4 Type Classifications that are the Backbone to Typography

There are four main typeface classifications; serif, sans serif, script and decorative. Within this classification system there are many sub groups, a few of which we will talk about here. Once you know these, you will be able to identify them historically, distinguish them visually and more importantly, you will be able to properly combine font styles to create a more powerful match for your designs.


  • Old Style
  • Transitional
  • Neoclassical & Didone (Modern)
  • Slab (Square)
  • Clarendon
  • Glyphic

Sans Serif

  • Grotesque
  • Square
  • Humanistic
  • Geometric


  • Formal
  • Casual
  • Calligraphic
  • Blackletter & Lombardic


  • Grunge
  • Psychedelic
  • Graffi


Old Style

Old style serif includes Roman type created between late 15th to mid 18th centuries

  • Curved glyphs with axis on a left incline
  • Minimum contrast between the thick and thin strokes
  • Angled head serifs
  • Bracketed serifs (A curve between the serif and stem)


Transitional serif includes 18th Century typefaces transitioning between old style and modern design.

  • Axis of curved stroke is more vertical
  • More contrast between the thick and thin strokes
  • Serifs are thinner, flat and bracketed

Neoclassical, Didone (Modern)

Modern serif includes late 18th century and is more refined and delicate.

  • Dramatic contrast between the thick and thin strokes
  • Curved strokes on vertical axis
  • Horizontal serifs with no bracketing or very little

Slab (Square)

Slab serif includes early 19th century styles

  • Very heavy square serifs with little or no bracketing
  • Barely any stroke contrast


Clarendon serifs includes typefaces styled after the Clarendon type style from mid 19th century.

  • Slight contrast between strokes
  • Short to medium length serifs


Glyphic serifs includes type styles that look carved.

  • Vertical axis
  • Minimum stroke contrast
  • Generally have triangular or flaring serifs

Sans Serif 


Grotesque was the first leading style of the sans serifs

  • Slight contrast between strokes
  • Square look to some curves
  • “Bowl & Loop” or a “Double bowl” lowercase ‘g’ 
  • Sometimes ‘R’ has a curved leg
  • ‘G’ usually has a spur
  • Axis is vertical


Square sans serif is based on the grotesque traits and properties.

  • Definite and sometimes a dramatic squaring
  • More width in character spacing
  • Limited to display designs


Humanistic sans serif type style attempted to improve the legibility of sans serif designs and closely match the design and proportions of serif types, with a calligraphic influence.

  • Most legible and easy to read of the sans serif typefaces
  • Could have a possible stroke contrast
  • Influenced by calligraphy


Geometric sans serif is influenced by simple geometric shapes.

  • Monowidth strokes
  • Perfect rounded forms
  • Tend to be less readable than grotesques



Formal scripts come from 17th century penmanship.

  • Flowing loops
  • Decorative, elegant strokes
  • Most often have connecting strokes


Casual scripts are designed to look informal.

  • Stroke can be connected or not
  • Gives a relaxed friendly feel


Calligraphic scripts resemble calligraphic writing.

  • Strokes look like its drawn with a flat tip pen or marker
  • Stroke can be connected or not

Blackletter & Lombardic

Blackletter & Lombardic scripts resemble lettering before movable type.

  • Heavy black texture
  • Profoundly decorative caps
  • Dramatic stroke contrast
  • Dramatic serifs


Decorative is a large diverse category that is popular for headlines and signs.

  • Follows trends
  • Original and dramatic
  • Eye catching