What It Means
A slab serif typeface is a desktop publishing must-have in the same way that real butter is a cooking must-have: You certainly could get along with it, but things just wouldn’t be as tasty
In contrast to the serif fonts (such as Times New Roman) and the sans serif fonts (such as Arial), the slab serif offers a bold and fascinating hybrid. Its stems have feet (smaller counter-strokes at the ends of a letterform’s major strokes), but the feet are relatively thick and blunt as opposed to the infinite variety of curved, arched, rounded, or pointed feet of traditional serif fonts. These typefaces offer contrast and variety; they draw attention; they bring an incredible air of unseen quality; and, when well selected and placed, they can distinguish the projects of persons with good design intuition.
Slabs run the gamut from Western-style playbill lettering to pre-electric calligraphy fonts. All the variations make for a great chance for individuals to distinguish themselves from the crowd by using a truly unique typeface.
What It’s For
Being known as bold and blunt, the slab serif faces are rarely used for long blocks of running text. Usually, these fonts find themselves adding panache to posters and flair to flyers; they make very noticeable and unique headings. However, there is the occasional lighter-weight slab that finds its way into running text such as in newspaper articles or correspondence.
But who cares about the esoteric worlds of design and publishing? How are you going to get any use out of a slab serif typeface? Well, these fonts look great on invitations, on posters, and in school or work presentations, when used in tasteful moderation. If you have a blog or website for yourself, your business, or your family, these are the kinds of typefaces you can use to add a je ne sais quoi that will set your pages apart. Best of all, these sturdy faces hold up well in professional stationary and on resumes and become truly distinguishing features in an increasingly monotonous sea of business ephemera.
Best Free Fonts
When browsing around for free fonts, DaFont.com offers a convenient, one-stop clearinghouse. All the free fonts I mention can be found there; browsing their selection of Western fonts also yields an interesting selection of heavier slab serif fonts.
One slender face that does well in blocks of running text, Niland is simple and pleasant. Just Old Fashion is playful and would look amazing on informal invitations, for example. Fette Egyptienne brings the thick, bold slabs and weighty strokes that are most often associated with these faces, but nothing beats the sheer magnitude and width of Acknowledgement. Both are undoubtedly eye-catching and lend themselves to imaginative uses.
Best Non-Free Fonts
Chaparral, Rockwell, and Clarendon are some of the most commonly used slab serifs and are a great place to start, especially since Chaparral is often already installed on your PC or Mac.
A quick note on how to download and install fonts
Downloadable free fonts usually come packaged in a ZIP file. Save this to a folder you will remember. Open the file, and drag the TrueType or Open Type files out. If you’re using a Mac, double click the files and click “Install Font.” If you’re using a PC, open the Control Panel, open Fonts, click File gt; Install New Font, then browse the directory. Find the folder with your typefaces, select the fonts you want to install and click “Install”. Remember to check the readme or .txt files with the face to ensure that your use will comply with the creator’s wishes.