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Lee: The difference between web friendly and print friendly fonts for your resume

Jerry Lee, Columnist

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I’m the former creative director at The Daily, and I’m writing a new series of columns about how typography subtly and thoroughly pervades our lives. I hope this series will reveal the powerful ways fonts can redefine arguments and dramatically change a text’s meaning.

I was creating a resume (that decidedly wasn’t in Times New Roman) this past winter when I ran into a snag: whether or not to use my classic standby font — Garamond — or one from Google Fonts, an open-source directory of free screen-friendly fonts. My concern was not which typeface looked better, but rather whether to use a web-compatible or print-focused font.

It’s a conundrum because how the font you choose looks is dependent on whether or not your resume will be read in hard copy or on a computer screen. In general, when you’re choosing a typeface for a print CV, anything goes — as long as it is appropriate for the kind of work you’re doing, then you’re free to choose the font you think looks best. On the other hand, web fonts, which are designed to be read on a screen, are typically less intricate and have characteristics that make them easier to read electronically.

For example, one characteristic common to web fonts is a higher “x-height,” which refers to the height of the lowercase x in a typeface. The x-height also references a number of characteristics that determine a font’s simplicity.  In general, web fonts will have a taller than average x-height because it increases legibility. Fonts with taller x-heights are also designed to be more adaptable — whether you’re reading it on a desktop or a smartphone, the font will be equally legible.

Occasionally, web fonts are useful in print. When you have a text body that’s going to be printed in a pretty small size — less than 12 points — picking a web font with a good x-height and simple characteristics will help your reader identify letterforms even in small print. This is especially important if your CV is going to be read quickly or scanned onto a computer, as you want to make your type as clear as possible. On the other hand, if you’re applying to a smaller company and your CV isn’t going to be read by a hurried recruiter in less than seven seconds, you can get away with a more complex, print-based typeface.

Personally, though, I try to avoid using web fonts in print because there’s a wealth of unique print-focused fonts that aren’t cross-applicable and are much more interesting. Web-focused fonts, despite their purposeful and intentional design, all look fairly similar. Ultimately, they’re all either the Cambria-y serifs like Georgia or the Calibri-y sans serifs like Verdana and Arial. Web fonts are therefore somewhat monotonous, almost trapped by the constraints of their purpose. Print fonts have much more personality, with embellishments and radical proportions, like Caslon or Bodoni. As long as it’s appropriate and fits your product’s overarching aesthetic, then I would go the extra mile and find a typeface outside the comfort zone of the Microsoft Word drop down menu.

There aren’t any overarching rules with regards to typefaces that will fit every situation that you have to design or layout. The most crucial thing is to design for your audience. It’s important to familiarize yourself with what the generally accepted standards are before you break convention.

Jerry Lee is a Medill junior. He can be reached at If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.