Beginner’s Guide to Six Common Chinese Fonts
In my video Chinese lessons, I used a handwritten style to demonstrate how to write Chinese characters. These are not the prettiest characters, but they do give clear indications of how strokes are arranged to form Chinese characters. And the advantage of using handwritten Chinese characters is that they are something students can imitate when using a pen or pencil to write Chinese. And with the bar so low, students can easily write better looking Chinese characters.
However, when the lesson is over, students will often face Chinese characters which are usually pre-designed fonts. There are many Chinese fonts both online and in print. And it is a good idea to recognise some of the common Chinese fonts. We shall see that the same character can look slightly different in different Chinese fonts.
Six Common Chinese Fonts You Should Know about
- 新宋体 (Sim Sun)
Sim Sun is the number one widely used Chinese font. Its popularity is largely due to the fact that it is the default Chinese input font in Windows.
- 宋体 (Song Ti)
Song Ti is probably the earliest Chinese font used in China, tracing back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when printing technology was flourishing. Song Ti itself has gone through quite some changes. There are different versions of Song Ti, designed and supported by different platforms. Sim Sun, as a relatively late coming Chinese font, literally means a new version of Song Ti.
- 黑体 (Hei Ti)
Hei Ti is another Chinese font which is widely used. I would use Hei Ti if I want a “bold” effect for my Chinese texts. It is said that Hei Ti has been around since 1900s.
- 微软雅黑 (Micro Soft Ya Hei)
MS Ya Hei is a new version of Hei Ti. It is said that MS Ya Hei is pre-installed in Windows 7 and the later versions, and that has made MS Ya Hei a popular Chinese font.
- 楷体 (Kai Ti)
Kai Ti is a nice looking Chinese font imitating brush strokes. This is the font used in the Chinese Reading and Writing series.
- 仿宋体 (Fang Song Ti)
Fang Song Ti is a hybrid of Song Ti and some brush stroke techniques. It is mentioned here because many people like this Chinese font, considering it a good model for people to improve their handwritings.
Comparison of These Six Chinese Fonts
With some brief introduction of these six Chinese fonts, we can take a look at what each Chinese font looks like and how different they render Chinese characters. The picture below gives a quick glance at these Chinese fonts.
Curiously enough, although I set all the Chinese characters to be the same font size, this picture shows us that some Chinese characters are bigger than others. The biggest font is MS Ya Hei, and the smallest one is Kai Ti.
Let’s take a closer look at these Chinese fonts. First, Sim Sun and Song Ti.
The key characteristics of the Song Ti family are: (1) the ending of the horizontal strokes spikes up; (2) the vertical strokes are thicker than the horizontal strokes; (3) the ending of the vertical strokes slants nicely.
The reason that the most popular Chinese fonts, Sim Sun, did not make into the Chinese Reading and Writing series is its aesthetic rendition of strokes, especially the spiked ending of the horizontal strokes. It looks very nice in print, but will confuse beginner students. It’s very hard for students to produce the same effect with their pen or pencil.
Also, in this picture, you can’t really tell the difference between Sim Sum and Song Ti, can you? I can’t either. But in theory, Song Ti’s vertical stroke is much thicker than the horizontal strokes.
Let’s take a look at Hei Ti and MS Ya Hei.
The Hei Ti family presents blocks of strokes with equal thickness. The beginning of the strokes is the same as the ending. There is no difference between the horizontal strokes and the vertical strokes.
The next is Kai Ti and Fang Song Ti.
Kai Ti follows the effect of brush calligraphy. With a brush, it is quite true to say that we draw Chinese characters. From this picture, we can see that Fang Song Ti has adopted some of the Kai Ti’s feature, and we can also recognise Fang Song Ti’s resemblance to Song Ti.
So far, the above comparison is mainly about horizontal strokes and vertical strokes. The following is about left-falling strokes and right-falling strokes. Take a look at this picture.
Again, Hei Ti family just use blocks of ink for left-falling strokes and right-falling strokes. But other Chinese fonts treat them differently.
This picture shows the difference between the left-dots and right-dots. Also, pay attention to the hooks. The Hei Ti family continues to use blocks of ink for a hook, which does not look like a hook anymore. This is the reason that Hei Ti did not make into the Chinese Reading and Writing series. The rest of Chinese fonts all present a nice looking hook.
This picture shows us the difference between rising strokes. In Fang Song Ti, the rising stroke looks like a tick, and this is the reason that Fang Song Ti did not make into the Chinese Reading and Writing series.
By now you have probably understand why Kai Ti is used in The Chinese Reading and Writing series. Technically, it gives the smoothest strokes. And it is also aesthetically pleasing.
Our comparison is not over yet. Take a look at this picture.
This picture shows a major difference between Chinese fonts. In the Song Ti family and the Hei Ti family, the curved and turned stroke is greatly simplified to a straight line, while both Kai Ti and Fang Song Ti present it well.
This is another difference. In the Song Ti family and the Hei Ti family, the bottom stroke of 心 is changed from a 卧钩 (wo gou) to a 竖弯钩 (shu wan gou). Both Kai Ti and Fang Song Ti have kept it.
This picture shows what the Chinese title of the Chinese Reading and Writing series looks like in different fonts. My preference goes to Kai Ti.
Other Chinese Fonts
Besides these six common Chinese fonts, there are many other Chinese fonts. Some of the Chinese fonts are traditional ones with thousands of years history, such as the Cursive style. And also there are many new Chinese fonts being created in recent years.
Moreover, many artists and designers enjoy creating cool looking Chinese characters for logos and signs. Coca Cola’s Chinese logo is often considered a good example of how Chinese characters can look good and at the same time match the English logo.
There are many cool looking Chinese characters used in movie titles, book titles, and posters. Next time you see one, stop for a minute and appreciate.
Printable Chinese Character Posters
Use the 320 Chinese characters taught in the Chinese Reading and Writing series as the basic materials, I’ve created some printable Chinese character posters.
Some are clean posters with black characters on white, while some take some features from traditional book printing or stone carving.
That is a lot fun to work with characters.