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In typography and lettering, a sans-serif, sans serif, gothic, or simply sans letterform is one that does not have extending features called "serifs" at the end of strokes. Sans-serif_sentence_0

Sans-serif fonts tend to have less stroke width variation than serif fonts. Sans-serif_sentence_1

They are often used to convey simplicity and modernity or minimalism. Sans-serif_sentence_2

Sans-serif fonts have become the most prevalent for display of text on computer screens. Sans-serif_sentence_3

On lower-resolution digital displays, fine details like serifs may disappear or appear too large. Sans-serif_sentence_4

The term comes from the French word sans, meaning "without" and "serif" of uncertain origin, possibly from the Dutch word schreef meaning "line" or pen-stroke. Sans-serif_sentence_5

In printed media, they are more commonly used for display use and less for body text. Sans-serif_sentence_6

Before the term "sans-serif" became common in English typography, a number of other terms had been used. Sans-serif_sentence_7

One of these outmoded terms for sans serif was gothic, which is still used in East Asian typography and sometimes seen in font names like News Gothic, Highway Gothic, Franklin Gothic or Trade Gothic. Sans-serif_sentence_8

Sans-serif fonts are sometimes, especially in older documents, used as a device for emphasis, due to their typically blacker type color. Sans-serif_sentence_9

Classification Sans-serif_section_0

Further information: Vox-ATypI classification § Lineal Sans-serif_sentence_10

For the purposes of type classification, sans-serif designs are usually divided into three or four major groups, the fourth being the result of splitting the grotesque category into grotesque and neo-grotesque. Sans-serif_sentence_11

Grotesque Sans-serif_section_1

This group features most of the early (19th century to early 20th) sans-serif designs. Sans-serif_sentence_12

Influenced by Didone serif fonts of the period and sign painting traditions, these were often quite solid, bold designs suitable for headlines and advertisements. Sans-serif_sentence_13

The early sans-serif typefaces often did not feature a lower case or italics, since they were not needed for such uses. Sans-serif_sentence_14

They were sometimes released by width, with a range of widths from extended to normal to condensed, with each style different, meaning to modern eyes they can look quite irregular and eccentric. Sans-serif_sentence_15

Grotesque fonts have limited variation of stroke width (often none perceptible in capitals). Sans-serif_sentence_16

The terminals of curves are usually horizontal, and many have a spurred "G" and an "R" with a curled leg. Sans-serif_sentence_17

Capitals tend to be of relatively uniform width. Sans-serif_sentence_18

Cap height and ascender height are generally the same to create a more regular effect in texts such as titles with many capital letters, and descenders are often short for tighter line spacing. Sans-serif_sentence_19

Most avoid having a true italic in favor of a more restrained oblique or sloped design, although at least sans-serif true italics were offered. Sans-serif_sentence_20

Examples of grotesque fonts include Akzidenz Grotesk, Venus, News Gothic, Franklin Gothic and Monotype Grotesque. Sans-serif_sentence_21

Akzidenz Grotesk Old Face, Knockout, Grotesque No. Sans-serif_sentence_22 9 and Monotype Grotesque are examples of digital fonts that retain more of the eccentricities of some of the early sans-serif types. Sans-serif_sentence_23

Neo-grotesque Sans-serif_section_2

As the name implies, these modern designs consist of a direct evolution of grotesque types. Sans-serif_sentence_24

They are relatively straightforward in appearance with limited width variation. Sans-serif_sentence_25

Unlike earlier grotesque designs, many were issued in extremely large and versatile families from the time of release, making them easier to use for body text. Sans-serif_sentence_26

Similar to grotesque typefaces, neo grotesques often feature capitals of uniform width and a quite 'folded-up' design, in which strokes (for example on the 'c') are curved all the way round to end on a perfect horizontal or vertical. Sans-serif_sentence_27

Helvetica is an example of this. Sans-serif_sentence_28

Others such as Univers are less regular. Sans-serif_sentence_29

Neo-grotesque type began in the 1950s with the emergence of the International Typographic Style, or Swiss style. Sans-serif_sentence_30

