Why is all-caps white font so often used in memes?Archie D'Cruz:
Because of laziness, mostly. And Microsoft.
A great majority of memes floating around on the internet today are created using meme generators—web tools where you can select an image, add your text, and post it to social media. Easily done in under a minute without you having to fiddle around in Photoshop.
What’s common to just about all of them is the default setting: the same blocky typeface, in white all-caps, and text outlined in black. Those settings make it easy to read on virtually any image, dark or light.
Most of the popular meme generators don’t allow you to change the typeface, the color or the case, but even with the ones that do, these options are downplayed. So when you do run into a meme, you will almost certainly see something like this:
But how did this come to become the default? That’s where Microsoft comes in.
The typeface used in most memes is Impact, created in the sixties when the Swiss typographic style—clean, strong, legible—began to dominate graphic design. It was created by Geoffrey Lee, who sold it to British typeface foundry Stephenson Blake, which in turn sold it to Monotype after getting out of the font business.
As the internet gained in popularity in the '90s, Microsoft spearheaded a project to create a standard pack of fonts for the web.
It licensed 11 fonts, including Impact, from Monotype, and published them as freeware. These were included in the Windows 98 operating system, which dominated the market at the time.
Little surprise, then, that the earliest memes—which were created using MS Paint or Photoshop—would feature Impact. Along with Arial Black, it was easily the strongest of the core fonts and the most legible when placed on an image. Unlike Arial, it was also very condensed, which allowed for more text to fit in.
When websites featuring meme generators (or image macros, to use the technical term) arrived on the scene, Impact was an obvious choice: free to use, and easily readable on virtually any image.
Over the years, there have been sites that have tried to be unique—offering different font choices, darkening the image below the type, putting text above and below images, putting text in boxes—but by now using Impact in white all-caps for memes has become something of a meme itself.
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