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Johann Sparkling 96pt
Web Typography

Fonts are not all born the same

While better formatting control is very important, all the control in the world can’t make a typeface easier to read. There are a number of fonts which can be fairly reliably chosen, fonts which will be on virtually every Internet user’s computer. But some of these are still very poor choices for on-screen use. Times is effectively universal, but as we’ve already seen it isn’t a particularly good screen font for small text. Arial (a sans serif typeface moderately similar to Helvetica) is also found on every recent Mac and PC. This is Microsoft’s default system font, used for file and directory names in Windows for many years. but although it is a favourite of many Web designers, it is actually (and surprisingly) not particularly well suited for screen use. At small sizes, around the 10 point level, the character shapes are a little awkward, and the variable internal and inter-character spacing makes it not wonderfully legible. Another unfortunately popular choice is Helvetica, the favourite of the jobbing printer. This is even worse for body text on screen, with characters clashing and merging unpleasantly.

The best solution is to use just the few fonts which remain legible at body text sizes (commonly 9, 10 and 12 points) and are found on all modern Macs and PCs. Both Verdana and Georgia are surprisingly good for this task, providing clear, legible type with all the standard style options, even when used as small as 9 point. There are a few other possibilities, but these two - one a sans serif, the other a serif - are hard to fault. (For details see .)

If you set text at larger sizes your choices expand, as legibility increases rapidly as sizes get above 14 points or so. As long as you stick to one of the Web-safe fonts you can work with formatted text all you like, using it for anything from body text to headlines and even typography decoration. This can help designers trim all the fat off their pages by reducing or even eliminating the need for GIF text files. Of course, the more a page relies on formatted text, particularly for highly visible things such as graphic decoration, the more it relies on the end user’s Web browser interpreting the formatting markup and displaying the results as the designer intended.