What are the different types of serif fonts and why should you know them? In this tutorial, we'll look at types of serif typefaces and explain the ins and outs with serif font examples. Learn how to identify different types of serifs and download some fresh, new modern serif fonts today.
What Is a Serif Font?
So, what is a serif font anyway? Let's begin by defining the serif. Take a look at this visual example. Times New Roman is a serif typeface. Helvetica, on the other hand, is a sans serif typeface.
Note the circled areas in each example. Times New Roman has serifs. They're an added stroke or line at the end of a letter. Helvetica, on the other hand, has abrupt ends with no serifs. It is a sans serif. The "sans" is in reference to not having a serif.
But serif fonts come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. There are slab serif fonts, hairline serif fonts, handwritten serif font designs, and so much more. However, this general distinction is likely one of the most common means of describing a font: either it's a serif or a sans serif. Script fonts are sometimes considered "the third type", but keep in mind that the "serif or sans serif" clarification could still apply.
What Is Type Classification?
What are the different types of serif fonts? Well, type classification is a big part of that answer. It's a system of identifying fonts based on their visual criteria. Some of this has historical context, but it all has practical use. Modern type design often takes inspiration from more than one classification.
Take a look at this awesome, free course from Envato Tuts+ to learn more about type classifications. This includes both serif and sans serif fonts.
Why Does It Matter?
So, why bother learning about types of serif typefaces? A font is just a font, right? Just choose one that looks good! Well, as many experienced designers would likely say: it's a little more complicated than that.
- If you know how to identify a font's characteristics, it's easier to identify the font.
- Identifying a font makes it easier to pick just the right typeface for your projects. No taking a shot in the dark; you'll have an idea of what aesthetic to start with.
- Type can be very visually communicative. Your choices contribute to your design's narrative.
The Different Types of Serif Fonts
Here's a quick overview of four of the different types of serif fonts: old style, transitional, Didone, and slab. Note the circled serif in each example.
But you'll notice that there's more to these fonts than just the serif. For example, Didot, a Didone typeface, has really stark contrast. This means that one line is quite thin, while the other is quite thick. Rockwell, the slab serif, has consistent lines with little to no contrast.
You might also find yourself asking this question: what if a serif font doesn't neatly fit into these aesthetic qualities? They don't have to! Many modern serif fonts mix, match, and break the rules. However, it's often a good idea to "know the rules" so you can more effectively "break them". Check out this example. It has serifs, but it has some mixed inspiration.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at some of the different types of serif fonts you should know.
Old-Style Serif Fonts
Old-style serifs tend to have a rather drawn or calligraphic quality. Remember the serifs in Garamond? Note the serifs in the lower case "d", in the example below. Old style fonts also typically have diagonal stress, unlike the Transitionals, which tend to be more upright. Check out this example. This particular font has old-style inspiration in its typeface design.
Want to see even more old-style-inspired fonts? Check out even more examples of old-style fonts in this inspiring collection:
Transitional Serif Fonts
Transitional fonts are often considered a midpoint between the old style and more modern styles like the Didones. These serif fonts will likely seem pretty familiar to you because they get a lot of everyday use. Baskerville, Times New Roman, and Georgia, all very common fonts, are considered Transitionals. Notice how the serifs still taper.
Find even more transitional serif fonts in this collection. There's plenty more content to see:
Didone Serif Fonts
Didones tend to have thin serifs and plenty of contrast. Check out this example font, which takes inspiration from the Didones. Contrast refers to how some of the lines are quite thin, and they're paired with lines that are very thick. The uppercase "N" here is a great example. Again, note the hairline serifs; they are very thin.
Here's a lovely collection of Didone fonts and fonts inspired by this aesthetic. Check it out today for even more to download in this style.
Slab Serif Fonts
Slab serifs look a lot like how they sound. This time, we're not seeing that contrast. Instead, we see thick serifs and continuous line width. Slab serifs are quite popular in modern serif font design. They often make a great choice for headlines, titles, logos, and much more.
Want to see even more examples of slab serif fonts? Here's a collection that you can check out right now:
But Wait! There's More?
