The Best Fonts to Use in Print, Online,
and Email

Have you ever visited a website that seemed to contain the information you were looking for – but you found yourself clicking on the "back" button of your browser simply because …

 … you didn't like the font they used?

I have.

For the owner of that website, I represent an opportunity lost – one less person who will potentially click on one of their ads or buy one of their products.

In fact, Colin Wheildon, author of Type & Layout: Are You Communicating or Just Making Pretty Shapes?, says:

"It's possible to blow away three-quarters of our readers simply by choosing the wrong type. If you rely on words to sell, that should concern you deeply."

Blow away 75 percent of your readers! If you're the copywriter who wrote the copy for that site, it's a surefire way to go from copywriting hero to copywriting zero.

So, as a copywriter, it just makes sense to make sure the font you or your clients use is one that doesn't hinder sales in any way.

To help you, I did some research into the best fonts to use for print, online, and email. Let’s start with:

The difference between 'serif' and 'sans serif' fonts

Serif fonts have little feet and embellishments on the tip and base of each letter, making them more distinct and recognizable. Popular serif fonts are Times New Roman, Palatino, Georgia, Courier, Bookman and Garamond.

Nearly all books, newspapers, and magazines use a serif font. It's popularly accepted that – in print – serif fonts are easier to read. The idea being that the serifs actually make the letters flow together – and subsequently easier on the eyes.

As the name states, 'sans serif' fonts are fonts without serifs. While some sources say sans-serif fonts have existed since the 5th century BC, it wasn't until the 1920s that they became somewhat popular – mostly being used in advertisements.

One of the reasons for their lack of popularity was that typographers stuck with serif fonts because they felt they were easier to read.

It's been said that serif fonts are for "readability," while sans-serif fonts are for "legibility." Which is why, in print, sans-serif fonts are often used as the headline font and serif fonts are used for the body text.

Some popular San Serif fonts are Helvetica, Arial, Calibri, Century Gothic and Verdana.

Best fonts for print

In his book Cashvertising, Drew Eric Whitman cites a 1986 study of fonts (printed on paper) that found only 12 percent of participants effectively comprehended a paragraph set in sans-serif type versus 67 percent who were given a version set in serif typeface.

Those who read the sans-serif version said they had a tough time reading the text and "continually had to backtrack to regain comprehension."

In a test of three different fonts, two serifs (Garamond and Times New Roman) and one sans serif (Helvetica), he found 66 percent were able to comprehend Garamond; 31.5 percent Times New Roman, and 12.5 percent Helvetica (out of a total of 1,010,000 people surveyed).

The conclusion being that serif fonts are easier to read when it comes to fonts on paper. So, if you're sending out a sales letter or brochure in the mail, you probably want to use serif font (but, as mentioned in the first point, you could use sans-serif font for your headlines).

Here are the print font preferences of three of the copywriting greats: 1) advertising great John Caples liked using Cheltenham Bold for headlines; 2) advertising legend David Ogilvy preferred the Century family, Caslon, Baskerville, and Jenson; and 3) direct marketing guru Gary Halbert used Courier in his sales letters.

Best fonts for online

Now, one might assume that what works on the printed page will be similar to what works on the computer screen. But that's not the case.

In order to make the little serifs appear legible, a high degree of resolution is required. The more pixels, the more details of the font you can display.

Back 10 or so years ago, the best computer screen resolution was 800 x 600 pixels – which wasn’t great for defining the intricacies of a serif font. Screen resolution has increased through the years (resolutions of 1024 x 768 pixels or greater have become the norm). This makes serif fonts more legible but still generally not as easy to read as sans-serif fonts.

Plus, now you have to consider how your site or email will look on handheld devices, such as the BlackBerry and iPhone. The latest model of iPhone 4 has a screen resolution of 960 x 640 pixels. The BlackBerry Bold 978 has a screen resolution of 480 x 360 pixels.

