Serif vs. Sans Serif

It has been said time and again that a number of signs need to comply with very specific guidelines set by the ADA for compliance, and one of the signs that needs to follow such rules are directional signs. The rules that are usually set for such signage include the right color contrast, the right character size as per mounting height and signage size, and the use of non-glare and non-glossy finishes. There is one rule however that can be an object of debate, although 2010 ADA rules state that for directional signage, you can choose between serif and sans serif as opposed to the 1992 version that says only sans serif fonts can be used.

In the 1992 version of this act, the only acceptable fonts for any sign that is required to follow ADA rules are those that are sans serif. Also called simple serif, these are fonts that do not have the additional artistic finishing strokes that can be found on numerous other fonts. These are called serif fonts, and were somewhat outlawed when it came to usage with ADA signs because of the fact that these letters can be somewhat confusing to read.

The latest version of the ADA actually states that you can choose between serif and sans serif fonts for your signs, depending on which signs you are to use these on. In other words, some signs you can use serif fonts on and some you can’t. For example, if you are thinking of having signs made for permanent rooms, you cannot use serif fonts on these since these signs require the addition of tactile characters on them, and according to the 2010 ADA standards for signage, tactile letters need to be in sans serif fonts.

Directional Signs

This brings us back to the question of whether or not your directional signs can use serif fonts or should be made with sans serif characters only. The safest answer to this question would probably come in the form of where these signs are to be mounted and at what height. Not all directional signs are mounted at the same height and in the same area, as opposed to permanent room signs. These can be found overhead, in hallways, beside elevators and so on. This then opens up these particular signs to a wide variety of rules that you may need to follow.

If you are thinking of mounting your signs up high, and these do not require the use of tactile characters on them, then you can safely use serif fonts on them. If you are mounting these signs at a height that is reachable by human fingers, then it might be a good idea to have your directional signs use sans serif fonts in order to facilitate the ease of being able to read these with the fingertips (and you can add Braille translations to these signs as well for good measure). As per ADA standards however, whether mounted up high or at a reachable level, you can actually choose to use any of these two, provided that the text is easy to discern, is not in fancy text or italics, and follows the proper upper case/lower case protocols needed for these signs.

So, in the end, the choice to use either serif or sans serif fonts on your directional signs falls down to preference, since the 2010 ADA does not strictly impose the use of the latter for these kinds of signs. For those who would rather not take the risk or misinterpreting what the guidelines say, the use of sans serif fonts might be your best bet.

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