Sans-Serif Classification

Sans serif. Aw, the text you see so often on computer and smartphone screens. Who know sans serif classification can be divided into four categories? Let’s dive in now.


As the name suggests, grotesque fonts tend to look crude, irregular, bold, solid, practical, and simple. I say irregular because styles within a single grotesque font family can look quite different.

Sans serif classification–grotesque

Looking more closely, there’s a bit of contrast in stroke width. The curved stroke usually terminates at an angle. Since they are inspired by signpaintings of the early 19th century, they are more suitable for headlines and advertisements.

Famous grotesque sans serif fonts are Franklin Gothic, and Akzidenz Grotesk. Sometimes you will look at so-called grotesque sans serif fonts and wonder: “Eh, but they don’t have those features you’ve mentioned”. That’s because the ones you’re seeing are probably digital fonts and they don’t retain all of the characteristics of the original versions.


As the name implies, neo-grotesques are different takes on the grotesque types. They look straightforward with little stroke width variation.

Sans serif classification–neo-grotesque

You may wonder: “What else to differentiate between grotesque and neo-grotesque?” Let’s take a look at this the letter a and g below.

In most neo-grotesque fonts, strokes are curved all the way round to end on a perfect horizon or vertical. And if you still want to learn a bit more, we need to trace back the history of neo-grotesque fonts.

Neo-grotesque fonts flourished in the 1950s, when type designers drew inspiration from Akzidenz Grotesk, but at the same time they sought to create a font as neutral as possible.

Therefore, I think you can tell a neo-grotesque font by intuition. They tend to look cold, sterile, and convey no political nuance, so that’s why they are seen everywhere. I myself have come to appreciate Helvetica a lot. It is simply a pleasure to design a layout in this plain typeface.

Popular neo-grotesque types are Helvetica, the most widely used types of the 20th century, Univers, Acumin etc.

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These babies are so similar to serif, don’t they? That’s because humanist fonts is a throwback to serif typefaces without actually using serifs.

sans-serif classification–humanist

To be more precise, humanist sans serifs take inspiration from traditional serif fonts and calligraphy. They are particularly suitable for screen or at a distance.

Popular humanist sans serif typefaces are Meta, Myriad, Optima, to name a few.


As you can tell, geometric typefaces are based on near-perfect circles and squares. The character O is nearly a perfect circle, unlike other sans serif typefaces.

Geometric typeface looks clean, modern, which accounts for their popularity. Among these four sans serif categories, geometric are the least useful for body text, but they’re stellar for headings.

Notable geometric sans serif typefaces include the ubiquitous Futura, ITC Avant Garde, Avenir and the relatively young Gotham

That’s a wrap for my two-part series on typeface classifications. It’s hard to visualize all the nitty gritty details of sans serif classification, so here’s a GIFT for you:

sans serif classification–overview

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