Occasionally when I download works from Smashwords there are several different fonts used in one work (seen in independent works that have not been professionally edited). This mix match of fonts styles can make reading kind of bumpy, but it got me thinking, if the transition is difficult, is it because one of the fonts is less readable then another?

Is there any indication that any font style is more readable than another? If so does it very by device/screen type? Or is it just a matter of familiarity?

  • Picking a good font may be less important than doing proper typesetting (which is out of your hands). Even good fonts can be butchered and thus outclassed by bad fonts (if properly used). – Raphael Feb 10 '14 at 13:05
  • Don't forget about font licensing. Ebooks distribute the actual font file (intellectual property). You need a specific license from a company like Monotype. If you don't a lawsuit or settlement will cost tens of thousands of …$'s – dynamic DNA Apr 14 '15 at 0:06
  • Cross-site duplicate: Best fonts for improving reading experience – Martin Schröder Apr 22 '18 at 12:55

Generally speaking serif fonts are considered easier to read in long bodies of text, even if there are no definitive studies about why they should be preferred over sans-serif fonts.

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Usually it is considered that serifs help the eye to go from a letter to another, creating something like a natural flow between words, but I personally think that this is a somewhat personal preference. In printed paper (books, newspapers, and so on) I have always seen serif fonts, while for web content (blog posts, forums, articles) sans serif seem to have the largest share.
Despite this, ebooks seem to largely follow the standards of printed paper, not of digital content: maybe because of something like a tradition, maybe because eink devices try to offer a look and feel resembling printed paper.

Anyway, any ereading device has at least some basic font customizing options, so in the end it is all in the hand of the single end users and their personal preferences.


I'm going to make the assumption that when you say more readable, you mean better comprehension and speed.

Eric Michael Weisenmiller wrote his dissertation on A STUDY OF THE READABILITY OF ON-SCREEN TEXT (very lengthy and links directly to the PDF). It is a little dated (July, 1999) and does not focus on ebooks (at least as far as using ereader devices, although they are mentioned in passing in the conclusion), but it did try to

...determine whether sans serif and serif typefaces optimized for on-screen viewing significantly improve reading rate and reading comprehension.

The conclusion goes on to say that basically there is not much of a significant difference and there are too many variables to consider for reading speed and comprehension. For example, the time of day (how tired the person is), the subject/content (how familiar the person is with the material), reading time limits (slower readers have less comprehension if forced to read within a time limit) and a few other factors.

As for my own opinion, I believe that eInk devices will tend to be more readable in fonts that are traditionally better for printed books (there are some studies on this already), whereas tablets/phones/laptops will be more readable in fonts that are traditionally better on-screen (in the normal LCD (or CRT!) sense).

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