Now that we've had a look at the different types of serifs, let's observe some rule breaking and outliers. There are a number of awesome, elegant serif fonts out there that don't neatly fit into these categories, but still use some of the same ideas.
For example, check out this decorative display type. It has serifs, but they're distinctly decorative, and they add to the overall magical, mystical look.
Other Serif Terms: Hairline Serif
The term hairline serif refers to the width of the font's serif. In this case, hairline is in regards to a thin serif. Check out this example, below. You'll often see hairline serifs in typefaces that take inspiration from the Didone type classification.
Other Serif Terms: Wedge Serif
Wedge serifs, on the other hand, are as they sound. They taper in a wedge-like shape. The example below is a very exaggerated one. In this case, we have some serifs that almost look like triangles. It doesn't have to be this intense; just keep that taper in mind.
Other Serif Terms: Condensed Serif Font
You might also see the term "condensed" associated with serif fonts. However, "condensed" can refer to many different fonts, serif or sans serif. This is a case where the font has less width and more height, to a point where it is a key visual aspect of the font's design. Check out this example.
Rounded Serif Font
Let's also take a look at a rounded serif font. Rounded serifs can make for such a fun aesthetic. You'll often see this look associated with retro typefaces, like a look from the 70s. The key here is that the serif itself is rounded. Note that they're there, in this example below, but they have a distinct, rounded edge.
Mixed and Modern Serif Fonts
As mentioned earlier, fonts aren't required to strictly fit into any of these terms or categories, especially in modern font design. In fact, sometimes a look becomes so popular or trendy that it might start a whole new genre!
Here's a look at a font that doesn't quite fit any one category. It is, however, a serif font, as it has visible serifs that contribute to the overall aesthetic.
Handwriting fonts can also have serifs. Here's an example of a playful, decorative handwriting font that also has chunky serifs. This font doesn't quite fit the mold when we look at our other categories. It's a decorative display font.
Then, on the other hand, sometimes we get fonts that mix across categories. Take a look at this beautiful serif font. It has lovely, sweeping lines and swirls. It looks as if someone mixed calligraphy with a serif font, doesn't it?
Serifs don't necessarily have rules. Notice how these serifs are waved to create a nautical look. It rather looks like something from a retro tattoo. Still, it's a serif font; it has those serifs at the end of the letterform.
Here's another example that draws some other inspiration. There's a touch of Blackletter design here to create this vintage font look. It's ornate, and there are so many beautiful details. Still, this font has serifs with a slight wedge.
More Inspiring Serif Font Examples
As you can probably tell now, there are so many amazing options out there when it comes to serif fonts. Which aesthetics appeal to you most?
If you love fonts, you might want to take a look at Envato Elements. One low fee gets you unlimited access to a library of thousands of fonts. They're all licensed for commercial use too.
Check out this sample of some of the best serif fonts in the Envato Elements library. Whether you're looking for bold serif fonts, elegant serif fonts, or a quirky, handwritten serif font, there's something for everyone. Enjoy the font inspiration, and consider downloading your favorites.
This thin serif font is an elegant choice. Notice how, in this example, some of the serifs are selective. Try this one for larger display copy in your projects.
If you're looking for bold serif fonts, consider a chunky, memorable display font like this one. It's really graphical and could make a big statement.
This handwriting font also incorporates serifs. We don't see any taper or wedge here, yet it follows the same line width. It makes for a welcoming, informal aesthetic.
Isn't this bold serif font magical? All of the twists and curves really give it extra personality. Download this font today, and try your own wording in this decorative font.
The variable baseline in this font gives it such a whimsical look. Do you recognize what kind of serifs we see here? Try this one with different colors and textures.
Which Are Your Favorite Serif Fonts?
So, which are the best serif fonts for your project? With so many awesome choices out there, it's a great idea to have a variety of serif fonts in your font collection. From professional situations to informal ones, serifs can play so many different roles in your design work.
Remember, if you're looking for new fonts, check out Envato Elements. It's an awesome library of fonts, including different types of serif fonts. One low price gets you unlimited access to all of them. Find your next favorite font today.
Looking for even more font inspiration? Check out these other font collections, here on Envato Tuts+.
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