So online, the best font to go with is sans serif.

A 2002 study by the Software Usability and Research Laboratory concluded that:

  1. The most legible fonts were Arial, Courier, and Verdana.
  2. At 10-point size, participants preferred Verdana. Times New Roman was the least preferred.
  3. At 12-point size, Arial was preferred and Times New Roman was the least preferred.
  4. The preferred font overall was Verdana, and Times New Roman was the least preferred.

So here are your marching orders:

For easiest online reading, use Arial 12-point size and larger. If you're going smaller than 12 points, Verdana at 10 points is your best choice. If you're after a formal look, use the font "Georgia." And for older readers, use at least a 14-point font.

Best fonts for email

Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, an e-commerce consultant, did a series of tests in 2001. He also came to the conclusion that the sans-serif fonts are more suited to the computer screen.

Some of the highlights of the test results were that at 12 points, respondents showed a preference for Arial over Verdana – 53% to 43% (with 4% not being able to distinguish between the two).

Two-thirds of respondents found that Verdana at 12 points was too large for body text, but Verdana at 10 points was voted more readable than Arial at 10 points by a 2 to 1 margin.

In conclusion, for the best font readability, use Arial 12 point or Verdana at 10 points and 9 points for body text. For headlines, he suggests using larger bold Verdana.

Deciding on a font

So the next time you submit a sales letter or email to your client, it might be a good idea to ask them what font they intend to use.

If they plan to use a serif font online or in an email, you might want to gently nudge them away from it and recommend a more easily readable sans-serif font.

If they also plan to send your copy to their list via regular mail, it's not a bad idea to suggest they switch over to a serif font at least for the body text.

It could mean the difference between a winning piece of copy and one that only delivers so-so results.

Desktop Marketing

Desktop Marketing for Success, Independence, and Income

Ninety percent of small business owners are lost when it comes to marketing. Find out how you can help them succeed while building a profitable work at home career as a freelance desktop marketer. Learn More »


Click to Rate:
Average: 4.4
Published: October 6, 2011

21 Responses to “The Best Fonts to Use in Print, Online, and Email”

  1. In the email fonts sections, a study from 2001 is cited. Back in the days CRT monitors were the norm. Now that we have LCD monitors, the suggested font type would be different. Any recent studies that someone might have come across? I would like to hear.

    Guest (MasterP)December 5, 2012 at 12:59 am

  2. I'm so glad to have come across your article. Thanks so much for sharing. :)

    Guest (Michelle)January 23, 2013 at 3:46 am

  3. Great article! Thanks!

    Guest (Ace Ventura)February 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm

  4. I'm currently designing a direct mail piece, and this is precisely the information I was looking for and more. Great info, thank you.

    Guest (Glenn )May 11, 2013 at 9:30 am

  5. Most useful advice. I wish you had discussed line spacing too though.

    Guest (John Liebeskind)May 20, 2013 at 5:27 am

  6. Yes I am so pleased to have read this too. Great info that has been in the back of my "I wonder" mind for ages. Now I know. Thx. I will keep this article as a reference.

    Guest (Geoff)July 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

  7. Hi John, Very much enjoyed the article, and the use of referenced data instead of conjecture. I do a bit of human factors work, which leads me to wonder... could the serif vs sans study from the 80's have been influenced by the contemporary life experience of the participants? For example, people used to spend a most of their time spend reading with books, newspapers and magazines printed in serif fonts. more---

    Guest (Louis)August 8, 2013 at 1:24 pm

  8. -continued That was the the most common context in which people read with the intention of comprehending a paragraph. It was practiced regularly in just that way for their entire lives. Sans serif fonts have a history in signage and advertising, probably because they can be read well from a distance, even by those with visual impairments. more again--

    Guest (Louis)August 8, 2013 at 1:26 pm

  9. -finale Perhaps the relationship sans serif style had to unsolicited advertising imagery and/or it's relationship to short, single purpose topics in signage in people's daily lives affected the way readers were able to process it? It's always puzzled me why a typeface that is considered easiest to read would lead to difficulty in comprehension. but that is why cultural context is such and interesting and constantly moving target. Are there recent studies comparing comprehension of serif vs sans?

