Designers love to hate Comic Sans. Many will simply cringe when you say the font’s name. However, others will turn up a nose at the thought of even using the font anywhere but a comic strip.
In the design world, Comic Sans is definitely persona non grata. In fact, some people hate this font so much that they’ve come together to ban it from use. On the other side of the aisle are laymen who believe the font is fun and designers who think all fonts have their purpose. There’s even a Tumblr page called the Comic Sans Project that shows the many useful uses for this font.
One thing is true about this font — it evokes strong emotions. Not many typefaces evoke such intense hatred, after all.
Comic Sans is a sans-serif typeface considered a casual script. It was designed by Vincent Connare, with Microsoft releasing it in 1994. The inspiration behind the script was comic book lettering. Creators developed it specifically for informal use and children. Probably the main reason people began to hate this script so much is that it has been used widely for purposes it wasn’t intended for.
Specifically formal documents or headings on business materials. Connare himself has stated that he developed the font for message balloons for a comic package called Microsoft Bob. A dog named Rover had thought message balloons pop up over his head, but those were written in Times New Roman font. Connare felt that Times New Roman was inappropriate for that use. Thus he came up with Comic Sans specifically for the comic message balloons.
Unfortunately, it took Connare a bit of time to finish the font, and Microsoft Bob was actually released without it. Instead, Comic Sans was used for the cartoon guides and speech bubbles in Microsoft’s 3D Movie Maker. The typeface was then included with a Windows 95 expansion pack. Over time, the font was used as a default font for Microsoft Publisher and Internet Explorer.
Mechanics of Comic Sans
Comic Sans is made up of strokes that do not change in thickness. This creates a heavy, childish look, such as on the letter “n.” Those who criticize the font state that this visual weight makes Comic Sans less legible. This is quite noticeable in some letters in the font, in particular, the “e” and “t.” The kerning between letters in Comic Sans is also uneven, which is caused by the heavy letterforms.
Critics state that the letters weren’t designed with any thought of how they would work together in words and sentences. Some letters almost appear italic with a slight slant to the side, such as with the letter “e.” Note also how the counter on the “e” is very small. This makes the letter pretty awkward compared to other fonts, such as Helvetica or Arial.
What Does the Font Imply?
Comic Sans has a fun, childish tone with a handwritten quality. Even though the font was never used for its original purpose, it took off anyway. One reason might be that many fonts are rather formal or serious in tone, and this one is lighthearted. Connare himself has stated that the font is fun. He thinks that’s why so many people have used it over the years and why Microsoft packages it for regular people.
He points out that those who use it are not typographers or graphic designers. They simply choose the font because they like the fun look of it. He even jokingly states that people who claim to hate it secretly like the font but are jealous.
Where It’s Commonly Found and Used
In addition to comics, where the font seems to fit almost perfectly, you’ll likely find Comic Sans on school programs, preschool flyers, school fair literature and anywhere that is seen as a fun and casual atmosphere. The 2000 version of The Sims game also uses Comic Sans font. Additionally, it makes up the “S” in the Superman logo. Levi’s has used it at times as well, and MTV even used comic sans in their logos as late as five or six years ago. Look around, and you’ll probably notice its unique signature in even more places. You might also find it used where it really shouldn’t be and is far too informal for the occasion, such as on a wedding invitation.
The Secret Utility of Comic Sans
It is apparent Comic Sans is ideal for graphic novels and comic books. A font with this design intention might be applicable to other realms. Designers and researchers have tried to uncover a secret — is it possible to make a font to assist people with dyslexia? Though dyslexia-friendly fonts have been created, such as OpenDyslexic and Dyslexie, Comic Sans has been argued to be a viable alternative.
The thickness and wide shape of the letters could make it easier for people to read, however research on Comic Sans for this purpose is limited. It is uncertain if it actually helps people with dyslexia or if advocates for the font are going off purely anecdotal evidence. With research as minimal as it is on Comic Sans specifically, it is a challenge to discern — could also be a typeface preference. Most of the research regards easy-to-read fonts — Comic Sans normally appears alongside Times New Roman, Courier, and Arial.