Its members looked at the clear lines of Akzidenz Grotesk (1898) as an inspiration to create rational, almost neutral typefaces. Sans-serif_sentence_31

In 1957 the release of Helvetica, Univers, and Folio, the first typefaces categorized as neo-grotesque, had a strong impact internationally: Helvetica came to be the most used typeface for the following decades. Sans-serif_sentence_32

Other, later neo-grotesques include Unica, Imago and Rail Alphabet, and in the digital period Acumin, San Francisco and Roboto. Sans-serif_sentence_33

Geometric Sans-serif_section_3

As their name suggests, Geometric sans-serif typefaces are based on geometric shapes, like near-perfect circles and squares. Sans-serif_sentence_34

Common features are a nearly-exactly circular capital "O", uppercase “N” vertices are sharp and pointed and a "single-story" lowercase letter "a". Sans-serif_sentence_35

The 'M' is often splayed and the capitals of varying width, following the classical model. Sans-serif_sentence_36

The geometric sans originated in Germany in the 1920s. Sans-serif_sentence_37

Two early efforts in designing geometric types were made by Herbert Bayer and Jakob Erbar, who worked respectively on Universal Typeface (unreleased at the time but revived digitally as Architype Bayer) and Erbar (circa 1925). Sans-serif_sentence_38

In 1927 Futura, by Paul Renner, was released to great acclaim and popularity. Sans-serif_sentence_39

Geometric sans-serif fonts were popular from the 1920s and 1930s due to their clean, modern design, and many new geometric designs and revivals have been created since. Sans-serif_sentence_40

Notable geometric types of the period include Kabel, Semplicità, Bernhard Gothic, Nobel and Metro; more recent designs in the style include ITC Avant Garde, Brandon Grotesque, Gotham, Avenir, Product Sans and Century Gothic. Sans-serif_sentence_41

Many geometric sans-serif alphabets of the period, such as those created by the Bauhaus art school (1919-1933) and modernist poster artists, were hand-lettered and not cut into metal type at the time. Sans-serif_sentence_42

A separate inspiration for many types described "geometric" in design has been the simplified shapes of letters engraved or stenciled on metal and plastic in industrial use, which often follow a simplified structure and are sometimes known as "rectilinear" for their use of straight vertical and horizontal lines. Sans-serif_sentence_43

Designs which have been called geometric in principles but not descended from the Futura/Erbar/Kabel tradition include Bank Gothic, DIN 1451, Eurostile and Handel Gothic, along with many of the fonts designed by Ray Larabie. Sans-serif_sentence_44

Humanist Sans-serif_section_4

Humanist sans-serif typefaces take inspiration from traditional letterforms, such as Roman square capitals, traditional serif fonts and calligraphy. Sans-serif_sentence_45

Many have true italics rather than an oblique, ligatures and even swashes in italic. Sans-serif_sentence_46

One of the earliest humanist designs was Edward Johnston's Johnston typeface from 1916, and, a decade later, Gill Sans (Eric Gill, 1928). Sans-serif_sentence_47

Edward Johnston, a calligrapher by profession, was inspired by classic letter forms, especially the capital letters on the Column of Trajan. Sans-serif_sentence_48

Humanist designs vary more than gothic or geometric designs. Sans-serif_sentence_49

Some humanist designs have stroke modulation (strokes that clearly vary in width along their line) or alternating thick and thin strokes. Sans-serif_sentence_50

These include most popularly Hermann Zapf's Optima (1958), a typeface expressly designed to be suitable for both display and body text. Sans-serif_sentence_51

Some humanist designs may be more geometric, as in Gill Sans and Johnston (especially their capitals), which like Roman capitals are often based on perfect squares, half-squares and circles, with considerable variation in width. Sans-serif_sentence_52

These somewhat architectural designs may feel too stiff for body text. Sans-serif_sentence_53

