Text Legibility and the Letter Superiority Effect


Effects of font design and electronic display parameters upon text legibility were determined using a threshold size method. Participants' visual acuity (inverse of the minimum detection size, representing the threshold legibility for each condition) was measured using upper- and lowercase letters and lowercase words in combinations of 6 fonts, 3 font-smoothing modes, 4 font sizes, 10 pixel heights, and 4 stroke widths. Individual lowercase letters were 10% to 20% more legible than lowercase words (i.e., lowercase words must be 10%-20% larger to have the same threshold legibility). This letter superiority effect suggests that individual letters play a large role and word shape plays a smaller role, if any, in word identification at threshold. Pixel height, font, stroke width, and font smoothing had significant main effects on threshold legibility. Optimal legibility was attained at 9 pixels (10 points). Verdana and Arial were the most legible fonts; Times New Roman and Franklin were least legible. Subpixel rendering (ClearType) improved threshold legibility for some fonts and, in combination with Verdana, was the most legible condition. Increased stroke width (bold) improved threshold legibility but only at the thinnest width tested. Potential applications of this research include optimization of font design for legibility and readability.

DOI: 10.1518/001872005775570998
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@article{Sheedy2005TextLA, title={Text Legibility and the Letter Superiority Effect}, author={James E. Sheedy and Manoj V. Subbaram and Aaron B. Zimmerman and John R. Hayes}, journal={Human factors}, year={2005}, volume={47 4}, pages={797-815} }