Serif vs. Sans: What’s Right for Your Presentation?

When designing presentations, which font should you use?  If you’re overwhelmed by the number of options these days, you are not alone. Typography, however, can be just as powerful and important as the images you use. It’s integral to your design, and can help amplify your message. While there are many techniques for selecting the best font, the easiest way to tackle the topic of typography is to first ask yourself: Sans or Serif?

Let’s first define the difference between the two styles.

Serif

The small, projecting elements extending from letters are called “serifs.” The word Roman is commonly associated with Serif styles. Where do you typically see this style? Books, magazines, or anything related to print since they can be read easily via those formats.

Popular Font Options: Times New Roman, Georgia, and Baskerville

Sans

The sans-serif style is any typeface that lacks the projecting features radiating from the edges. Hence the reason for the word “sans,” meaning “without.” These styles are generally cleaner in look and style, and dominate most web-based experiences. “Gothic” is often used with Sans styles.

Popular Font Options: Arial, Verdana, Helvetica, and Lucida Grande

Can I Mix and Match?

So the big question now is whether one can mix and match these typefaces when building a presentation. Well, the answer is yes. For instance, you can use a Sans header with supporting Serif text. Take a look at the following title slide. It combines both typefaces and looks absolutely fine.

Moving Forward

So, what’s best for you and your next presentation? It depends on the situation. Here’s a quick checklist:

  • Emailing Your Deck – Sans
  • Sharing Your Presentation Online – Sans
  • Creating Hard Copies/Leave Behind Pieces – Serif
  • Presenting Live in Person – Sans
  • Using Small Fonts – Sans
  • Using Large Fonts – Serif

In other words, if you are going to pursue offline efforts with your deck, then go the Serif route. If you are doing everything online, go the Sans route. If you are unsure, Sans is presently the most modern and popular style of typeface.

READ MORE: 5 Typography Tips for Every Presenter

About the Author

Scott Schwertly is the author of How to Be a Presentation God and CEO of Ethos3, a Nashville, TN-based presentation boutique providing professional presentation design and training for national and international clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to branded individuals like Guy Kawasaki. If Scott is not working with his team building presentations, you will find him in the pool, on the bike, or on a long run. Scott lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three dogs. He has a B.A. and M.B.A. from Harding University. Find Scott on Google+.

  • Tim Dodge

    Very interesting advice. One question: Which font type is best for ebooks? They are delivered on computer devices but are not generally consumed online. Since they are displayed on computer screens, should the creator lean toward sans fonts?

  • http://dimaursu.net dima

    For books, or long articles you usually should go with serif fonts, as those tiny bits, the serifs, make a sort of “linkage” between letters in a word, and gives a better flow when reading. You can try Prociono or Fanwood Text, from The League of Movable Type, both are great serif fonts.

    Or paste a huge chunk of your text in Google fonts, and measure the reading time for different fonts. Make sure to have some rest between readings :)