Others such as Syntax, Goudy Sans and Sassoon Sans more resemble handwriting, serif fonts or calligraphy. Sans-serif_sentence_54

Frutiger, from 1976, has been particularly influential in the development of the modern humanist sans genre, especially designs intended to be particularly legible above all other design considerations. Sans-serif_sentence_55

The category expanded greatly during the 1980s and 1990s, partly as a reaction against the overwhelming popularity of Helvetica and Univers and also due to the need for legible fonts on low-resolution computer displays. Sans-serif_sentence_56

Designs from this period intended for print use include FF Meta, Myriad, Thesis, Charlotte Sans, Bliss, Skia and Scala Sans, while designs created for computer use include Microsoft's Tahoma, Trebuchet, Verdana, Calibri and Corbel, as well as Lucida Grande, Fira Sans and Droid Sans. Sans-serif_sentence_57

Humanist sans-serif designs can (if appropriately proportioned and spaced) be particularly suitable for use on screen or at distance, since their designs can be given wide apertures or separation between strokes, which is not a conventional feature on grotesque and neo-grotesque designs. Sans-serif_sentence_58

Other or mixed Sans-serif_section_5

Due to the diversity of sans-serif typefaces, many do not fit neatly into the above categories. Sans-serif_sentence_59

For example, Neuzeit S has both neo-grotesque and geometric influences, as does Hermann Zapf's URW Grotesk. Sans-serif_sentence_60

Whitney blends humanist and grotesque influences, while Klavika is a geometric design not based on the circle. Sans-serif_sentence_61

Sans-serif fonts intended for signage, such as Transport and Highway Gothic used on road signs, may have unusual features to enhance legibility and differentiate characters, such as a lower-case "L" with a curl or "i" with serif under the dot. Sans-serif_sentence_62

Modulated sans-serifs Sans-serif_section_6

A particular subgenre of sans-serifs is those such as Rothbury, Britannic, Radiant, and National Trust with obvious variation in stroke width. Sans-serif_sentence_63

These have been called 'modulated' or 'stressed' sans-serifs. Sans-serif_sentence_64

They are nowadays often placed within the humanist genre, although they predate Johnston which started the modern humanist genre. Sans-serif_sentence_65

These may take inspiration from sources outside printing such as brush lettering or calligraphy. Sans-serif_sentence_66

History Sans-serif_section_7

Letters without serifs have been common in writing across history, for example in casual, non-monumental epigraphy of the classical period. Sans-serif_sentence_67

However, Roman square capitals, the inspiration for much Latin-alphabet lettering throughout history, had prominent serifs. Sans-serif_sentence_68

While simple sans-serif letters have always been common in "uncultured" writing and sometimes even in epigraphy, such as basic handwriting, most artistically created letters in the Latin alphabet, both sculpted and printed, since the Middle Ages have been inspired by fine calligraphy, blackletter writing and Roman square capitals. Sans-serif_sentence_69

As a result, printing done in the Latin alphabet for the first three hundred and fifty years of printing was "serif" in style, whether in blackletter, roman type, italic or occasionally script. Sans-serif_sentence_70

The earliest printing typefaces which omitted serifs were not intended to render contemporary texts, but to represent inscriptions in Ancient Greek and Etruscan. Sans-serif_sentence_71

Thus, Thomas Dempster's De Etruria regali libri VII (1723), used special types intended for the representation of Etruscan epigraphy, and in c. 1745, the Caslon foundry made Etruscan types for pamphlets written by Etruscan scholar John Swinton. Sans-serif_sentence_72

Another niche used of a printed sans-serif letterform from in 1786 onwards was a rounded sans-serif script font developed by Valentin Haüy for the use of the blind to read with their fingers. Sans-serif_sentence_73

Developing popularity Sans-serif_section_8

Towards the end of the eighteenth century neoclassicism led to architects increasingly incorporating ancient Greek and Roman designs in contemporary structures. Sans-serif_sentence_74

