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I like the look of Open Sans, but I've heard anecdotes of people having trouble reading it. For example on the Wordpress post about it, most are praising it, but a few people are quite negative:

  • I like it in the screenshot, but that isn’t how it looks on my laptop! It looks all blotchy to me (especially the “i”s and “l”s)

  • Interesting. However, studies have shown verdana and trebuchet are more readable online.

  • I am afraid it is too thin for my poor eyesight, a struggle to read even with glasses.

  • Is it just me or does it look a little blurred?

  • Open Sans needs some kerning work. It jars the eye of the seasoned graphics professional (mine). I will not use it.

Of course, this is all anecdote. I know that studies have been done on Arial and Verdana, but has any research been done into the readability of Open Sans?

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It was only released just over a year ago, which is very little time for any research to be done. The best that you can do it to actually (blind) test it with people and see if it's an issue or not. –  JohnGB Jan 25 '13 at 17:03
    
@JohnGB You're absolutely right. I figure though that since Wordpress fully switched to it and Google partially did, there might be something written about it. –  Mirov Jan 26 '13 at 2:15

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

How well a font displays on the web depends on how much hinting information it has had:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Font_hinting

Font hinting takes a tremendous amount of time to do as the font must be adjusted at each size. The reason Arial, Verdana and other older fonts always display well is because they have been meticulously hinted. Verdana has a reputation for being the most well hinted font of all time.

While some fonts will display better depending on OS and browser, this is because the browser/OS can in some cases make up for a lack of hinting. A well hinted font will display well on all browsers and OS's.

Looking to the future, as we move towards higher resolution screens (e.g. retina display) font hinting and readability will become less and less of an issue.

As for OpenSans, it is quite readable on my screen (windows XP, Chrome 24). I doubt any usability studies have been done on it though.

Additional reading: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/04/24/a-closer-look-at-font-rendering/

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I don't know any study about Open Sans, but as far as I can say, I really don't like the font for normal texts. It's pretty hard for me to read, as the font is too narrow. Personally I don't understand why so many websites are using it. It's always a bad experience for me.

Look at that: http://d.pr/i/2IbB. This is how it looks for me and on a longer text, it's not fun to read and quite difficult. I'm always using the chrome developer tools and remove open sans from the font settings, from the site I'm reading. It's way better with alternative fonts like Helvetica or Arial. See here: http://d.pr/i/7k0d

I think I'm not the only one with that issue, but as far as I can say: I would never use the font, as some users are having problems reading it and will have a bad experience using your app, website etc.

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That's bizarre what you are seeing. It appears to be a narrow version of the typeface. What OS/Browser combo are you using? I'm not sure that anomaly makes it a universal problem, though. –  DA01 Jan 12 at 18:49
    
I'm using OS X 10.8 and Chrome 31. But it looks the same in Firefox. –  chillmao Jan 13 at 10:38
    
Very odd. I wonder if you have (for some mysterious reason) a different version of Open Sans installed on your machine (or perhaps you have ONLY the narrow version, and the browser is making-do with it). –  DA01 Jan 13 at 16:51
    
Well I could have got the idea too, but thanks a lot. I just deleted Open Sans on my machine and now the texts are looking much better: d.pr/i/YnGm So I guess the problem is, that users might have Open Sans installed, which is actually the condensed version, and the browser just takes it as usual Open Sans. But now I can see why people are using it. I'm not only impressed of my stupidity, but also how different some pages, which I like, look now. New experience :) –  chillmao Jan 13 at 20:01

Readability of any particular typeface isn't something that there's extensive studies on. What studies there are tend to be generic and few and far between, and more often than not, inconclusive.

Ultimately, the readability of text certainly does depend on the typeface, but it also depends on a lot of other variables and all those variables combined are really what makes something easy or difficult to read.

As obelia points out, the biggest readability problem with webfonts is the rendering. Certain browsers/OSes/preference settings just can't render an embedded font very well...often you lose all font smoothing and sometimes loose proper spacing. As such, no matter how great the typeface design may be, keep that issue in mind if you plan on setting your body text with a web font.

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Any use of a webfont (@font-face or google webfonts) introduces a new variable in the quality of the font rendering. While the rendering of the old "safe" fonts (Verbena, Times New has some variability from browser to browser (and version to version and OS to OS), there's much more variability in the rendering of webfonts.

The anecdotal information I've been able to piece together is that webfont rendering on Google Chrome is generally worse than Firefox and Safari, and rendering of Google webfonts generally better than that of @font-face.

The main point of all this is that rendering of Open Sans typeface will vary a lot depending on whether it is local or web-imported, how it's imported (google or @font-face), the browser/version/OS, etc.

My guess is that the Open Sans is well designed for screen readability but the variability in rendering could be the source of the negative comments. Personally I don't yet trust webfonts for the main text (reading) font (I do however use them for display fonts and headers and such).

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Google webfont embedding does, in fact, pull @font-face CSS declarations, it just does so from a google CDN instead of your own server / website's CSS. There really is no difference, technically, in how these fonts get delared and rendered by the browser - is there? –  kontur Jan 27 '13 at 21:05
    
@kontur - you could be right, I have not done thorough analysis on this. –  obelia Jan 27 '13 at 23:36

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