Highly legible serif/sans serif

bogdan_'s picture

I'm looking for some highly legible fonts, either serif or sans serif. Does anyone have any recommendations?

mgking's picture

The February issue of HOW had a nice feature on commonly used fonts and some nice options. Even though the article said that Gill Sans was over-used and suggested looking at FF Milo and Agenda, my vote stays with Gill Sans.


Stephen Coles's picture

Glad you liked the article, mgk. Most of the fonts I featured can be found here in this list of alternatives.

But to bogdan's question — there are hundreds of legible typefaces, the more important approach is to find those that are most important for your project. So what are you working on?

Quincunx's picture

Please not Gill Sans :P Apart from the over-use, I think it's a bit too dark.
FF Milo or FF Kievit would be a much better choice. I've used them both for long stretches of text, and they perform beautifully.

Nick Shinn's picture

I have occasionally wondered why is there no Gill Sans weight between Regular and Light, a book weight.
However, I have a few books from the 1930s with the text set entirely in the Regular, e.g. The Modern House, by F.R.S. Yorke. I have some 1930s Meccano manuals set in Gill Sans Light, very nice.

But really, this is not even a question, as most typefaces are highly legible when set correctly.
Perhaps what you seek is a font that will forgive inept typography?

Nick Shinn's picture

Sorry, that was a bit harsh. Let me rephrase that:
Perhaps you're looking for a font that is easy to work with?

John Nolan's picture

Nick, Monotype does sell a book weight.

bogdan_'s picture

sorry, should of specified that it is specifically for people with poor vision/visual impairment. i managed to find this;


but i was wondering if there is anything else that sets out to accomplish the same sort of thing.

/no this is not for setting a book, so its not to mask 'inept typography'.

raph's picture

I think ClearviewHwy has a lot of potential for use with the visually impaired. A lot of actual empirical research went into improving legibility under harsh conditions (nighttime, halo effects from weather, etc.) and I suspect these conditions aren't that different from what some visually impaired people experience.

I'm not blown away by APHont, and suspect that most similar large-aperture sans fonts (for example, Vera Sans, which it resembles) will perform similarly. I'm also skeptical of the low x-height - I think that vertical space could be put to better use making the font larger, which is probably the single most important thing to do for low-vision readers. Clearview maxes this out, and, as I said, is based on actual empirical evaluation. I also recommend a slightly heavier weight than typical Book, as that should help improve perceived contrast as well.

For a serif font, I might suggest one of the Century family (Schoolbook is something of a cliche for this niche), or Nick Shinn's Worldwide, for a more modern update.

Best of luck!

bogdan_'s picture

yea, highway signage was the first thing that came to mind for me. i ran into transport;


used for road signs in the uk. will read up on clearview though, thanks.

Nick Shinn's picture

... vision/visual impairment.

As Raph says, make it larger.

We've had threads on this before, and the consensus seems to be that there is a range of reading impairments and next to no empirical testing on what works generally. So someone without a track record in type design can come up with a theory of what makes a good typeface for those with difficulties, design a typeface accordingly that looks like nothing special at best, and hype it as The Answer, without testing it head-to-head against any other face.

I would say approach this as a rigorously demanding design job--target your market as accurately as possible and test your layout in focus groups. Indeed, that's what James Montalbano did with Clearview. The design project there was not a typeface for those with reading difficulties, but highway signage with custom type. Why would one assume that a typeface designed for normally sighted people to read one or two words glimpsed moving at a distance (small arc of vision) would also be best for the visually impaired to read text? Isn't that making rather a lot of assumptions about how they read? Wouldn't it be more likely that they read in a quite different manner, perhaps slowly and examining each letter carefully and closely? And in that case, might not some other kind of typeface work better? How would one know unless one tested a variety? Who has done this? No one! In fact, organizations such as the CNIB can't even say whether serif or sans serif is better.

I believe that layout is as important as typeface, and that testing a variety of layouts (vary size, typeface, leading, line length, etc.) with actual readers is the best way to find what works.

With regards to Gill Sans: there is an alternate version with a single storey "a" and "g", but has anyone ever tested to see if it works better for those with reading difficulty? It could be argued that both versions are better--the usual version because it has more distinctive and unique letter forms, the alternate because it doesn't have complex and bewildering shapes. These arguments are bullshit, in the strict Frankfurt sense--pleasantry that is neither true nor false, because it has never been put to the test. And if that is the case with something as drastically different as these Gill Sans alternate letters, how can one make any convincing statement about typeface legibility from theory alone, without the test results to back it up?

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