Gearside Design

Why Papyrus is Worse Than Comic Sans

Ask a designer what the worst font in the world is and you’ll probably get an earful of “Comic Sans”. Ask “why?” and I’d bet most responses would float around the theme “because it’s bad”. While I’m not going to sit here and defend the use of Comic Sans, I will argue that it got a bad reputation because of misuse.

Graphic designers will mount their high horses faster than Zorro when they see Comic Sans used on flyers around their offices by secretaries who are trying to add a little casual flair to everyones’ otherwise white-collar, white-hallway, daily routines. Judging their font-choice would be the same as them judging a designers office administration skills.

To find a font worthy of criticism would require it to appear in places that only a graphic designer could manage. When was the last time you saw Comic Sans used as a logo, on signage, menus, billboards, movies, etc.? Sure they exist, but are in the shadow of the amount of overuse its terrible counterpart gets.

Basically what I’m saying is that Papyrus is worse than Comic Sans because graphic designers should know better.

Comic Sans was created in 1994 by Microsoft employee Vincent Connare inspired by a project called Microsoft Bob. The intent of the font was for use at a relatively small size in comic-style settings like Microsoft Comic Chat. The springboard that launched the font’s corporate overuse was when it became a default font for Microsoft Publisher, Internet Explorer, and thusly bundled with all Microsoft operating system versions thereafter. To this day Comic Sans is one of the small handful of “web-safe” fonts for use online along with Times New Roman and Arial; a brotherhood of only thirteen typefaces.

Papyrus actually pre-dates Comic Sans as it was created in 1982 by Chris Costello at Letraset (a type foundry). It has since exploded onto every form of media under the sun: from all the storefronts in the Adirondacks, to movies like Avatar and Firefly, and even metal bands like Lamb of God and Elis . Eventually, the font was bundled with the Macintosh operating system in 2003 and perhaps the notion that Macs were more suitable for design was what helped the typeface proliferate.

This battle between fonts can’t necessarily be fought by dissecting the elements making up the characters like a good Arial vs. Helvetica throw-down could. Both fonts are eccentric enough to warrant certain liberties such as varying descender angles and terminals. Instead, we have to look at who is behind the use and in what context are they being used. Perhaps it’s their uniqueness that makes seeing them so often fatiguing whereas we don’t feel the same way about seeing Helvetica everywhere (note: I’m not saying Helvetica is the holy grail of fonts, I’m simply stating that is not as tiring to see everywhere as these two).

Ultimately, the world would be a better place to look at if both fonts began declining in use. However, it’s less of an infraction that the secretary at the corporate office has only about 100 fonts to choose from to find their casual champion while a graphic designers have an ocean of typefaces to explore only to decide on the rock on the beach sitting next to them.