Historian James Mosley, the leading expert on early revival of sans-serif letters, has found that architect John Soane commonly used sans-serif letters on his drawings and architectural designs. Sans-serif_sentence_75

Soane's inspiration was apparently the inscriptions dedicating the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy, with minimal serifs. Sans-serif_sentence_76

These were then copied by other artists, and in London sans-serif capitals became popular for advertising, apparently because of the "astonishing" effect the unusual style had on the public. Sans-serif_sentence_77

The lettering style apparently became referred to as "old Roman" or "Egyptian" characters, referencing the classical past and a contemporary interest in Ancient Egypt and its blocky, geometric architecture. Sans-serif_sentence_78

Mosley writes that "in 1805 Egyptian letters were happening in the streets of London, being plastered over shops and on walls by signwriters, and they were astonishing the public, who had never seen letters like them and were not sure they wanted to." Sans-serif_sentence_79

A depiction of the style (as an engraving, rather than printed from type) was shown in the European Magazine of 1805, described as "old Roman" characters. Sans-serif_sentence_80

However, the style did not become used in printing for some more years. Sans-serif_sentence_81

(Early sans-serif signage was not printed from type but hand-painted or carved, since at the time it was not possible to print in large sizes. Sans-serif_sentence_82

This makes tracing the descent of sans-serif styles hard, since a trend can arrive in the dated, printed record from a signpainting tradition which has left less of a record or at least no dates.) Sans-serif_sentence_83

The inappropriateness of the name was not lost on the poet Robert Southey, in his satirical Letters from England written in the character of a Spanish aristocrat. Sans-serif_sentence_84

It commented: "The very shopboards must be... painted in Egyptian letters, which, as the Egyptians had no letters, you will doubtless conceive must be curious. Sans-serif_sentence_85

They are simply the common characters, deprived of all beauty and all proportion by having all the strokes of equal thickness, so that those which should be thin look as if they had the elephantiasis." Sans-serif_sentence_86

Similarly, the painter Joseph Farington wrote in his diary on September 13, 1805 of seeing the memorial to Isaac Hawkins Browne in the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, engraved "in what is called Egyptian Characters which to my eye had a disagreeable effect." Sans-serif_sentence_87

Around 1816, the Ordnance Survey began to use 'Egyptian' lettering, monoline sans-serif capitals, to mark ancient Roman sites. Sans-serif_sentence_88

This lettering was printed from copper plate engraving. Sans-serif_sentence_89

Entry into printing Sans-serif_section_9

Around 1816, William Caslon IV produced the first sans-serif printing type in England for the Latin alphabet, a capitals-only face under the title 'Two Lines English Egyptian', where 'Two Lines English' referred to the font's body size, which equals to about 28 points. Sans-serif_sentence_90

Although it is known from its appearances in the firm's specimen books, no uses of it from the period have been found; Mosley speculates that it may have been commissioned by a specific client. Sans-serif_sentence_91

A second hiatus in interest in sans-serif appears to have lasted for about twelve years, when the Vincent Figgins foundry of London issued a new sans-serif in 1828. Sans-serif_sentence_92

Thereafter sans-serif capitals rapidly began to be issued from London typefounders. Sans-serif_sentence_93

Much imitated was the Thorowgood "grotesque" face of the early 1830s. Sans-serif_sentence_94

This was arrestingly bold and highly condensed, quite unlike the classical proportions of Caslon's design, but very suitable for poster typography and similar in aesthetic effect to the slab serif and the (generally wider) "fat faces" of the period. Sans-serif_sentence_95

It also added a lower-case. Sans-serif_sentence_96

Similar condensed sans-serif typefaces, often display capitals, became very successful. Sans-serif_sentence_97

Sans-serif printing types began to appear thereafter in France and Germany. Sans-serif_sentence_98

A few theories about early sans-serifs now known to be incorrect may be mentioned here. Sans-serif_sentence_99

One is that sans-serifs are based on either "fat face typefaces" or slab-serifs with the serifs removed. Sans-serif_sentence_100

