Ask A Cartographer

Font for web maps

August 12 2010 | 4 comments
Categories: Labeling

Are there suggested font types to use for web maps when labeling the centerline?

Mapping Center Answer:

Short answer: yes -- they are Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, Georgia, Trebuchet, Century Gothic (which are installed on all systems, in addition to Lucinda Grande and Palatino (which are installed on most systems).

Longer answer: A recent study identified the fonts I listed here as the most popular fonts for web design.  Why? Good web fonts have a generous amount of space between each character, as well as the amount of whitespace within the characters (glyphs) themselves. A tall x-height also opens up the space within a character. These properties are what make these fonts so legible on screen.

Good Web Fonts

You will note that all of them are sans-serif fonts, except Georgia and Palatino. Serifs are the extra lines or small decorations added to the ends of the main strokes of the type. The theory behind these serifs is that they help the letters flow, and lead the eye across the text during reading. Serif fonts are very popular in print, but many designers and cartographers believe that sans-serif faces are a more suitable option.

Good Web Fonts

The variable boldness and fine extra strokes of the serif fonts, particularly at smaller sizes of body text, often appear pixilated and untidy. This is still the case even with the most modern anti-aliasing techniques. With anti-aliasing enabled, the serif fonts look blurred (which is exactly what they are) around their curves and terminals. On the other hand, the straight, low contrast, open strokes of a sans-serif font, such as Verdana, will always leave a good impression on-screen.

font corrections posted by S Sanders on Oct 20 2010 2:31PM
Trebuchet MS was the font designed for Microsoft in 1996. Helvetica isn't installed on all systems. It's a Mac OS font, and is not packaged with Windows. Arial was Microsoft's answer to Helvetica, and is a systems font within Windows and Mac OS X and later.
Right you are! posted by Aileen Buckley on Oct 29 2010 11:50AM
You are exactly right -- my bad!
Good Title Fonts for Published Maps posted by Lyndy worsham on May 7 2012 9:56PM
Could you give some examples of good fonts for titles on printed maps for publication?

Less limitations posted by Aileen Buckley on May 8 2012 9:28AM
For print maps, your limitations are less, assuming you are printing at a high resolution (300 dpi or greater). You can pick a font that carries the same "aesthetic feeling" as your map -- often using a font that is also on the map is a good way to do this.

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