Legibility vs Readability: Everything You Need to Know

Legibility vs Readability: Everything You Need to Know

7 min read

Have you ever received an instruction to create a text logo or any text in your designs that is readable and legible?

While both terms are related to typography and the clarity with which viewers read a certain typeface, they refer to two different meanings.

If you've found yourself confusing both terms, know that you're not the only one. Legibility and readability are two important concepts that every designer needs to know, especially if they work with fonts and typefaces.

Talking about fonts and typefaces, there's a bit of confusion around these two terms as well. We explain the difference between them in this blog we published earlier this year.

Now, back to legibility and readability. Let’s explore the definition of both terms separately and take a look at some of the main concepts related to them.

What is Legibility?

Legibility refers to how easy it is for viewers to distinguish one letter from another. Legibility focuses on individual characters and individual letters.

It is also related to the design of the typeface you create or use and the shape of the glyphs (meaning the individual letter shapes).

What is Readability?

Readability refers to how easy it is for viewers to absorb the message you are trying to convey and the ease of moving along the line. It is related to how you arrange the font or typeset.

While legibility is a responsibility of the designer or shared responsibility among various designers, readability, in most cases, is a shared responsibility between the content writer and the designer.

This shared responsibility does not apply in all cases, though. For instance, if you are a graphic designer creating a text logo, you will be the sole person responsible for the legibility and readability of the logo.

Legibility vs Readability: Which One is More Important?

Both legibility and readability are essential. If you want to present the best version of your creation, why focus on nailing only its legibility score or readability score?

It is crucial to value the importance of both these concepts and use them to your advantage. Now, you might also need to collaborate closely with the content writer when it comes to readability.

As a designer, you are responsible for how the text looks and how easy it is to read it. But the viewers will not simply appreciate how the text looks.

They will be the ones consuming the content and moving from one part of the text to another.

Suppose the legibility and readability of the fonts you use are on point, but the content is not compelling in the end. In that case, it won’t matter how much time you put into making that particular text look good, visually speaking.

However, if high-quality content is presented poorly, it is hard for viewers to read it. The same problem arises: it won’t matter how good the content is if it is hard to read.

That is why content writers need to ensure that the content is qualitative and easily readable. The designers, too, must make sure what they present scores high legibility and readability points.

How to Increase the Legibility of Your Typeface?

There are many factors contributing to the legibility of a typeface. Let’s take a look at them one by one.

X-Height

X-height, also called ‘corpus size’, refers to the height of the lowercase ‘x’ from the baseline to the top. While it might be tempting to use a very low x-height to make the typeface look more stylish, placing the capital letters more prominently, try the contrary.

Low x-height will decrease the legibility of your typeface. Similarly, if you decide to go with a larger x-height higher than average, you will run into the same legibility problem.

The key is to find a healthy middle. Pick a medium x-heigh high enough to make the typeface more legible.

Kerning

Kerning, or letter spacing, refers to the distance between two letters. By decreasing or increasing the distance between the letters, you will ‘play’ with the legibility of each word. Generally, the more “condensed” the text, the less legible it will be.

Kerning is all about maintaining the correct distance between the letters to increase legibility as much as possible by adding more space between letters.

Weight

Typefaces come in various weights. Some of them are regular or medium, which is the best weight if your goal is to increase legibility. However, some typefaces may be thin, light, or bold.

Types of typefaces that range from extremely light to extremely heavy weights make it difficult for viewers to read the text.

That is why it is recommended that you stick with typefaces somewhere in the middle when it comes to weight.

Regular weights are sometimes called “book weights,”- indicating that those weights are more often used in book typesets and are the easiest to read.

Serif vs Sans Serif

Serif font might give an impression that they enhance legibility. But that is not always the case. Serif typeface will usually take up more space and “crowd” the overall look of your design and typeface.

On the contrary, sans-serif fonts with more neutral features can increase legibility and make each letter more legible.

Stroke Contrast

Let’s say you have followed all the above tips above but still think that there is some work to be done to increase legibility. We are guessing that you should check whether you are using an extreme stroke contrast. Stroke contrast is the ratio of thick to thin strokes.

