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A Beautifully Illustrated

Glossary Of Typographic
Terms You Should Know
The world of typography often seems like it has its very own
language, full of serifs, strokes, and swashes.
Sorting out all those terms can be confusing in itself, so weve compiled a visual
glossary that will guide you through the lingo whether youre an aspiring
typeface designer or just a general typography enthusiast. Learning the building
blocks of typography will help you better understand how to pick a suitable
font and apply it effectively within your design projects.

The Basics: Typefaces Categories & Styles


01. Font/Typeface:
Back in the days of metal type and
printing presses, fonts and typefaces
were two different things the
typeface was the specific design of
the letters, say Times New Roman
or Baskerville; while the font referred to the

particular size
or style of that
typeface, say 10 point regular or 24 point italic
(each created as its own collection of cast metal letters and other characters).
Today, however, many designers use the terms more or less interchangeably. The

best and most straightforward modern definition Ive run across (courtesy
of Fontshop) goes as follows:
A collection of letters, numbers, punctuation, and other symbols used to set text
(or related) matter. Although font and typeface are often used interchangeably, font
refers to the physical embodiment (whether its a case of metal pieces or a
computer file) while typeface refers to the design (the way it looks). A font is what
you use, and a typeface is what you see.

02. Character:
An
individual symbol of the full character

set that makes up a typeface; may take


the form of a letter, number, punctuation

mark, etc.

03. Alt

ernate

Character / Glyph:
A non-standard (sometimes decorative) variation of a character that comes as an
extra option with a font file.

04. Serif:

A short line or stroke attached to or extending from the open ends of a letterform;
also refers to the general category of typefaces that have been designed with this
feature.

05. Sans-Serif / Sans:

Literally without line; the general category of typefaces (or an individual


typeface) designed without serifs.

06. Italic:

A slanted version of a typeface (slants from left to right); a true italic is uniquely
designed, more than a tilted version of the upright (a.k.a. roman) typeface.

The Foundation: Positioning & Spacing


07. Baseline:
The
imaginary line on which most letters and
other characters sit.

08. Cap Line:

The

imaginary line that marks the upper


boundary of capital letters and some lowercase letters ascenders
(see Ascenderdefinition in the next section).

09.
X
-

Height:
The height of a typefaces lowercase letters
(disregarding ascenders and descenders).

10. Tracking / Letter-Spacing:

The uniform amount of spacing between characters in a complete section of text


(sentence, line, paragraph, page, etc.).

11. Kerning:
The
horizontal spacing between two
consecutive
characters; adjusting
the kerning creates
the appearance of
uniformity and
reduces gaps of white
space between
certain letter combinations.

12. Leading / Line-Spacing:

The
vertical
spacing
between
lines
of
text
(from
baseline
to
baseline).

The Anatomy of a Letter


13. Stroke:
A single
linear
element that forms part of a character;
may be straight or curved.

14. Stem:

The main
(usually
vertical)
stroke of a letterform.

15. Arc of Stem:

A curved
stroke
stem.

16. Fo

The part of the stem that rests on the baseline.

17. Descender:

that is continuous with a

ot:

piece of a letter that extends below the


baseline.

18. Asce
n
d
er:
A part of a
the xheight).

lowercase letter that rises above the main body of the letter (above

19. Jo
i
nt:
The point
where a stroke connects to a stem.

20. Apex

The
uppermost
connecting
point of a letterform where two strokes
meet; may be rounded, sharp/pointed, flat/blunt, etc.

21. Vertex:
The point at the
bottom of a character
where two strokes meet.

22. Cr

otch:

The
inside
angle where two strokes
meet.

23. Arm:

horizontal stroke that does not connect


to a stem on one or both ends.

24. Leg:
A short,
letterform.

descending stroke on a

25. Sh

oul
d
e
r
:

A curved stroke extending down from a stem.

26. B
ar /
Crossbar:

An enclosed horizontal stroke.

27. Cross
Stroke:
A line that
the stem of a letter.

extends across/through

28. Bowl:

The closed, round or oval curve of a


letter.

29. Counter:

An
enclosed or partially
enclosed area of
white
space
within a letter; could
be bounded by curves, strokes, or stems.

30. Aperture:
The
opening or
partially
enclosed
an open

negative space created by


counter.

31. Do

uble-

Story:

A type of letter that has two counters (as opposed to the single-story version, which
has only one counter).

32. Terminal:
The
end of
any stroke that doesnt include a serif; includes ball terminals (circular in shape)
and finials
(curved or

tapered in
shape).

33. Swash:
A

letterform;
letter by design or available either as

additional glyph or as
to
standard character.

34. Ligature:

decorative extension or stroke on a


may be part of a
an

an add-on
the

Two or
more
letters
that are connected
decorative (the
embellishment that

to form one character; primarily

connects the two letters is called a

gadzook).

<https://designschool.canva.com/blog/typography-terms/>