Skip to main content

Comic Sans Is (Generally) Lousy: Letters and Reading Challenges

Specimen of the typeface Comic Sans.
Specimen of the typeface Comic Sans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Personally, I support everyone being able to type and read in whatever typefaces individuals prefer. If you like Comic Sans, then change the font while you type or read online content. If you like Helvetica, use that.

The digital world is not print. You can change typefaces. You can change their sizes. You can change colors. There is no reason to argue over what you use to type or to read as long as I can use typefaces that I like.

Now, as a design researcher? I'll tell you that type matters a lot to both the biological act of reading and the psychological act of constructing meaning. Statistically, there are "better" and "worse" type for conveying messages. There are also typefaces that are more legible and more readable. Sometimes, legibility does not help readability, either, as a type with overly distinct letters (legibility) can hinder word shapes and decoding (readability).

One of the common myths I constantly correct in social media and in online forums is that Comic Sans is somehow the "best" typeface for children and adults with dyslexia, ADHD, autism, and other disabilities. A blog post caused a small wave of arguments on social media in February (2017):

No, hating Comic Sans is not ableist, sexist, or racist. The typeface has serious legibility and readability problems. See one excellent technical critique at Design for Hackers:

There really are explanations for why people find Comic Sans annoying. It's a bitmap font designed for 12-px text (not 12-pt) on lousy 14-inch CRT displays in the era of 800x600 computer monitors. It has lousy kerning, small counters, true monoline strokes, easily confused letters from a distance (i I l 1, e c o, m = rn) and is not meant for long text flows.

A much better replacement is available:

Comic Neue fixes the flaws of Comic Sans. Download it. Use it when you have any reason to use Comic Sans. It's a lot better.

What makes a type both legible and readable? Distinct letter forms that enable quick recognition based on word shapes.

A typeface can be a serif or sans-serif face. It doesn't matter. It can be classic or modern. The face is less important than the letter shapes and their overall conformity to standard word shapes.

Erik Spiekermann, from Stop Stealing Sheep:
"Research has shown that our eyes scan the tops of the letters' x-heights during the normal reading process, so that is where the primary identification of each letter takes place. The brain assembles the information and compares it with the shape of the word's outline. If we had to consciously look at individual letters all the time, we would read as slowly as children who have not learned to assume a word's meaning from such minimal information." (p. 107)

  • Ascenders (and descenders) matter to word shape. Ascenders more, since they are at the top.
  • Too large an x-height, caps and lowercase blend.
  • Too short ascenders and descenders, all words look like rectangles
  • Too small x-height, slows reading, too

Sans or serif, what matters most is word shape and distinctiveness. When I (i), l (L), i and 1 look similar from a distance, there's a problem.

Now, if you want a more interesting debate… research has suggested teachers give lower grades and readers find less trustworthy text set in sans-serif type. The same article in various typefaces, the same academic paper, the same letter set in different typefaces reveals a curious pattern: we trust "classic" serif typefaces more than the "newer" sans-serif typefaces.

Use whatever type you want. But know that whatever typeface you select when sharing a text with others will influence those readers.


Popular posts from this blog

Slowly Rebooting in 286 Mode

The lumbar radiculopathy, which sounds too much like "ridiculously" for me, hasn't faded completely. My left leg still cramps, tingles, and hurts with sharp pains. My mind remains cloudy, too, even as I stop taking painkillers for the back pain and a recent surgery.

Efforts to reboot and get back on track intellectually, physically, and emotionally are off to a slow, grinding start. It reminds me of an old 80286 PC, the infamously confused Intel CPU that wasn't sure what it was meant to be. And this was before the "SX" fiascos, which wedded 32-bit CPU cores with 16-bit connections. The 80286 was supposed to be able to multitask, but design flaws resulted in a first-generation that was useless to operating system vendors.

My back, my knees, my ankles are each making noises like those old computers.

If I haven't already lost you as a reader, the basic problem is that my mind cannot focus on one task for long without exhaustion and multitasking seems…

MarsEdit and Blogging

MarsEdit (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Mailing posts to blogs, a practice I adopted in 2005, allows a blogger like me to store copies of draft posts within email. If Blogger, WordPress, or the blogging platform of the moment crashes or for some other reason eats my posts, at least I have the original drafts of most entries. I find having such a nicely organized archive convenient — much easier than remembering to archive posts from Blogger or WordPress to my computer.

With this post, I am testing MarsEdit from Red Sweater Software based on recent reviews, including an overview on 9to5Mac.

Composing posts an email offers a fast way to prepare draft blogs, but the email does not always work well if you want to include basic formatting, images, and links to online resources. Submitting to Blogger via Apple Mail often produced complex HTML with unnecessary font and paragraph formatting styles. Problems with rich text led me to convert blog entries to plaintext in Apple Mail and then format th…

Let’s Make a Movie: Digital Filmmaking on a Budget

Film camera collection. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
June 5, 2015 Deadline
July 2015 Issue

Every weekend a small group of filmmakers I know make at least one three-minute movie and share the short film on their YouTube channel, 3X7 Films.

Inspired by the 48-Hour Film Project (, my colleagues started to joke about entering a 48-hour contest each month. Someone suggested that it might be possible to make a three-minute movie every week. Soon, 3X7 Films was launched as a Facebook group and members started to assemble teams to make movies.

The 48-Hour Film Project, also known as 48HFP, launched in 2001 by Mark Ruppert. He convinced some colleagues in Washington, D.C., that they could make a movie in 48 hours. The idea became a friendly competition. Fifteen years later, 48HFP is an international phenomenon, with competitions in cities around the world. Regional winners compete in national and international festivals.

On a Friday night, teams gathe…