Tip of the month from PRC
August 1998

Selection of fonts

Updated 5 August 1998 (Adobe Acrobat considerations) 

We accept Mastercard/Eurocard/Maestro/JBC and Visa!
Tip of the month is edited by Peter Ring, PRC (Peter Ring Consultants, Denmark)

- consultants on how to write user friendly manuals
If you have corrections, better texts or suggestions for improvements, please let me know. 


Which font to use where is one of the top FAQs from technical writers. I will here make a summary of my experiences, added some wisdom from my teachers within the graphic arts.


There is no general eternal truth about which font to choose for a certain purpose. It is a compromise based on a lot of considerations: Let's take a look at these factors one-by-one.

Which font type?

Basically .... But there are a large number of considerations, which may lead to other choices.

The type of message

My teachers within the graphical arts has taught me the following rule-of-thumb:


Within reasonable limits, the higher the small lowercase letter is compared to the under- and over-length, the smaller font size will still be readable. That's why e.g. a 9 point Times Roman is comparable in readability with an 8 point Helvetica.

If used on-line: availability on the user's computer.

If a computer is asked to display a font, it don't know, one out of two things may happen: It is consequently a good idea to ensure that the font is available on the user's computer. There are three ways to do that: When using Adobe Acrobat , special attention should be made to the "Distiller/Job options" menu, "Font embedding" tabsheet. If you check the "Subset fonts below", the font will be embedded with a prefix to the font name, i.e. a name which can not exist on the destination system. And so your embedded font will be used instead of the printers local version. For further details, see the Adobe Acrobat "Help" file, chapter 5, "Font embedding".

Company/organisation policy.

Most larger and many small companies has got a graphical line to be followed. In many cases, this includes which fonts to be used where. These rules must of course be followed.

If the fonts chosen are rare or specially designed for the company, there are special considerations to be taken:

Graphical design considerations.

Less important for technical communication. Of course the font should fit to the general graphical design, but the other points above are more important, and the graphical design must be adapted to the result of the readability, etc. considerations, and not the other way around.

If you disagree with these ideas - or have other relevant points, experiences, or ideas +/-, please e-mail me !

Ideas for new "Tip of the month" subjects are very welcome, too!

Go to last month's tip .
Go to a list of old tips .
Return to the User friendly manuals' homepage .

Free update service
Click here if you want to receive an e-mail whenever this website is updated with major new information, e.g. with a new "Tip of the month" or a new interesting link. The e-mail will briefly describe the content of the update.