Font Types Explained: Serif, San Serif, Semi Serif, Block Serif,  Script, and Handwritten

The main goal of any graphic design piece is to communicate a message. One of the many tools that designers have to communicate this message is fonts, and boy, do we have a lot of them to choose from.

Since there are so many different fonts to choose from, I have put together this short introductory to fonts explaining some of the basic styles and how to distinguish one from another. I have also provided some samples of each of the types.

The Serif Font Style

The fonts of the serif font style are characterized by, and named for the most recognizable feature of the font. Serifs are the fine lines that extend off the ends of the letters; some people refer to them as the feet of the letters. The varying thicknesses of serifs make up the vast styles of the serif font category, but in the end…they are all serif fonts.

The most common serif font used today is Times New Roman. I find that one somewhat overused so here are some nice alternatives you may not know about.

Adobe Caslon

Adobe Caslon

Adobe Garamond

Adobe Garamond

Adobe Jenson

Adobe Jenson

The Semi Serif Font Style

Fonts in the semi serif style blur the lines between serif and sans serif fonts because they share characteristics of both styles. The fonts will have serifs but they will be very subtle. In some cases the serif will only exist on a couple of the letters. Because of this, these fonts are sometimes miss-categorized as sans serif fonts when they are actually a sub-type of the serif font style.

As you look through the examples you will notice that there is just a subtle hint of a serif on the letters.

Rotis Semi Serif


Preto Semi OT Std


Innovage Regular



The Slab Serif Font Style

Slab serif is a another version of the serif font style characterized by having serifs that are heavy and block-like. With this style, the serif acts more as a straight line, or slab, rather than a curve.

As you look through the samples below, notice how the fonts resemble a type style produced with a typewriter.

Egyptienne F




Generis Slab Bold


The Sans Serif Font Style

The term sans serif is a combination of the word “serif” and the French word “sans” which directly translates to “without”. The defining characteristic of sans serif fonts is found at the ends of the letters: the tips of the sans serif font type are squared off, or without serifs.

One of the most common sans serif fonts is Arial; Helvetica is one of the most famous sans serif fonts with the most variations. Below is just one of the versions of Helvetica, plus a few more examples of the sans serif font style.

Helvetica Neue Roman


Franklin Gothic

Franklin Gothic



The Script Font Style

The fonts in the script font style are characterized by their long, fluid strokes ideal for decorative headlines and titles. Some versions are a little less decorative but they are still calligraphic in nature.

In the example fonts below, notice that special care should be taken to prevent the extensions, or tops and bottom of letters, on some script letters from getting jumbled and effecting readability.

Coronet Regular


Zapfino One

Zapfino One

ITC Zapf Chancery

ITC Zapf Chancery Roman

The Handwritten Font Style

Handwritten fonts are a sub-type of the script style. These fonts maintain the fluid strokes of a script but are a little less formal. Some handwritten fonts have added effects, like connecting the letters together to simulate cursive writing, like Homemade Apple below; other versions sometimes have an uneven stroke that emphasizes the imperfections of true handwriting.

In the example fonts below notice the rough textures and imperfections in the letters that enhance their handwritten nature.

Homemade Apple


The Girl Next Door




Convey Your Message With Style

There are many fonts on the market that fall into into the 5 font types listed above. Whether serif, sans serif or one of the other types, when used properly, fonts and their individual styles are a great tool for any graphic designer to use to communicate a message, idea or emotion.

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