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Has there been studies to determine what fonts make it easiest to read? I'm interested in the font type, but also size and color. For example, is dark gray better than pitch black?

Also of interest is eye strain. Which fonts are the softest to our eyes?

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Not an answer at all but I must say it: don't ever use Arial. –  Bart Gijssens Oct 27 '11 at 9:56
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Arial is actually quite useful on screen. It typically renders better in a browser at text sizes than Helvetica does. –  DA01 Oct 28 '11 at 17:00
    
@BartGijssens Could you elaborate? Especially considering the (well-designed) website you're posting this comment on uses Arial :) –  Rahul Oct 31 '11 at 15:37
    
Note that the anti-aliasing engine used to display the font (eg. ClearType) can affect readability considerably at certain sizes, so keep that in mind when creating UIs that are used in cross-platform situations like websites. –  Rahul Oct 31 '11 at 15:39
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@BartGijssens Yes, it's true. Windows is designed to align glyph strokes to the pixel grid (even if it means slightly manipulating the design). Mac OS X by default tries to retain the letterforms the font designer produced (only mapping to the pixel grid if the designer added bitmaps or explicit screen hinting), although Panther did improve things a little. Here's an explanation of the difference. If this stuff interests you check out Raster Tragedy –  Kit Grose Feb 12 '13 at 3:31
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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

For size and colour, the other answers have covered them well.

For font choice, I can't recall where the research was from, but I read a study that showed reading large blocks of text was faster with serif fonts. But there was no real difference between serif and sans serif fonts for shorter pieces of text (like labels or headlines).

This explains why almost all novels and newspapers are printed with a serif font.

For a specific font, my vote would be for Palatino for serif and Helvetica for sans serif (purely personal opinion though).

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I remember reading that for printed text as well. Would you happen to know whether there is any difference in "easyness to read" when the text is on a different medium such as a CRT and nowadays LCD screens? –  Marjan Venema Oct 27 '11 at 6:30
    
@MarjanVenema: I've read a different study on that, and excluding poor CRT's with flicker which are obviously bad, it was more the contrast that made the difference. Too high or too low caused eye strain. –  JohnGB Oct 27 '11 at 9:13
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Could it have been Typography for lawyers Quote: "Sans serif fonts look less traditional than serif fonts and most people — me included — find them tiring to read in long docu­ments. (That’s why so few books, newspapers and magazines use sans serif fonts for body text.)" - or maybe it was Alex Poole discussing serif vs sans-serif –  Roger Attrill Oct 27 '11 at 9:41
    
As I recorded in this UX.SE answer on the topic, there hasn't really been any reliable evidence that serif text is more readable in any form. It is, most definitely, the conventional wisdom, however, which means more serif typefaces are likely to be designed with body copy in mind than sans serif. –  Kit Grose Mar 3 '13 at 7:49
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Regarding font size: 9 point to 14 point are preferred sizes - according to this research / this table:

http://webstyleguide.com/wsg3/8-typography/4a-type-size-legibility.html

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There's a fair amount of research. All of it less than scientifically sound and highly contradictory and completely dependent on so many factors that it's usually out of context.

That said, there are basic rules of good typography that help lead you to a more readable decision:

  • low resolution screens and smaller type can benefit from a larger x-height.
  • careful consideration of line lengths and leading can have an impact on making it more readable
  • contrast is good. But too much may not be. (ie, on screen, gray text on white is better than pure black on white...on paper, black ink on off-white paper is better than black ink on pure white)
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Getting the contrast correct between font and background is important. Too little contrast and obviously you cant read the text. But also too much contrast can strain the eyes. I believe dyslexic people in particular can struggle with black text on a white background.

WCAG provide min Colour contrast guidelines, but I remember HP "used" to provide a similar tool for checking max colour contrast (Although I can't find it anymore so this may be old news)

Regarding font types: It depends on the the scenario. For web fonts sans serif fonts are generally better. I think fonts such as Verdana were developed especially for the web. As to studies regarding which font is the "best" I'm not so sure.

Good resource on WebAim: http://webaim.org/techniques/fonts/

And I just article comparing fonts for web: http://www.design-by-izo.com/2011/10/18/what-should-i-look-for-in-a-ui-typeface/

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It depends on:

  • media (screen, paper)
  • contrast (font/background color/texture)
  • font size (a font can be too large or too small for a purpose)
  • eyes of the reader (no font size will make it easier for blind people to read - braille does)
  • text length (some fonts need more space, so the text gets longer)
  • available paragraph width (can cause bad word wrap with lots of ugly gaps)
  • target audience (Arial is the wrong choice for writing programs; programmers need to be able to distinguish between O and 0 and between I, l and 1. Test word for programmers: O01Illegal - Oh, zero, one, capital i, lowercase L).
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