This is the second post in my "Back to Basics" series discussing the three basic categories of type styles: serif, sans-serif and script. Knowing these three styles will allow you to letter almost anything you can imagine. Last week, I talked about serif type. This week, we're stripping it down to sans-serif.
"Sans" in French means "without," so we're knocking those little nubs off of the letters. Transitioning from serif to sans-serif type, you can expect three major differences: no serifs (duh), a lower stroke contrast and often a higher x-height.
Though sans-serif has been used throughout history, it is generally regarded as a "modern" style of type. This could be attributed to its favored use in the early days of computers. Sans-serif type was much easier to read on lower resolution screens because small serifs and large pixels don't really play well together. Nowadays, we have impeccable screens that are capable of rending serif type with no problem, but the "modern" label has still stuck around.
There aren't nearly as many variations in sans-serif type as there are styles of serif, but here are three styles that only you and other observers with a keen typographic eye will know:
- Grotesque sans-serif typefaces have very low stroke contrast; some may even be considered "monoweight," where the stroke is the same weight at all points. They usually have a higher x-height and rounded shapes are more oval.
- Humanist sans-serif typefaces have a calligraphic undertone. You'll find a higher stroke contrast where verticals are thick and horizontals are thin. Sometimes you'll see the strokes flare out slightly at the ends, reminiscent of serif type (but there are no serifs to be found!).
- Geometric sans-serif typefaces are constructed out of basic geometric shapes like circles and squares. The strokes are generally monoweight, keeping with the simple geometry vibe.
The most important thing you must learn about sans-serif type is the basic skeleton of every letter. If you know how to draw the bare bones of each character, you can draw a sans-serif alphabet (and any other type of alphabet for that matter). As I mentioned last week, the best way to learn is to study different typefaces. You may think that sans-serif typefaces are boring but if you familiarize yourself with the basic skeleton options of each letter, the possibilities are endless! There are one-story and two-story a's and g's, G's that have spurs, Q's with crazy tails...all of which can be achieved with sans-serif type. It's not as basic as you may think.