Fonts for Web Sites: How Many, What Type and How Big?

Even though constant evolution and growth is inherent in Web design, there are still a few basic things that many sites require. Text is necessary, at least in part, for the majority of Web sites. Whether you’re designing a personal homepage or a massive corporations Web site, you’ll probably put at least a small amount of text somewhere on those pages.

Reading text should be easy and comfortable for visitors. Otherwise they’ll find some other site to visit and forget all about yours. But how do you create a user-friendly site? How many different fonts should you use? What types are preferable? And just how big should the text be, anyway? Here’s what you should consider when designing your pages.

Too many different font faces will inevitably create a clash. Uniform text that’s broken into short paragraphs is easier to follow than several strung-together, erratic font faces thrown into the same paragraph.

You can use two or three different font faces. Many Webmasters pick one font type to use for headlines, headers and menus. Then they use a different font for the body text: the parts that visitors spend the most time reading.

Font types are also important to consider. Sans serif fonts such as Arial and Helvetica are easier to read on computer screens. Stick with this type of font for body text: your users will appreciate the easier read and lessened eyestrain.

You might notice that printed publications books, magazines and newspapers in particular use serif fonts such as Times New Roman or Courier New for their layouts. Resist the temptation to do likewise: the printed page and the computer screen aren’t the same for reading. The coarser resolution of the computer screen demands better legibility, which sans-serif fonts offer just about every time.

Font size is also a major factor. If your text is too small, people will strain to read and quickly ditch your site. You can probably think of a few sites that you left because the Webmaster used an 8-point font, thereby forcing you to move within three inches of your screen.

But if your fonts are too large, there’s more scrolling required, which is also a nuisance for many of your site’s visitors. Many visitors have scroll wheels to make this task easier, but there are plenty of readers who don’t. Either way, a good number of these people will be annoyed if you make your fonts too large.

Typically, a 12- or 13-point font is ideal for body text. These are large enough to read easily, but not large enough to require endless scrolling just to read a five-sentence paragraph.

You should also pay attention to backgrounds and text colors. Many Web-page makers use graphical backgrounds without considering how fonts will look over them. The red roses on black might make a fascinating background image, but what color text is the designer going to use that will show up easily and not cause eyestrain? Experiment with different options to find the right match and preview your site in more than one Web browser to make sure that everything really does show up as expected.