Of all the web-compatible typefaces available, the least appealing is the Verdana font.
And yes, I know it’s used all over. Believe me, I notice!
We’ve spoken about choosing typefaces and brand fonts a lot around here.
Your font matters — maybe more than you realize. Think about it:
Your font choice become the visual voice of your brand. Your words are delivered wrapped in fonts — is your font speaking in the brand voice you want?
So, is Verdana a good font choice, or a bad one? Is there a smart Verdana alternative?
Related: Type Styles of the Rich and Famous
The Verdana font was one of the earliest fonts designed for reading on screens. It’s a “web 1.0” version of a screen-readable font, in my opinion. We’ve come a long way since then.
A brief history of the Verdana font
The Verdana font was released in 1996, so it’s a modern typeface. It was designed with one purpose in mind: to improve readability in text used very small on a computer screen.
Microsoft included Verdana as part of its Windows operating system, and so did Mac.
99% of Windows machines and 96% of Macs have it, so it’s widely compatible.
When typeface designers set out to make a typeface that will be readable at small sizes, they streamline the letters to remove flourishes that would get lost at a small size.
They also give the letters a large “x-height,” which is the vertical space between the baseline the letters sit on, and the top of lower-case letters like e, x, a, etc.
And they tend to add extra space between letters, because when typefaces are reduced very small, letters will blur together unless they’re spaced out quite a bit.
The examples below show you why I hate Verdana for regular text copy, and what it’s good for.
You’re about to see what I think is the best Verdana alternative, too.
Keep scrolling, my friend!
A Verdana alternative you probably already have on hand
Read this sample of Verdana vs. Helvetica:
Here’s the same text used very small. Now which typeface is more readable?
When you see the same blocks of text set at a very small size, Verdana starts to look like a great choice. Verdana works better than Helvetica when it’s used very small:
Verdana was designed by Matthew Carter, who also designed the Georgia typeface.
Georgia is another screen-compatible typeface that also looks good in print, and is one of the standard typefaces pre-installed on Windows and Mac computers.
Retailer IKEA switched their print catalog and signage to Verdana a while back and caused an uproar that included petitions to remove it, and articles in the Associated Press, Time and Newsweek. You can read more about it here.
My recommendation for using the Verdana font (if you must)
There are so many better fonts to explore besides Verdana! And I’ve got a lot of resources on this site to guide you.
Related: Does This Font Make Me Look Fat?
There’s one use case where the Verdana font shines: If you need to run a small disclaimer or some “legalese” on your site, Verdana’s a good choice. Besides that, though …
Avoid using Verdana for the main text areas of your site, and certainly do not use it for print work.
It was designed to be used on a screen, not in print, where it decreases readability and slows your readers down.
The Verdana alternative I like best?
Plain old Helvetica.
Unless you’re going to use it at a tiny size, Helvetica is the perfect alternative to the Verdana font I love to hate.
For even more on fonts, including how to choose, use and combine them, read on.
More resources for typography nerds
Hey — if you self identify as a typography nerd, I’d like to personally welcome you to the club! I’ve been a font fan all my life.
You’ll find lots of great typography resources on this site. Take a look at:
This post was originally published on March 24, 2010 and has been updated with the most recent information.