    Guest (Louis)August 8, 2013 at 1:28 pm

  10. Thank you for telling readers to use 12 point font or larger (that's 16px Arial, larger TNR). It could be my 61 years old eyes, but the shrinking of text size on the web is becoming very irritating. Add to that light colored text, like the blue text "the See a new image below", and I'm just about ready to buy stock in eye glass and eye drop manufacturers. What's with the light gray below?

    Thank God for the new easy zoom in some operating systems. Now we need a "change all regular text to black".

    Guest (Vicky)August 30, 2013 at 3:30 pm

  11. Great information! Love how you ended it with marching orders. :) That's what I was really looking for.

    Guest (Emily)October 5, 2013 at 9:49 am

  12. The "study" that determined that serifs are more legible than sans serifs is simply not taking all the facts into account. Helvetica is a geometric face, and Garamond is a humanist. Times New Roman was designed for a newspaper— they were trying to cram as many letters as they could into a space. Legibility, grace, and proportion were not the highest priorities.

    Also, Helvetica is often tracked too tightly, which I think makes it harder to read. That's the fault of the typesetter, not the typeface.

    I wonder what the results would be if they did the same study with a humanist sans-serif font, such as Whitney.

    Guest (Ella)October 30, 2013 at 4:46 pm

  13. Thank you for the information. Definitely helpful. Im just curious. What font are you using on your website?

    Guest (Sheena)November 17, 2013 at 5:57 am

  14. Great info, thanks. I was suffering with serif for an .htm file despite the fact that I very much prefer Verdana. It was interesting to hear that online readers like Arial 12 pt. Not my fav but definitely better than Times New Roman, etc.

    I am older (okay, I'm old) and would publish in Verdana 14 pt. for myself if that didn't turn off younger readers.

    Your site is wonderfully readable. Even the Captcha is not impossible. I'm going to join, soon. I will, I really will.

    Guest (njoy)February 14, 2014 at 11:59 pm

  15. Given that much is sent electronically these days, what font would be best if the intentions of the recipient are unknown - read it online or print the document and then read it?

    Guest (Emanuel)April 19, 2014 at 2:34 am

  16. Emanuel that would fit within the online category. Sheena the site font is Verdana.

    Thank you all for your comments.

    John WoodApril 21, 2014 at 9:18 am

  17. "The findings indicated that typefaces or formatting made no significant difference in the reading rate or reading comprehension scores of the subjects tested."

    That is the last sentence from the abstract for James Holmes' 1986 study. I'd like to see where you pulled the numbers for this article. I'd like to see where Whitman pulled those numbers too.

    Guest (Keith)May 14, 2014 at 9:10 pm

  18. I read an article a few weeks ago in Science magazine (14 March 2014) where a 14-year-old did a study and found that by using the font Garamond the Government Printing Office could save $234 million a year, because is uses less ink. He started the study when "he noticed that teachers were handing out a lot more homework in a wide variety of fonts," and that his school district could save "nearly $21,000 a year." For my grad classes I use 12pt. Times New Roman, but I might start using Garamond.

    Guest (Armando)May 29, 2014 at 1:04 am

  19. How can I have a family font its sharp same as the copybook teach the little kid to write the letter

    Guest (wendy)July 14, 2014 at 11:48 pm

  20. VERDANA!

    Guest (Hiran)August 5, 2014 at 8:57 pm

  21. Great article. I am just doing a WIX Template website and will use Verdanda

    Thank you so much

    Guest (Merl Larson)September 23, 2014 at 4:06 pm


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)


This name will appear next to your comment.


Your email is required but will not be displayed.


Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters


Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)