It is now known that the inspiration was more classical antiquity, and sans-serifs appeared before the first dated appearance of slab-serif letterforms in 1810. Sans-serif_sentence_101

The Schelter & Giesecke foundry also claimed during the 1920s to have been offering a sans-serif with lower-case by 1825. Sans-serif_sentence_102

Wolfgang Homola dated it in 2004 to 1882 based on a study of Schelter & Giesecke specimens; Mosley describes this as "thoroughly discredited"; even in 1986 Walter Tracy described the claimed dates as "on stylistic grounds...about forty years too early". Sans-serif_sentence_103

Sans-serif lettering and fonts were popular due to their clarity and legibility at distance in advertising and display use, when printed very large or small. Sans-serif_sentence_104

Because sans-serif type was often used for headings and commercial printing, many early sans-serif designs did not feature lower-case letters. Sans-serif_sentence_105

Simple sans-serif capitals, without use of lower-case, became very common in uses such as tombstones of the Victorian period in Britain. Sans-serif_sentence_106

The term "grotesque" became commonly used to describe sans-serifs. Sans-serif_sentence_107

The term "grotesque" comes from the Italian word for cave, and was often used to describe Roman decorative styles found by excavation, but had long become applied in the modern sense for objects that appeared "malformed or monstrous." Sans-serif_sentence_108

The first use of sans serif as a running text has been proposed to be the short booklet Feste des Lebens und der Kunst: eine Betrachtung des Theaters als höchsten Kultursymbols (Celebration of Life and Art: A Consideration of the Theater as the Highest Symbol of a Culture), by Peter Behrens, in 1900. Sans-serif_sentence_109

Twentieth-century sans-serifs Sans-serif_section_10

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sans-serif types were viewed with suspicion by many printers, especially those of fine book printing, as being fit only for advertisements (if that), and to this day most books remain printed in serif fonts as body text. Sans-serif_sentence_110

This impression would not have been helped by the standard of common sans-serif types of the period, many of which now seem somewhat lumpy and eccentrically-shaped. Sans-serif_sentence_111

In 1922, master printer Daniel Berkeley Updike described sans-serif fonts as having "no place in any artistically respectable composing-room." Sans-serif_sentence_112

By 1937 he stated that he saw no need to change this opinion in general, though he felt that Gill Sans and Futura were the best choices if sans-serifs had to be used. Sans-serif_sentence_113

Through the early twentieth century, an increase in popularity of sans-serif fonts took place as more artistic sans-serif designs were released. Sans-serif_sentence_114

While he disliked sans-serif fonts in general, the American printer J.L. Sans-serif_sentence_115

Frazier wrote of Copperplate Gothic in 1925 that "a certain dignity of effect accompanies...due to the absence of anything in the way of frills," making it a popular choice for the stationery of professionals such as lawyers and doctors. Sans-serif_sentence_116

As Updike's comments suggest, the new, more constructed humanist and geometric sans-serif designs were viewed as increasingly respectable, and were shrewdly marketed in Europe and America as embodying classic proportions (with influences of Roman capitals) while presenting a spare, modern image. Sans-serif_sentence_117

Futura in particular was extensively marketed by Bauer and its American distribution arm by brochure as capturing the spirit of modernity, using the German slogan "die Schrift unserer Zeit" ("the typeface of our time") and in English "the typeface of today and tomorrow"; many typefaces were released under its influence as direct clones, or at least offered with alternate characters allowing them to imitate it if desired. Sans-serif_sentence_118

Grotesque sans-serif revival and the International Typographic Style Sans-serif_section_11

In the post-war period, an increase of interest took place in "grotesque" sans-serifs. Sans-serif_sentence_119

Writing in The Typography of Press Advertisement (1956), printer Kenneth Day commented that Stephenson Blake's eccentric Grotesque series had returned to popularity for having "a personality sometimes lacking in the condensed forms of the contemporary sans cuttings of the last thirty years." Sans-serif_sentence_120

