Computer Fonts

=== by Bob Sutherland ===


When I was a student learning to type on a manual typewriter there was only one font available. All of the typewriters in the room had the same monospace font. At that time I did not have to know what a font was. All my Typing teacher required me to know was how many characters that font could type across one line of a standard letter size page between one inch margins. Then I had to learn how many lines of typing that I could fit going down the page, again between one inch margins at the top and bottom.

I still remember the measurements. Our classroom manual typewriters could type 10 characters per inch resulting in 65 characters per line across the page. Going down a page our typewriters could type 6 lines per inch resulting in a maximum of 54 lines per page.

It was difficult to line up the margin for the top of the page at exactly one inch so sometimes it was slightly bigger. As our typing approached the bottom of the page the typewriter did not have as good a grip on the paper resulting in there sometimes being a slanted line of typing as the paper slipped out of place. Our Typing teacher's solution was to tell us never to attempt to type more than 50 lines per page.

Today on a modern computer we have a choice of many different fonts that we can use when typing. For each font we can choose various font sizes and font styles. If a document we are typing does not quite fit on a page we just change the font and font size until we find a combination that does fit.

Unfortunately not all computers have the same selection of fonts available which can make it difficult to share files between computers.

As a webmaster I have the option of choosing which fonts, font sizes and font styles I would like my web pages to be displayed with on your computer. Because I have no way of knowing exactly which fonts are available on your computer I have to choose a short list of similar looking fonts. The web browser program on your computer will then go through my short list of fonts and the first font it finds that is available on your computer will be the one that is used to display my web page.

I can choose to use a different font to display each of the various sections of my web page but then as a webmaster I have to provide your web browser with a list of similar looking fonts for each section.

Font Designer Terminology

The following terminology is used by the people who create and design fonts.


Each of the characters of a font is called a glyph. A glyph may be a letter, number, punctuation mark, symbol from subjects such as mathematics, or a character from a foreign language.


All of the width and height measurements of the glyphs of a font are called the metrics. Metrics includes measuring how tall, wide, short and narrow the different parts of the letters are. Metrics also includes measuring the horizontal space between glyphs, the vertical space between lines of text, how far some letters hang down below the line, and the overall size of each glyph.

Traditional Font Categories

Fonts are typically classified and arranged into groups based on the following characteristics. The categories intentionally overlap so most fonts will be classified as either a proportional or a monospace font and then they will be classified as either a serif or sans serif font. Some comical or weirdly shaped fonts will not qualify as fitting into any of the following categories.

Proportional Fonts

Some letters of the alphabet are naturally wider than others. For example, the small letters "m" or "w" are wide, the small letters "i" or "j" are narrow, while letters such as "a" or "s" are a medium width. A proportional font gives each letter, number or symbol just the amount of space it needs on a line and no more. Therefore if you type a line repeating the letter "w" twenty times it will be a much longer line than one with the letter "i" repeated twenty times. Proportional fonts are considered to be pleasing to the eye. Most of the modern fonts on computers are proportional fonts.

Monospace Fonts

The opposite of proportional fonts is monospace fonts. Most fonts can generally be classified as being either proportional or monospace. A monospace font resembles the typing of a manual typewriter. Each letter, number, symbol and even the spacebar is given the same amount of space on the line with wide letters looking a bit squished and narrow letters having lots of space around them. A line with the letter "w" repeated twenty times will be exactly the same length as a line with the letter "i" or any other letter repeated twenty times.

There are two advantages of using monospace fonts. First all of the letters and numbers you type on a page line up perfectly in columns all across the page whereas with a proportional font you need to use the tab key when trying to create columns. The second advantage is that it is much easier to spot and correct spelling and typing errors when proofreading work displayed in a monospace font than when viewing it in a proportional font.

Serif Fonts

If the letters you are typing have little feet on them then you are using a serif font. Serif means "little feet". There may be little caps on the top of the letters and there will be little feet on the bottom of some of the letters. These little caps and feet are designed to create the visual perception for your eyes of the lines in the notebooks you used in school when printing and cursive writing.

When reading a document printed on paper serif fonts have traditionally been considered easier to read than sans serif fonts.

Sometimes serif fonts can have variable widths for the lines making up the glyphs. For example, the lines going down the sides may be thicker than the lines going across the top and bottom of the letter "O".

Sans-serif Fonts

If there are no little caps or feet on the letters then it is a sans-serif font. Sans means "without" so sans-serif means "without little feet".

All of the lines creating the glyphs of a sans-serif font tend to be a uniform width.

Sans-serif fonts are generally considered easier to read than serif fonts on a computer screen. The use of sans-serif fonts for printed documents is increasing.

Some sans-serif fonts may include the term "gothic" in their font name.

Most fonts can be classified as being either serif or sans-serif fonts.

Cursive Fonts

Fonts that resemble a person's cursive handwriting are grouped together and called cursive fonts. Generally the letters are slanted like handwriting and the font name may include the word "script".

Fonts that were designed to mimic a person's printing may be classified by some people as being cursive fonts. Considering some extreme cases this may include fonts that resemble printing in chalk on a blackboard, printing with a marker on a poster, or a child's printed work on paper with a crayon.

Cursive fonts are appropriate for wedding invitations, birthday cards, posters and book covers. Be careful about using a cursive font for something like a school essay as the teacher marking your work may not consider it appropriate for the situation.

Internet Font Families

The traditional overlapping font categories listed above have been in general use for a few decades in computer textbooks, keyboarding classrooms, word processing documentation and other computer applications. These traditional font categories were modified in the late 1990's for the newly created Internet to form five font families. Every font can be classified as fitting in just one of the following Internet font families.


The new monospace category includes all of the traditional monospace fonts. Both serif monospace fonts and sans-serif monospace fonts are now classified as monospace fonts when used on the Internet.


The new serif category includes all of the fonts that are traditionally proportional serif fonts.


The new sans-serif category includes all of the fonts that are traditionally proportional sans-serif fonts.


The new cursive category includes all of the fonts that resemble a person's printing or handwriting.

Fantasy Fonts

For creating web pages on the Internet a category of fonts has been created called fantasy fonts. Fantasy fonts can simply be defined as all of the weird fonts that do not fit in the other four categories.

Fantasy fonts should not be used to type a school assignment, business letter, or anything long because most of the fantasy fonts are too difficult to read. You might use a fantasy font for a short title or a few words on a poster just to capture peoples' attention.

Internet Font Family Examples

It is not easy to display an example of each of the Internet font families that will work on all computers and mobile devices. Hopefully the following monospace, serif and san-serif font examples will display correctly. Some computer devices do not even have a cursive or fantasy font among their set of factory installed fonts. Look carefully to see if the following font examples correctly match the above definitions. Whenever your computer device does not have any of the fonts requested by a webmaster then the text will still be displayed using a replacement font selected by your web browser software.

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