CSS Font Families

In CSS, there are two types of font family names:

  • generic family - a group of font families with a similar look (like "Serif" or "Monospace")
  • font family - a specific font family (like "Times New Roman" or "Arial")

Generic family            Font family                        Description
Serif                    Times New Roman / Georgia        Serif fonts have small lines at the ends on some characters
Sans-serif                 Arial / Verdana                    "Sans" means without - these fonts do not have the  lines at the ends of characters
Monospace                Courier New / Lucida Console     All monospace characters have the same width
Font Family

The font family of a text is set with the font-family property.

The font-family property should hold several font names as a "fallback" system. If the browser does not support the first font, it tries the next font.

Start with the font you want, and end with a generic family, to let the browser pick a similar font in the generic family, if no other fonts are available.

Note: If the name of a font family is more than one word, it must be in quotation marks, like font-family: "Times New Roman".

More than one font family is specified in a comma-separated list:

p{font-family:"Times New Roman", Times, serif;}
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For more commonly used font combinations, look at our Web Safe Font Combinations.

Font Style

The font-style property is mostly used to specify italic text.
This property has three values:

  • normal - The text is shown normally
  • italic - The text is shown in italics
  • oblique - The text is "leaning" (oblique is very similar to italic, but less supported)

p.normal {font-style:normal;}
p.italic {font-style:italic;}
p.oblique {font-style:oblique;}
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Font Size

The font-size property sets the size of the text.

Being able to manage the text size is important in web design. However, you should not use font size adjustments to make paragraphs look like headings, or headings look like paragraphs.

Always use the proper HTML tags, like <h1> - <h6> for headings and <p> for paragraphs.

The font-size value can be an absolute, or relative size.

Absolute size:

  • Sets the text to a specified size
  • Does not allow a user to change the text size in all browsers (bad for accessibility reasons)
  • Absolute size is useful when the physical size of the output is known

Relative size:

  • Sets the size relative to surrounding elements
  • Allows a user to change the text size in browsers

If you do not specify a font size, the default size for normal text, like paragraphs, is 16px (16px=1em).

Set Font Size With Pixels

Setting the text size with pixels, gives you full control over the text size:

h1 {font-size:40px;}
h2 {font-size:30px;}
p {font-size:14px;}
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The example above allows Firefox, Chrome, and Safari to resize the text, but not Internet Explorer.

The text can be resized in all browsers using the zoom tool (however, this resizes the entire page, not just the text).

Set Font Size With Em

To avoid the resizing problem with Internet Explorer, many developers use em instead of pixels.

The em size unit is recommended by the W3C.

1em is equal to the current font size. The default text size in browsers is 16px. So, the default size of 1em is 16px.

The size can be calculated from pixels to em using this formula: pixels/16=em

h1 {font-size:2.5em;} /* 40px/16=2.5em */
h2 {font-size:1.875em;} /* 30px/16=1.875em */
p {font-size:0.875em;} /* 14px/16=0.875em */
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In the example above, the text size in em is the same as the previous example in pixels. However, with the em size, it is possible to adjust the text size in all browsers.

Unfortunately, there is still a problem with IE. When resizing the text, it becomes larger than it should when made larger, and smaller than it should when made smaller.

Use a Combination of Percent and Em

The solution that works in all browsers, is to set a default font-size in percent for the body element:

body {font-size:100%;}
h1 {font-size:2.5em;}
h2 {font-size:1.875em;}
p {font-size:0.875em;}
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