Leading type designer Adrian Frutiger wrote in 1961 on designing a new face, Univers, on the nineteenth-century model: "Some of these old sans serifs have had a real renaissance within the last twenty years, once the reaction of the 'New Objectivity' had been overcome. Sans-serif_sentence_121

A purely geometrical form of type is unsustainable." Sans-serif_sentence_122

Of this period in Britain, Mosley has commented that in 1960 "orders unexpectedly revived" for Monotype's eccentric Monotype Grotesque design: "[it] represents, even more evocatively than Univers, the fresh revolutionary breeze that began to blow through typography in the early sixties" and "its rather clumsy design seems to have been one of the chief attractions to iconoclastic designers tired of the...prettiness of Gill Sans". Sans-serif_sentence_123

By the 1960s, neo-grotesque fonts such as Univers and Helvetica had become popular through reviving the nineteenth-century grotesques while offering a more unified range of styles than on previous designs, allowing a wider range of text to be set artistically through setting headings and body text in a single family. Sans-serif_sentence_124

The style of design using asymmetric layouts, Helvetica and a grid layout extensively has been called the Swiss or International Typographic Style. Sans-serif_sentence_125

Other names Sans-serif_section_12

Early Sans-serif_section_13


  • Egyptian: the name of Caslon's first general-purpose sans-serif printing type; also documented as being used by Joseph Farington to describe seeing the sans serif inscription on John Flaxman's memorial to Isaac Hawkins Brown in 1805, though today the term is commonly used to refer to slab serif, not sans serif.Sans-serif_item_0_0
  • Antique: particularly popular in France; some families such as Antique Olive, still carry the name.Sans-serif_item_0_1
  • Grotesque: popularised by William Thorowgood of Fann Street Foundry from around 1830. The name came from the Italian word 'grottesco', meaning 'belonging to the cave'. In Germany, the name became Grotesk.Sans-serif_item_0_2
  • DoricSans-serif_item_0_3
  • Gothic: popular with American type founders. Perhaps the first use of the term was due to the Boston Type and Stereotype Foundry, which in 1837 published a set of sans-serif typefaces under that name. It is believed that those were the first sans serif designs to be introduced in America. The term probably derived from the architectural definition, which is neither Greek nor Roman, and from the extended adjective term of "Germany", which was the place where sans-serif typefaces became popular in the 19th to 20th centuries. Early adopters for the term includes Miller & Richard (1863), J. & R. M. Wood (1865), Lothian, Conner, Bruce McKellar. Although the usage is now rare in the English-speaking world, the term is commonly used in Japan and South Korea; in China they are known by the term heiti (Chinese: 黑體), literally meaning "black type", which is probably derived from the mistranslation of Gothic as blackletter typeface, even though actual blackletter fonts have serifs.Sans-serif_item_0_4

Recents Sans-serif_section_14


  • Lineale, or linear: The term was defined by Maximilien Vox in the VOX-ATypI classification to describe sans-serif types. Later, in British Standards Classification of Typefaces (BS 2961:1967), lineale replaced sans-serif as classification name.Sans-serif_item_1_5
  • Simplices: In Jean Alessandrini's désignations préliminaries (preliminary designations), simplices (plain typefaces) is used to describe sans-serif on the basis that the name 'lineal' refers to lines, whereas, in reality, all typefaces are made of lines, including those that are not lineals.Sans-serif_item_1_6
  • Swiss: It is used as a synonym to sans-serif, as opposed to roman (serif). The OpenDocument format (ISO/IEC 26300:2006) and Rich Text Format can use it to specify the sans-serif generic font family name for a font used in a document. Presumably refers to the popularity of sans-serif grotesque and neo-grotesque types in Switzerland.Sans-serif_item_1_7
  • Industrial: used to refer to grotesque and neo-grotesque sans-serifs, that unlike humanist, geometric and decorative designs are not based on "artistic" principles.Sans-serif_item_1_8

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