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Basic Typeface Classes

Font classification systems come in many flavors and the terms used in referring to fonts and typefaces are often used interchangeably. This makes things very complicated for all of us non-typographers.

We’ll keep things easy and present just two of the classification systems. Today, a very basic system based on the general style of the typeface. Tomorrow, a system based on the historical evolution of typefaces. And after that, we’ll get into how to select the best font for a particular purpose or objective.

Stylistic Classification

In this classification system typefaces are divided into four general classes, the first two are broader classes than the second two and, in fact, a Display or Decorative font may be either Roman or Gothic.

Roman – All typefaces with serifs (the marks that extend beyond the actual stroke of a character). In common usage, people will refer to a font as roman by way of differentiating it from italic, in other words, an upright font style.

Bodini Standard

Gothic – All typefaces without serifs. This may be a bit confusing because of the natural tendency to think of gothic as an old style, 15th century sort of look and yet the san serif styles are actually quite contemporary. For this reason the gothic class is often just referred to as San Serif.


Script – All fonts that are designed to look like longhand, a flowing handwriting.

Snell Roundhand Standard

Display or Decorative – All fonts that are designed primarily as flashy or very stylized letters for use on invitations, diplomas, large scale signs, posters, advertisements, and the like.

Neuland Standard

To any of these typefaces may be added additional descriptive suffices or “type styles” like: italic, condensed, narrow, bold, oblique, and others. Such descriptions become a part of the font name since the font is the precise typeface including type style and point size.

For most people, this level of classification is sufficient. But, we sort of like going deeper, getting the etymology, if you will, of the subject. So, tomorrow we’ll present an historical classification system before we move on to looking at what fonts are best for what applications.

The font samples we present here come from an Adobe site that sells fonts and presents them by a number of look up systems that are in themselves quite interesting.


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