This is the first in a series of posts discussing the three basic genres of type styles: serif, sans-serif and script. There are tons of variations within these styles, but learning these basics will establish a good foundation in your lettering repertoire.
"Serif" is the typographic term for the little extrusions you see at the end of the strokes of letters in certain typefaces, as I explained in this post. (It might be a good idea to refresh your memory on the terms in that post, as I'll be using a few of them here.)
The thing about serifs is that they vary for each letter. You don't always put one at the end of every stroke and when you do see them, they don't always look the same from one stroke to the next. For example on a vertical stroke, sometimes it only goes on the left side and other times it extends on both the left and right sides of the stroke. Studying different typefaces is the best way to learn where serifs should be, what side of the stroke they should go on and what your options are (like the apex of the capital A can have three variations: both sides, just the left side or no serif at all).
Serif typefaces are my personal favorites to use in lettering because there are so many different kinds to choose from. Below are explanations of the serifs you see in the featured image for this post, from left to right.
- Old style serif typefaces are the earliest serif typefaces. The letters have low contrast between their thick downstrokes and thin upstrokes. The serifs are often angled and attached to the strokes with a curved bracket that tapers out.
- Transitional serif typefaces are so called because they are the link between old style and modern. The letters have more contrast between the thick and thin stokes and the serifs are not angled. They too have a curved bracket that connects the serif to the stroke.
- Modern serif typefaces are not bracketed. The strokes of the letters have extreme contrast and the serifs cross the strokes at right angles.
- Slab serif or Egyptian serif typefaces are similar to modern, but the letter strokes are all the same width — there is no contrast between upstrokes and downstrokes.
- Wedge serif typefaces are where the fun starts to come in. These serifs are essentially triangles at the end of the letter strokes.
- Bifurcated serifs are reminiscent of something you'd see in a circus. The serif is split into two ends that curve outwards. Trifurcated serifs are similar, but there is a third protrusion in between the other two.
As I mentioned, the serif style is one of three primary type genres. There are many varieties and several directions you can go with serifs. If you look at vintage lettering, you'll see loads of fun swashes and unique treatments of serifs. Stay tuned in the next two weeks for sans-serif and script!