The A-Z of typographic terms

Phil Garnham Knowledge share
29 Jun’16

As type designers we can get immersed in an insular typographical bubble at times. It’s easy to forget that our language, the lingo, words and terms that we use to discuss, critique and refine our designs is under the constant pressure of discourse and scrutiny within, often redefining itself. We thought that it would be an interesting project to research and illustrate a few of the key words that we use everyday here in the Fontsmith studio but then before we knew it we were up to nearly 80 terms! Unable to cut the list down we’ve prepared this infographic that lists all the vocabulary in one place. Our new typeface FS Aldrin is used on titles and description info. Its technical and precise shapes seemed perfect for conveying all of the terms in a succinct but also amiable tone of voice… Click on the image below to see it full size.

Anti-aliasing

Semi-transparent pixels along the edges of letterform outlines to smooth jagged edges

Antiqua / Antikva

Serif typefaces designed between 16th–17th century (or new designs following the style)

Aperture

The opening of a partially enclosed counter shape

Apex

Point at the top of a letterform where two strokes meet

Arc

Curved part of a letterform leading into a straight stem

Arm

A stroke that doesn’t connect to another stroke or stem on one or both ends

Ascender

On lowercase letters the vertical stroke that extends above the x-height

Ascender line

Invisible line marking the height of all ascenders in a font

Axis / Stress

Invisible line dissecting the glyph from top to bottom at its thinnest point

Ball terminal

Terminal with a circular shape

Baseline

Invisible line on which the letters in a font rest

Beak

Decorative stroke at the end of the arm of a letter, similar to a serif but more pronounced

Bilateral serif

Serif extending to both sides of a main stroke

Bowl

Fully closed rounded part of a letter

Bracket

Curved or wedge-like connection between the stem and serif of some fonts

Cap height

Height of a capital letter measured from the baseline

Condensed

Type style designed with narrow width proportions

Counter

An area partially or entirely enclosed in a letterform or symbol like an ‘o’, ‘p’ or ‘c’

Cross stroke

The horizontal stroke across a lowercase ‘t’ or ‘f’

Crossbar

Horizontal stroke like the middle of an ‘H’, ‘A’ and ‘e’

Crotch

Inside angle where two strokes meet

Cursive

Handwriting with joined-up letters. Can be used to describe an italic font which is similar to handwriting.

Descender

Parts of lowercase letters that extend below the baseline

Descender line

Invisible line marking the lowest part of the descenders

Display font

Typefaces used for large type like banners and headlines

Ear

Small stroke extending from the bowl of a lowercase ‘g’ or ‘r’

Eye

Enclosed space in a lowercase ‘e’ similar to a counter

Finial

Tapered or curved end on letters like the bottom of a ‘c’ or ‘e’ or the top of a double storey ‘a’

Flag

Horizontal stroke on the figure ‘5’

Foot

The part of a stem that rests on the baseline

Gadzook

An embellishment in a ligature that is not originally part of either letter

Glyph

A single character (number, letter, mark or symbol) is represented by a glyph

Grotesk

German name for sans serif

Hairline

The lightest font family weight name; can refer to thinnest stroke of a letter.

Halbfett

German name for the semi-bold weight in a type family

Head serif

Half serif at the top starting point of the letterform

Hinting

Data instructions within a font to help it render clearly at varying sizes

Hook

Curved stroke in a lowercase ‘f’

Ink trap

Areas of the counter are opened to allow for ink to spread, avoiding dark spots.

Italic

Slanted to the right unlike roman typefaces which are upright

Joint / Juncture

Where a stroke joins a stem

Kerning

Adjustments to the space between pairs of letters, used to correct spacing problems in combinations like ‘VA’.

Leading / Linespacing

Vertical space between lines of text, from baseline to baseline.

Leg

Downward sloping stroke on a ‘k’ and ‘R’

Ligature

Two or more letters joined together to form one glyph

Link / Neck

The link connecting the top and bottom bowls of a lowercase ‘g’

Loop / Lobe

A rounded enclosed or partially-enclosed projecting stroke

Midline

Invisible line resting on the body of the lowercase letters

Oblique / Slanted

Slanted typeface, mechanically sheared unlike italics which are drawn and crafted separately.

Old style / Hanging figures

Numbers aligned with the lowercase, traditionally used for body text setting.

Overshoot

A round or pointed letter extends higher or lower than a flat letter to make it optically appear the same size

Pica

A unit of measure corresponding to 12 points or pixels

Point

A unit of measure corresponding 1/12 of a pica or 1 pixel

Point size

The size of the body of each character in a font

Pro

Support additional languages including Central European and Cyrillic and/or Greek

Rasterization

Converting an image from vector to raster (pixels or dots)

Roman

Standard type style or regular weight of an upright typeface

Serif

Small stroke at the beginning or end of main strokes of a letter

Shoulder

Curved part in a lowercase ‘h’, ‘m’ and ‘n’

Single-tier

When an ‘a’ or ‘g’ has one counter rather than two

Small caps

Capitals which are a similar height to the lowercase, designed for abbreviation and emphasis in texts.

Spacing

Horizontal space on the side of each character

Spine

The main curve in ‘S’ and ‘s’

Spur

Small protruding part on a main stroke

Spurless

Curves transition into straight stems without a spur

Stem

A vertical stroke in a character

Swash

Exaggerated decorative serif, terminal or tail.

Tail

The descending stroke of the letter ‘Q’

Taper

Thinner and refined end of a stroke

Terminal

The end of any stroke that doesn’t have a serif

Tittle

The dot on the ‘i’ and the ‘j’

Tracking

Spacing added to or removed from groups of letters outside the original spacing and kerning specified within a font file

Vertex

The point where two strokes meet at the bottom of a character

Weight

The heaviness of a typeface, independent of its size; can refer to a style within a font family (Thin or Regular).

X-height

Height of the lowercase ‘x’ which is used as a guideline for the height of unextended lowercase letters

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