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Perfect web typography with slab-serifs

By Benjie Moss | Resources, Typography | Sep 17, 2013

Conventional wisdom states that body text benefits most from being set in a serif font because the serifs create a path for the eye to follow along a line and down to the next.

Despite that, many web designers have for a number of years, argued for the use of sans-serifs; and with good reason: the addition of serifs to a letterform on a screen quite literally blurs the word shapes, reducing contrast and readability.

Numerous studies have been conducted on the matter and the conclusion that most arrive at is that readers prefer whichever style of type they are most familiar with. Consequently, it would seem that either option is fine, provided it is familiar to your visitors.

However, there is a style of type that produces the strong horizontal bars of text that serifs excel at, whilst still enjoying the high contrast of sans-serifs: the Egyptian, or slab-serif.

greenpeace

Greenpeace uses the solidity of Rooney to display white-on-white text. 

 

Why now?

To understand why slab-serifs are perfect for the web in 2013, you need to understand where this style of type came from.

Slab-serifs (originally called Egyptians) first became popular in the wake of Napolean’s Egyptian campaign (1801) and coincided with the beginning of the industrial revolution. More specifically they evolved in line with Koenig & Bauer’s updated printing press that revised Gutenberg’s centuries-old design; purchased by The Times in London, the new printing press made newspapers accessible to the mass population for the first time.

dog

Belgium design aficionados dogstudio are embarking on a redesign of their corporate branding. The thing they’re keeping? Museo.

Almost exactly 100 years later, slab-serifs experienced somewhat of a renaissance, as discoveries such as the unearthing of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, coincided with the explosion of advertising between the wars. The fashion for Egypt, and the solid characteristics of slab-serifs ingrained the style in the public consciousness.

In both cases, the fashion for slab-serifs was only able to grow because the letter forms function so well on cheap paper, and under low-quality printing conditions.

The same characteristics that make slab-serifs so robust, and ideal for low-quality print work, also make them ideal for the web.

 

Slab-serifs online

In a world of retina displays, we often forget that the web is still very much a place of pixels. Whilst some devices are certainly capable of outputting beautifully rendered pages, any web designer worth their salt will be aware of the commonality for poorer quality displays.

Slab-serifs are a high-contrast, horizontally biased style of type that are not only highly legible, they also produce well-defined lines of text, reinforcing the baseline grid.

002

Nudge’s site has a strong rhythm curtesy of FF Tisa.

Many fonts we choose for the web were designed for print and take into account ink spread; with no ink spread on the web, fonts become too light and lose much of their detail. Slab-serifs, by comparison, tend to be far heavier and consequently retain much of their character when rendered in pixels.

The biggest benefit of slab serifs is the high-contrast between the type and page, produced by the minimal contrast between the stroke and serifs, and (usually) the lack of brackets.

 

The best slab-serifs

Slab-serifs seem to experience a revival every hundred years or so. Given the current rate of technological change, slab-serifs look like being popular for another decade, before they grow tired and hibernate for another century. They are this generation’s typeface of choice, and to help you embrace them, we’ve put together a list of the very best currently available:

 

Sable ($35)

sable

 

Arvo (free)

arvo

 

Sentinel (from $99/year)

sentinel

 

Adelle Web (free)

adelle

 

Abril (From $24.99/year)

abril

 

Corduroy (free)

corduroy 

 

Crete Round (free)

crete

 

Musket (free)

musket

 

Chunk ($free — trial plan)

chunk

 

Dalle (free)

dalle

 

Tetre Bold (free)

tetre

 

PMN Caecilia (from $26)

pmn_caecilia

 

Jubilat (from $49.99/year — portfolio plan)

jubilat

 

 Citizen (free)

citizen

 

Museo (free)

museo

 

Glegoo (free)

glegoo

 

Bree (free)

bree

 

Kondolar ($99)

kondolar

 

Deming (donation)

deming

 

Lexia (from $49.99/year — portfolio plan)

lexia

 

Sanchez (free)

sanchez

 

Archer (from $99/year)

archer

 

Tabac ($399)

tabac

 

St. Marie (free)

st_marie

 

Habibi (free)

habibi

 

Kulturista Web (from $49.99/year)

kulturista

 

Juan (free)

juan

 

Memphis Bold ($19.95)

memphis_bold

 

Kreon (free)

kreon

 

Roboto Slab (free)

roboto_slab 

 

Klinic Slab (from $45) 

klinic

 

Brix (from $40)

brix

 

Rokkitt (free)

rokkitt

 

Sreda (free)

sreda

 

Trocchi (free)

trocchi

 

Bitter (free)

bitter

 

Black Slabbath (from $24.99)

black_slabbath

 

Bitstream Vera Serif (free)

vera_serif

 

Arbutus (free)

arbutus

 

Motown Expanded (from $19.99)

motown_expanded

 

 Josefin Slab (free)

josefin_slab

 

 Vitesse (from $99/year)

 vitesse

 

TypoSlabSerif Light (free)

typoslabserif_light

 

Antic Slab (free)

antic_slab

 

Quatro Slab (from $24.99/year)

quatro_slab

 

Which of these slab-serifs is your favorite? Have we missed any of your favorites? Let us know in the comments.

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  • Isis Marques

    What a beautiful collection of slabs! They’re one of my fav font styles, elegant, simple and not too serious…I’m using St.Marie in my website but unfortunately it’s thin beauty disappears in the browser’s rendering…I was searching a substitute and this list will be helpful for sure! Thanks!
    http://www.isismarques.com

  • James

    Ah-ha! Is this a long-winded explanation for the new WebDesignerDepot font change choice?

    :P

    Still think capriola fitted the brand better! 2c

    • Ben_Staff

      No :)

      We changed last week based on readers’ feedback. And actually, we weren’t using Capriola, it was Iskra.

      • James

        Capriola / Iskra whatevs :) – I still think the new font renders poorly in comparison to Iskra (alot of jaggies), and perhaps WDD is starting to look a little TOO smashing now typographically-wise – I also dont think Cursive belongs in that font stack hehehehe

        Damn those mysterious readers! :P

      • http://autoflu.in/ Aashish Dhiman

        You are right Iskra looks very smooth but this new one “Patua-One” renders really bad. This one looks very rough.

  • Stig Bratvold

    Great list of slabs! One of my favorite font styles :)

  • rickysynnot

    Woah this is a great post – really detailed survey of slabs – well done! How long do we think this trend will last? Is it a passing fad, or is it Slabs joining the ranks of commonplace web typography for years to come, now that web-fonts are possible? I hope for the latter :)

  • carollanas

    hi! great post it really helped me with a school project. I was wondering which slab serif is the one your website uses?

    • http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/ Benjie — WebdesignerDepot

      ‘Right-click > Inspect Element’ is your friend :)

      It’s currently Adelle: https://typekit.com/fonts/adelle-web

      • carollanas

        woaa I didn’t know you could do that! thanks :)

  • carollanas

    hi! great post it really helped me for a school project. I was wondering which slab serif is the one your website uses?

  • Unknown student

    Thank you so much. Very nice collection and it was so heplful.