However, word got around about this potential superpower of Comic Sans. Dyslexia Scotland hosted a campaign all about it entitled “There’s Nothing Comic About Dyslexia,” which encouraged designers to use the font to “shape the way information is presented.” No matter the impact it had, the message was clear — to encourage designers to rethink what they create to be as accessible as it possibly can.
The Comic Sans Productivity Hack
In 2018, viral articles and tweets started permeating the internet with the message that using Comic Sans would make you more productive. Some called it “Comic Sans magic.” People are still exploring this rumor now, attempting it out of a twisted curiosity for the world’s most hated typeface. So, does it work?
The hack primarily targets writers, suggesting it helps overcome writer’s block and boosts typing speed. Here are a few reasons why writer’s claim this is the secret sauce to being an efficient writer, but just as with the dyslexia-friendly fonts conversation, most research is slim and evidence is anecdotal:
- Using an atypical font means you are less likely to skim over what you read, making text easier to retain.
- Trying a popular trend might include a self-fulfilling prophecy, making you more creative because you think the trick will work.
- The “childlike” appearance of the font reduces self-imposed pressure for writing to be pristine and professional, like other fonts appear.
Who knows — it might all be a placebo.
Comic Sans in Modern Application
With Comic Sans tumultuous reputation, there has to be some positive feedback on the font — right? Believe it or not, there are a few incorporations of Comics Sans that did not receive as much vitriol as its origin.
The well-regarded 2015 indie game “Undertale” follows the comedian Sans and the brother, Papyrus — named after their respective, loathed typefaces. Sans’s dialogue is shamelessly in all lowercase Comic Sans, while Papyrus represents his own. People recognize the game for its stellar writing and captivating characters, giving Comic Sans an opportunity to shine in such a unique format. Many admired how clever the developers were with the characters’ names — Sans is a comedian, therefore, he is the comic, Sans.
In 2023, designers reimagined Comic Sans a programming font, called Comic Code. Toshi Omagari, a Japanese designer, stated he used Comic Sans as inspiration because the act of coding to him feels more like handwriting than typesetting. He adjusted the aspects he did not love about the font and adjusted them for a more professional look — taking the positives about the font and accenting them for a modern audience.
Where most people forget Comic Sans shines is internet meme culture. The font appears in many of the world’s most hilarious and recognizable memes. For example, the infamous Doge — the internet’s famous Shiba Inu — flourished because of using Comic Sans. It became so popular that it inspired the cryptocurrency, Dogecoin. No other typeface has that level of glory.
When to Use Comic Sans
Comic Sans is probably most popular for use with kids. This caters to places that work with children, such as schools and daycare centers. Because each font has a specific personality, Comic Sans simply doesn’t work well on formal documents or as a font in a business email, etc. Most would argue it is too informal for that type of use. It is good for use inside comic book style bubbles, thus the inspiration for the name of the font itself. It also is suitable for a banner for a child’s birthday party, a logo for a business that sells toys or anything aimed at children under twelve years of age.
That isn’t to say you can’t use Comic Sans where you please. Even though other designers may cringe at the thought of using it, if you feel the fun, informal look of the font suits your brand, then you should go with what speaks to you as a designer. Sometimes the smartest marketing moves are those that sit a bit outside the box.
The Font Series Guide: Introduction
Chapter 1: 15 Google Fonts You Should Be Using
Chapter 2: Times New Roman
Chapter 3: Roboto
Chapter 4: Georgia
Chapter 5: Verdana
Chapter 6: Helvetica
Chapter 7: Comic Sans
Chapter 8: Didot
Chapter 9: Arial
Chapter 10: Tahoma
Chapter 11: Garamond
Chapter 12: Century Gothic
Chapter 13: Brody
Chapter 14: Bromello
Chapter 15: Savoy
Chapter 16: Athene
Chapter 17: Calibri
Chapter 18: Proxima Nova
Chapter 19: Anders
Chapter 20: Monthoers
Chapter 21: Gotham
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.