Given that I have at least basic understanding of typography, I would like to understand what attributes typography designers alter to make text more legible and more pleasing to the eyes?

For example, what features make Consolas more pleasing than old generation MS console font? Why does Calibri looks more spaciously placed than Arial? Why does Segoe look better on titles but uncomfortable in dense text?

I know anti-aliasing makes font appear smooth and serif fonts are difficult to read on-screen, but would request about other aspects of aesthetics of glyphs.

  • 5
    I think our friends at graphicdesign.stackexchange.com will provide better answers.
    – Izhaki
    Jan 29, 2014 at 13:09
  • 2
    Note that the OP isn't asking which font is more pleasing (opinion based) but what makes fonts pleasing which is a human vision + psychology issue which I believe falls under UX. Jan 29, 2014 at 15:44
  • While there are certainly objective ways to compare type, 'Looks better' still has a whole lot of subjectivity as well as context-centric arguments to be answerable in a specific manner.
    – DA01
    Jan 29, 2014 at 21:08
  • @DannyVarod possibly, but what is 'pleasing' is still highly subjective and highly dependent on context. Typesetting WIRED in blackletter would be weird. Might be perfectly accepted in a history magazine published in Germany, though. (I know, silly example, but point is comparing two typefaces that fall into roughly the same grouping isn't all that conclusive in and of itself)
    – DA01
    Jan 29, 2014 at 21:10
  • @DA01 your points are all valid, however, you haven't suggested any way to improve the question. Jan 29, 2014 at 22:15

4 Answers 4


Some of the many factors impacting a font's suitability to a particular context are:

  • x-height (the distance between the baseline and the top of most lowercase letters). Fonts with larger x-heights are more legible at smaller sizes.

  • counter size (the hollow areas inside the letters). Letters with larger counters will be easier to read at smaller sizes, especially in printed media where ink can bleed into the counters.

  • weight (stroke thickness, the average width of the lines relative to the total size of the glyph). Thickness has a significant impact upon the "color" of a block of text (how dark it appears on a page). Unless you are intentionally trying to make a block of text look dark and solid, counteract thick strokes with wider tracking (letter-spacing) and leading (line spacing). Very small fonts require broader strokes to avoid looking spidery.

  • stroke contrast (the ratio between the thickness of the widest and narrowest parts of a letter). Fonts designed for large display sizes can use high stroke contrast, but letters at small sizes work better with more uniform stroke widths.

  • glyph width. Proportional fonts (where all of the letters are the same width) are good for representing columns of numbers, but have a mechanical feel in most other contexts.

  • slope. (the angle at which a calligraphic pen would be place on paper to form the letters). Most modern roman fonts have a strong vertical emphasis. Italics and script fonts tend to have greater slopes.

  • historical usage of similar fonts Looking at how fonts have historically been used can help to give some sense of the feelings they are likely to evoke. For example, I can't look at a Tuscan font (one with a fancy bulge in the middle) without thinking of a poster tacked up on a saloon in the Old West.

  • serifs The stylization of serifs can help to evoke a particular feeling based on historical associations, but serifs can also harm legibility on miniscule letters.


Some fonts have a better readabilty than others, this may improve the way the user reads the content, which is what we want.

In the case of the fonts you mentioned, Segoe, for exemplo, may look better in titles because it doesnt have a serif, but its a variable. Each font has its personality, some are better for headers, others for long articles, but all depends on what you're going to do with it.

You said that Serif fonts are difficult to read on screen, but sometimes it may be better than a sans serif font, serif fonts have a base line, and the base line of the font helps to define where the text line ends, and the user will not get confused on where the next line starts.

To choose the right font, text it, change de line height, the letter spacing, it's all about the project you're working on.

There are no "better font", some may fit for that case, some may fit on others.

  • +1 for "but all depends on what you're going to do with it". Typography decisions are highly dependent on the context of the overall design objectives.
    – DA01
    Jan 29, 2014 at 21:14

First of all small vs. large usage:

For small text (document body text, or text far away), clean (undecorative text) is easier to read, because the space in between the lines within the characters is larger, leading to less strain on the eyes.

For large text (document titles), decorative text gives the text "character" making it stand out. Since both the characters and their spacing is enlarged, the spacing between the lines within the characters isn't as significant.

Note that if the text is bright upon dark (e.g. grey on black or white on dark grey) then the text appears bolder, making the internal spacing more important.

The "modern" fonts are anti-aliased; they don't fill entire pixels with either 1 or 0, but instead can use shades of grey and sub pixels (RGB) to make the lines look straight, without requiring thick lines - thus the "modern" fonts can be thinner, increasing the internal spacing and making them more suitable for small text.

  • Thank you. Your reply is certainly in the right direction, but I would wait for more insights on the topic.
    – Bleamer
    Jan 29, 2014 at 20:11
  • Note that computer fonts have been anti-aliased for a long while (traditionally using manual hinting--essentially tweaked bitmaps for screen use). Newer operating systems now can handle this themselves and have the addition of the sub-pixel font-smoothing that you mention.
    – DA01
    Jan 29, 2014 at 21:13
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    @Bleamer I was trying to stick to the objective facts I know. Comparing specific fonts may become too subjective. Jan 29, 2014 at 22:13
  • @DannyVarod: I agree to your view point, but my point was to draw out the criteria on which experts weigh different typesets / fonts.
    – Bleamer
    Jan 30, 2014 at 6:07

Usually this is due to spacing and consistency; for example:

enter image description here

All of these font's are easy to read correct? Though Calibri is the easiest because it's mono spaced. This means the eyes have an easier time reading them.

Humans don't actually read the entire word instead they look at left-center of a word. T.he qu.ick br.own f.ox j.umps o.ver t.he l.azy d.og (. indicates where the human eye looks) Because the font is mono spaced it means the eye has an easier time looking for the left-center to then guess the rest of the word. Monospaced meaning it is spaced in the same manner eg 10px per letter.

  • 5
    Huh? Calibri isn't monospaced. It's a variable-width, proportional font just like Arial or Lato. Monospaced fonts are fixed-width typewriter or console fonts like Courier. In general they're less readable than proportional fonts.
    – nwellnhof
    Jan 30, 2014 at 23:39

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