What is generic fonts?

In web typography, there are 5 font-families: serif, sans-serif, monotype, cursive, and fantasy.

On the internet, these are used because no web designer can be sure of what fonts are installed on your computer. S/he can give your browser a list of fonts that s/he would like to se the text displayed with, but what actually appears on your screen depends on whether any of these fonts exist on your system.

To make the browser show the text in a sans-serif typeface, the webdesigner might ask for

Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;

and if neither Arial nor Helvetica are installed, the browser will use it's default sans-serif font.

Your generic font setup:

Below, you can see examples of the default fonts for each family with your browser setup:

This is an example of your serif font.

This is an example of your sans-serif font.

This is an example of your monotype font.

This is an example of your cursive font.

This is an example of your fantasy font.

How to change font

In Netscape and Internet Explorer, you can only change the settings for "serif" and "sans-serif" or "monospace", whereas in Opera you have total control.


Internet Explorer:


Created on ... september 01, 2000


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From Papalia     on 2005-03-25 13:39:42

You missed out my favourite generic font, which is ROMAN. Try font face="Roman" in HTML and you will find that it works even though there's no Roman.ttf file in C:WINDOWSfonts.


From mathew     on 2005-06-28 08:57:26

given that you cannot control the generic font for Fantasy or cursive in IE or Netscape, what selection method does it use to actually choose the default font? for example on some pc's the default 'fantasy' font comes up as 'algerian' and on others 'impact'. is there a way to determine in each browser, what the default in each generic font family is likely to be?

From Hallvord     on 2005-07-01 01:28:36

I don't know how IE and Netscape choose their fantasy fonts. Since you can't tell what font is chosen (I don't think getComputedStyle or currentStyle will tell you), using the generics may be typographic roulette :)

Actually, an earlier version of this site used "font-family: fantasy" to style headers. The appearance was very different between browsers and computers, and very ugly because most IEs would choose a "Fantasy" font without Norwegian characters in it and do font switching every time they met , or . It looked absolutely awful.. :)