The Best Typeface for Print Advertising and Online Marketing

Some people are drawn to a product for its functionality, while others are captivated by aesthetic appeal, be it bright color, design, or perhaps most importantly, font.

While we aren’t always conscious of it, we see hundreds of fonts and typefaces each day. There’s the infamous and professional Times New Roman, the old-timey typewriter Courier New, or the dreadful, bubbly, Comic Sans (which can be found on every middle school teacher’s study guide who thought it made them cool, fun, and/or “hip”).

Depending on who you’re advertising to, font can be the deciding factor as to whether or not we purchase a product or try a new service. While typeface may be a seemingly small detail, it can make a big difference.

Font Styles

According to Allan Haley, Director of Words and Letters at Monotype Imaging, fonts can be categorized into four groups: serif, sans serif, script, and decorative styles. Serif typefaces originated in the late 15th century and use strokes and brackets to create very clean cut letters. Some examples of serif fonts are:

  • Baskerville
  • Cambria
  • Times New Roman.

Letters in sans serif typefaces are more rounded and have curved strokes. The grotesque sans serif fonts were the “first commercially popular sans serif typefaces,” according to Haley. The easy-to-read print styles that fall into this category include:

  • Helvetica
  • Futura
  • ITC Franklin Gothic.

The third classification is script. These fonts were created in the 17th century from unique writing styles. The most popular sub-category of script is calligraphy, in which heavy and light brush or pen strokes are used to create a cursive-looking, more formal aesthetic.

Blackletter typeface is one of the most popular types of script. It can be identified by its thick and thin strokes and swirly serifs. Blackletter types, according to designer, illustrator, and instructor Jennifer Farley, are used in the New York Times logo, the Corona Extra beer logo, and the Disneyland sign.

A few examples of script include:

  • Elegy
  • Vivaldi
  • Brush Script.

Finally, there are multiple decorative styles that are used mostly for headlines and signs rather than blocks of text. Haley states that they “frequently reflect an aspect of culture — such as tattoos or graffiti — or evoke a particular state of mind, time period, or theme.”

Marketing strategist Nancy Wagner writes, “Use a unified set of fonts in all of your marketing messages and you’ll grab your prospects' attention and encourage them to buy.” The size of the typeface should also be picked carefully. Microscopic words will make a prospective client move to a company who has content that’s easier on the eyes. Conversely, large text can look awkward and messy.

In most websites, emails, and print marketing, companies use both serif and sans serif fonts, but for very different bodies of content. Sans serif fonts are most commonly used in headlines whereas serif typefaces are reserved for the paragraph text.

In an interview with BBC News, director of Monotype Imaging, Julie Strawson, stated that some people prefer to use serif fonts because the eyes naturally link the letters. Other people find sans serif fonts easier to read because there is more white space.

Print vs. Online Fonts

Jennifer Alvey of Word Solutions writes, “If you’re in a print world, serif fonts are generally more readable; the added strokes help lead the eye from letter to letter.” Conversely, when presenting text on an online medium, sans serif typefaces are easier to read as the edges of the letters have a higher contrast on a screen.

In his book, Ca$hvertising, Drew Eric Whitman refers to a 1986 study in which researchers analyzed the readability of different fonts. They concluded that only 12 percent of people were able to read the sans serif paragraph and effectively comprehend the information, while 67 percent were able to read the serif text successfully. If fact, people who were given the sans serif typeface noted, “[I] continually had to backtrack to regain comprehension."

In a 2002 study conducted by Michael Bernard at the Software Usability and Research Laboratory (SURL), he and his team found that the most legible online fonts are: Arial, Courier, and Verdana. These researchers also found that participants read 12-point fonts more easily than 10-point fonts.

In another study conducted by the SURL, researchers determined that most participants found Courier, Comic Sans, Verdana, Georgia, and Times New Roman as the most legible fonts. Additionally, the participants rated the personalities of each fonts and found Bradley and Corsiva to be the most elegant, Courier and Times New Roman to be the most professional, and Comic Sans to be the most fun and “youthful” (every graphic designer reading this just shuddered).

The Deep End writer, Elise Leveque, suggests to avoid using script or handwriting fonts for body text in print, as it can sometimes be indecipherable. She also agrees that Garamond and Bookman are two popular fonts to use for print. Leveque advises to choose fonts that will blend in, rather than stand out. This is because the message can ultimately get lost in the boldness of the font.

Bold, Italics, Color

On the other hand, Jacci Howard Bear, writer for ThoughtCo., says using a bold font can immediately catch a reader’s attention, but one must know when it is and isn’t appropriate to go bold. When using bold, one should follow these rules:

  • Use bold for emphasis
  • Use bold carefully and concisely
  • Use bold to create contrast
  • Use bold instead of italics
  • Do not use bold with heavy versions of fonts

The font filled site, Practical Typography, agrees, stating, “use bold and italic as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. They are tools for em­pha­sis. But if every­thing is em­pha­sized, then noth­ing is em­pha­sized.” With bold and italic typeface, you run the risk of making your content more difficult for your audience to digest. Remember this:

  • italic is for gentle emphasis
  • bold is for heavy emphasis.

With sans serif fonts however, italics should rarely be an option, so strictly stick to bold. Sans serif fonts already have a gentle slant that will not stand out when using italics.

Constant Contact asserts that using colors can increase brand recognition by 80 percent, and a staggering 85 percent of consumers buy a product because of its color. Two to three main colors should easily stick out. If one uses too many colors, the message is lost and the reader can become distracted.

May the Font Be With You

Ultimately, the choice of font is up to you, but keep in mind: your branding and marketing font should be powerful, legible, and likeable. Moreover what is written in that typeface should be valuable, entertaining, and important to your potential customers and clients.

Regardless of the font you’re using, click the button below if your company needs help producing quality marketing copy. After all, in this day and age, advertising is much more than an ad, it’s content.