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Sans Serif vs Serif

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#1
dsl

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A colleague and I are having a minor dispute regarding Arial vs Times New Roman :) . Ignoring the fact that we probably shouldn't be using either type face, I produced a series of maps (early draft) that will be used for print publication, and on the initial revision one of the changes listed was "avoid the use of times new roman and use arial instead" (paraphrasing). I asked what his reasoning was and he said sans serif fonts "have less tendency to break up from a visual point of view which makes them a bit clearer." I didn't buy it, and basically my argument is that it doesn't really matter whether the font is serif or sans serif, but that we are consistent. Also, that times new roman works for our maps because it is more compact and gives me a little more space to arrange labels on what will turn out to be relatively small (roughly 4x3 inches).

Anyway, not really looking for the forum to solve my dispute, just mostly curious what the true professionals opinion on using serif and sans serif for map design. Is one really preferable to the other? I'm always wanting to improve my skills, and I do think will be an interesting debate. :lol:

Thanks!

David

#2
Hans van der Maarel

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It depends on your text size. Once you go really small (less than 6 points) a sans-serif tends to be more legible than a serif. Also, many sans-serif fonts look better in a condensed variant.

Attached File  Screen_shot_2010_01_29_at_12.54.47.png   19.19KB   138 downloads

Take for example this comparison (Arial, Times New Roman, Frutiger 55 and 57 and Minion Pro compared at 12 and 6 pt, zoomed in 200% in Illustrator). As you can see, Times is indeed narrower than Arial, so that would make it more useful on complex maps where space is an issue. However... on 6 pts, 200% zoomed in @ normal screen reading distance I can't really make out the "mun" in Times, whereas I can in all of the other fonts, even Minion Pro which is even narrower than Times and still a serif font.

You'll also notice that the sans-serif fonts remain legible for longer as their size decreases (take a few steps away from your screen to see this for yourself).

Now, with all this in mind, there's still room for serif fonts on maps. Personally, I tend to prefer serif fonts for natural features and sans-serif for manmade features.
Hans van der Maarel - Cartotalk Editor
Red Geographics
Email: hans@redgeographics.com / Twitter: @redgeographics

#3
DaveB

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If it's a comparison between Times and Arial that's one thing. If you include other fonts like Hans shows that's another thing. :)
I also tend to prefer san serif for manmade features and serif for natural ones.

Also, have you looked at typebrewer?
Dave Barnes
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#4
razornole

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I also use san serif for man made objects, and a serif for natural features. However, if I am creating a thematic map I will only use font family. If I want the feel of the map to be classical, elegent, etc... then I will use a serif font. If I want a modern, contemporary feel then I use san serif.

kru
"Ah, to see the world with the eyes of the gods is geography--to know cities and tribes, mountains and rivers, earth and sea, this is our gift."
Strabo 22AD

#5
Ed Gage

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Thanks for the typebrewer link. I'm a a huge fan of colorbrewer, but didn't know something similar existed for typography. Very cool.

#6
Charles Syrett

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I agree with the sage advice already given, and would add a few things:

1. Serif fonts are usually used for body text (such as books) in print material. The traditional reason given is that serifs help with character recognition when the brain is being bombarded with a dense mass of text.

2. For reasons that Hans stated, size tends to override other factors. A street map is also text-dense, but typically the street name size is very small. Have you ever seen a street map with the names in serif? Me neither.

3. Serifs help to lead the eye from one character to another when text is letterspaced and/or placed on a curve. This is one of the main reasons why serif faces have traditionally been used for natural features, such as rivers and lakes.

4. Be wary of Arial. Many (most?) in the graphics industry regard Arial as a cheap imitation of Helvetica, and clients in that field may question your use of it.

5. There are no rules! B)

Charles Syrett
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http://www.mapgraphics.com

#7
matt

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I like Arial or Helvetica for their simplicity.

We've had the most luck with "hybrid" fonts that are streamlined and 'clean' like Arial, but have slight accenting to the typeface that adds interest. Best part is that they're legible at 5-6 pt and interesting at larger font sizes 14pt+.

Examples include: Callibri (top example) and Gill Sans MT (bottom example)

[Screenshot attached]

Best,

Matt
Pacific Geodata

Attached Files



#8
Dennis McClendon

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Another benefit to readability is letterspacing. This is why highway signs have so much, because at a distance of 500 m the lettering is probably the equivalent to 4 pt type on a page.

