Roman Font Classification

Roman serif fonts have long been known for their legibility

Examples of upright Roman type.
Examples of upright Roman type.

Of the three original type classifications of Western typography—roman, italic and blackletter—roman is the style in widest use. This classification includes the serif typefaces that are the standard in many publications and known for their legibility and beauty. Roman fonts were originally based on a letterform style from ancient Rome that became popular during the Renaissance and continued to evolve into the classic serif fonts of today.

Many of the most enduring fonts are roman serif fonts—the ubiquitous Times Roman is one example.  

Understanding Serif Fonts

The roman type classification is filled with serif typefaces. Serifs are small lines attached to the ends of strokes in a letter. A typeface that uses these small lines is called a serif typeface. A typeface that doesn't have serifs is called a sans serif typeface.

Roman serif fonts are overwhelmingly used in publications with long text passages, such as newspapers, magazines and books. Although serif fonts were once thought to be more legible than sans serif fonts, most typographic experts agree that modern-day serif and sans serif fonts are equally legible in print.

Roman fonts are not as popular for use on web pages because the screen resolution of some computer monitors is insufficient to render the tiny serifs clearly. Website designers tend to prefer sans serif fonts.


Categories of Roman Serif Fonts

Roman serif fonts are categorized as old style, transitional or modern (also called neoclassical). There are thousands of roman serif fonts. Here are a few examples:

Old style fonts were the first of the modern roman typefaces. They were created before the mid 18th century.

Other typefaces developed later that were modeled on these original fonts are also called old style fonts. Examples include:

  • Berkeley Oldstyle
  • Legacy Serif
  • Bembo
  • Caslon
  • Garamond
  • Palatino

Transitional fonts are attributed to the work of John Baskerville, a typographer and printer in the mid-18th century. He improved printing methods until he could reproduce fine line strokes, which had not been possible previously. Some of the fonts that came from his improvements are:

  • Baskerville
  • Perpetua
  • Americana
  • Georgia
  • Times New Roman
  • Slimbach

Modern or Neoclassical fonts were all created during the late 18th century. The contrast between the thick and thin strokes of the letters is dramatic. Examples include:

  • Bodoni
  • Fenice
  • Walbaum
  • Didot
  • Elephant
  • Antigua

Modern Classifications

The original classifications of roman, italic and blackletter aren't used much by modern graphic artists and typographers as they plan their projects. They are more likely to refer to fonts as being in one of four basic categories: serif fonts, sans serif fonts, scripts and decorative styles.