indeed suggested that for online content, especially on screens, sans-serif fonts are generally preferred for their clarity and readability.

However, the choice of font ultimately depends on the specific goals and target audience of a publication. Some publishers may prioritize maintaining a consistent brand identity across both print and digital platforms, which could include using serif fonts. Others may conduct user testing and find that their audience responds well to serif fonts, even in an online context.

It's also worth noting that advancements in screen technology, such as high-resolution displays, have mitigated some of the historical concerns about serif fonts on screens. Additionally, web designers often take into account factors like font size, line spacing, and contrast when using serif fonts to ensure optimal readability.

Ultimately, the use of serif or sans-serif fonts in online publications is influenced by a combination of design principles, branding considerations, and audience preferences, and there is no one-size-fits-all answer. As technology and user preferences continue to evolve, so too may the conventions around font choices in online publishing.