Sign Typography Do’s and Don’ts

by Melinda Martin

Shall I state the obvious? Legibility is a vital component of any sign or graphic, especially if its purpose is to direct visitors, employees or customers around your business. In situations where seconds count—like trying to find the right entrance for an emergency room… or bathroom—subjecting your visitors to fonts that are difficult to read provides a negative experience and reflects poorly on your organization.

That fancy serif or “scripty-looking” type can be hard on the eyes, especially from a distance. Ultimately, typography should complement the purpose of the sign (informing, directing or promoting) and be readable even at a reasonable distance.  

In this example, the font choice seems to be an afterthought. Look at it quickly and you may wonder what a “Lab ours” is.


When not used properly, fonts, colors and sizes can confuse the message. It is important to find a consistent typeface to use throughout your facility, to represent your brand.  Select a font that effectively communicates the message, image and design need. A nice clean type style choice increases message retention and legibility.

Serif Fonts

Serif is defined as a short, finishing stroke at the end of each stroke in a letterform. They are also referred to as “feet.” A body of text is easier to read if it is in a serif font because the feet help guide the eyes from one letter to the next

Sans Serif Fonts

Sans is a French word that means “without.” Sans Serif fonts are used for headlines or standout titles. Their clean, simple appearance helps them stand out.


Script Fonts

A typeface that appears to be hand-lettered by pen, brush or pencil is a Script font. It can add elegance to a design but quickly destroy it if over-used. Script fonts are not intended for body copy or heavy usage. A script font is compared to a sans serif font in this example. Which one do you think is easier to read?



• Use contrasting fonts that complement each other and are pleasing to the eye
• Use Scripts sparingly
• Use concordant (agreeing; harmonious) fonts for a classic, subdued look. Here are some font combinations that play well with others. 



• Use fonts that are similar in character and look
• Use all uppercase in a Script font
• Use more than two to three fonts in a sign design

Be clear, be concise and resist the urge to use a Script font (or comic sans). When in doubt, keep it simple and remember that less is more. What are some of your favorite (and readable) signage fonts?


ADA Standards:


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  1. Paula Willett | Feb 18, 2016
    Thanks for the great informative article.