But I don't really understand what is meant by "have less tendency to break up from a visual point of view which makes them a bit clearer." One of the reasons usually given for preferring serif faces in text settings is that the serifs supposedly lead the eye from one character to the next, the exact opposite of your cow-orker's argument.
Dennis McClendon, Chicago CartoGraphics
chicagocarto.com

#9
dsl

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Thanks for all the responses! It seems that choice depends on a dash of experience and a pinch of personal preference, like a lot of things I suppose.

Cheers,
David

#10
natcase

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A few further questions:

How close are the labels going to be to one another? The more breathing room, the more flexibility you have.

How much will labels vary and on what basis? You don't want a stew of 20 different fonts, but if you have to use 20 distinct label types, you'll want to choose a family that shows enough difference between italic and Roman, and amongst different weights.

Do you need to print text using a printing technology (B&W laser or offset press) that uses dot screens? This requires a lot of planning ahead to make it work. See my paper in Cartographic Perspectives, Number 47, Winter 2004 for more thoughts on the subject: the entire issue is here as a PDF).

Don't give up on the "super basic" fonts like Arial, but consider the range of usable variants in Helvetica (Personally I usually use Helvetica Neue), Univers, and Frutiger. Lately I've been gravitating to Griffith Gothic also. And our "home base" at Hedberg Maps, Avenir, which I really think is hard to beat for small-size legibility.

And consider variants among serif fonts. Times is legible, especially for text, but look at options with higher lower-case heights. I like Sabon becuase its italic is very legible, and I've often gone to Minion because it complements "basic" serif fonts so well. Going fancier I've used Berkeley and Goudy Old Style just because they are such gorgeous fonts, and Kennerley because it evokes a certain kind of pre-World-War-II nostalgia for me.

Hope this helps.

Nat Case
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Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
maphead.blogspot.com



#11
Agnar Renolen

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Have a look at this page. It's the best dicussion I have seen regarding typefaces for cartography.

#12
natcase

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Have a look at this page. It's the best dicussion I have seen regarding typefaces for cartography.


What a great font! Thanks Agnar!

I will note, however, that it is not an especially condensed font, and so will be more of a space hog than some alternatives like Griffith Gothic or Helvetica Condensed or Univers Condensed or Myriad Condensed. I also note that there are only 2 weights; also limiting in its flexibility. More! More!

Nat Case
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maphead.blogspot.com



#13
Hans van der Maarel

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I will note, however, that it is not an especially condensed font, and so will be more of a space hog than some alternatives like Griffith Gothic or Helvetica Condensed or Univers Condensed or Myriad Condensed. I also note that there are only 2 weights; also limiting in its flexibility. More! More!


My point exactly. I bought it and used it on a few occasions, but since it lacks a condensed version I keep going back to Frutiger, Helvetica or Univers when things get busy and I need to conserve space.
Hans van der Maarel - Cartotalk Editor
Red Geographics
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#14
Agnar Renolen

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Have a look at this page. It's the best dicussion I have seen regarding typefaces for cartography.


What a great font! Thanks Agnar!

I will note, however, that it is not an especially condensed font, and so will be more of a space hog than some alternatives like Griffith Gothic or Helvetica Condensed or Univers Condensed or Myriad Condensed. I also note that there are only 2 weights; also limiting in its flexibility. More! More!


I agree on these points concerning the Cisalpin font, but I find the contents of the article very useful still.

Personally, I'm not too happy about Universe and Helvetica, because the letters don't have open counters, which makes them less readable in small sizes. Frutiger and Myriad Pro is much better in that respect. For Frutiger, I miss a semibold face. I also prefer a two-story "a" in italics such as in Frutiger, but the italics of Myriad and Cisalpin has a single-story "a". The single story "a" is too similar to "o".

Helvetica is also problematic as the Type A font is slightly different from the TrueType font shipped with OSX (see this link). Helvetica Neue can be the solution here if you want a predictable result.

I sometimes have to use Myriad Pro simply because I need the Sami letters.
I also recommend trying out Optima which works great on maps. It also have a two-story "g" which adds distinction to the map.




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