When this ratio is extreme, it may reduce legibility and make it challenging to read the text, especially if you are using a lengthy text.

Therefore, reducing the stroke contrast will help you increase legibility quite noticeably.

How to Increase the Readability of Your Typeface?

As with legibility, there are a lot of factors that play a role in readability as well. So let’s explore the main factors one by one.

Type Size

The first apparent main factor is the size you pick. The smaller the font size you choose, the more difficult it will be for the text to be readable.

If your target audience includes seniors or people with visual impairments, that is one more reason to choose a larger type.

The same goes for children. If you are creating or using a typeface for children’s book illustrations, your best bet will be a larger type than you would typically use. It is crucial to have the target audience in mind when choosing the right type size.

Nevertheless, regardless of the target audience, we would suggest staying clear of smaller types, as it will, in most cases, decrease the readability.

And we all know how that a lot of users will see your designs through their mobile phones, which can complicate the readability scale if the website is not mobile-friendly.

So, to ensure mobile users have a great user experience, go with a larger type size to increase typeface readability.

Type Case

How many times have you come across a lengthy text in all caps? If you felt a little dizzy right after, the chances are that it was due to the ‘all caps’. Yep. They can have that effect sometimes.

So, stick to upper and lowercase letters unless you want to make audiences feel like their head is spinning. This will ensure that the text is more readable and less challenging.

If you are creating a text logo for a company or organization that uses an acronym, then, by all means, go ahead with all caps. Even when you need to increase the readability of a headline, all caps will not be a roadblock.

They are usually not recommended if you need to add a chunk of text or lengthy text to your designs. In such cases, the lack of ascenders and descenders will make the text hard to read and impossible to follow.

Therefore, if your goal is to increase readability, stay away from all caps.

Line Spacing

Line spacing, also called leading, is the space used between each line. If you have to use one or two lines of text, you do not need to worry about line spacing.

However, if you must use at least one paragraph or a longer text, line spacing will make or break your typeface readability.

Tight line spacing will usually make the text less readable. To maximize text readability, make sure you leave enough spaces between the lines.

Line Length

Long lines are hard to read and keep up with, especially when you need to shift from one long line to another and have a hard time finding the right line to follow.

It is recommended to use shorter line lengths to ensure that the text you use in your design is as easy to read as possible.

An average line length is anywhere between 45 and 70 characters. So we would recommend sticking to an average line length if you want to avoid any confusion.

Color and Contrast

To ensure that the type you use is as visible as possible, you will also have to be mindful of your background. Black background or a white background might be easier to manage when using white type on a black background and vice versa.

However, it will be more challenging once you have to use a colorful type or a colorful background.

If the typeface color is already set in stone or you have already decided on the colors, it is time to choose a background color that will make your typeface pop up rather than get lost in the background.

The contrast between the type and the background will be one of the key features that will improve readability, so do not forget about it when trying to improve the readability score.

Final Tips

So now that you know more about readability and legibility and the difference between them, we hope that all the tips above will help you increase your readability and legibility scores.

Remember that you do not have to follow every tip and suggestion we gave throughout this article. Sometimes, just a few tweaks will help you improve both legibility and readability immensely.

However, keep in mind that some typefaces are not designed to be legible. And they will make it harder for you to improve every detail to make them as readable as possible.

Nevertheless, it is up to you to stay away from some typefaces that you know for sure that you will have a hard time improving.

For instance, staying away from bad fonts will immediately “fix” many problems for you by avoiding many necessary future edits. But what if you have been searching for the right font for hours and see no light at the end of the tunnel?

After spending hours trying to find the right font for you and having no luck, the thought of creating your font might not seem as ‘crazy’ or time-consuming. So don’t fret. We have created a guide on how to use custom fonts in Vectornator, so make sure to check it out and thank us later.

In the meantime, feel free to let us know which of these tips you found the most helpful and whether you have any other tips that you would recommend to improve legibility and readability. We're all ears!

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