What Is Typography?

Typography is the art and craft of arranging type to make written words. Typography is most important in professions such as Graphic Design, Art Direction, Content Writing, and Marketing.

Typography Fundamentals

No matter what creative discipline you are in, knowing the fundamentals of typography is critical. The decisions related to typeface choice, and how to layout type are the difference between good and bad design.

I look forward to sharing with you typography basics, and some more advanced tips. Navigate down to learn the basics first.

01: Serif vs Sans Serif

What Is Typography Sans Serif VS Serif

A Serif is a decorative line or taper added to the beginning and/or end of a letter’s stem. Sans Serif, as the name suggests, is simply the absence of the serif.

02: Leading

What Is Typography Leading

Leading in typography refers to the distance between adjacent lines of type. Back in the days of hand-typesetting, leading referred to thin strips of lead that were inserted into the forms to create the vertical distance between lines of type. These days, leading refers to the distance from one baseline to the next.

03: Kerning

What Is Kerning Space Between Letters

Kerning is the art of making letters look aesthetically pleasing and well-put-together. It’s the manual adjustment of the spaces between letters to make them seem equally spaced. Check out a more detailed breakdown on Kerning Here.

04: Tracking

What Is Typography Tracking

Tracking refers to a uniform adjustment to the spacing of a word or block of text. Not to be confused with Kerning (the manual adjustment of space between), adjustments to tracking will change spacing between all letters in a word or block of text.

05: Drop Cap

What Is Typography Drop Cap

A drop cap is a decorative element located at the start section of a chapter or article. It is usually a large capital letter at the beginning or a paragraph or text block. It has the depth of two or more lines of body text.

06: Gutter

What Is Typography Gutter

Gutters in typography are vertical whitespaces or rules, that separate vertical blocks of content. In design software, gutters are seen as guide layers.

07: Alignment & Justification

What Is Typography Justification Left

Left Aligned: The text is aligned along the left margin or gutter, also known as left-aligned, ragged right or ranged left.

Left Justified: The text is aligned along the left margin or gutter. Letter and word-spacing is adjusted so that the text falls flush with both margins except the last line.

What Is Typography Justification Right

Right Aligned: The text is aligned along the right margin or gutter, also known as right-aligned, ragged left or ranged right.

Right Justified: The text is aligned along the right margin or gutter. Letter and word-spacing is adjusted so that the text falls flush with both margins except the last line.

What Is Typography Justification Center Justified

Center Justified: Text is aligned along the left and right margins. Letter and word-spacing is adjusted so that the text falls flush with both margins, except the last line.

Fully Justified: Text is aligned along the left and right margins. Letter and word-spacing is adjusted so that the text falls flush with both margins.

What Is Typography Justification Center

Centered: Text is aligned to neither the left nor right margin; there is an even gap on each side of each line.

Now that you know the basics, read on to see a deeper dive into all the typography terms.

Typography Terms

If you are starting out as a Graphic Designer, or just need to know more about Typography, knowing the fundamentals of Typography is key. Let’s start with the terminology of typography. I’ve created some visual examples to make it easier for you to understand.

Aperture_typography-terms_arturth

Aperture

The opening of a partially enclosed counter shape

Apex_typography-terms_arturth

Apex

The point at the top of a letter where two strokes meet

Arc_typography-terms_arturth

Arc

The curved part of a letter at the end of a straight stem

Arm typography terms arturth

Arm

A straight or curved portion of a letter that extends upwards or outwards

Ascender_typography-terms_arturth

Ascender

The vertical stroke on lower case letters that extends above the x-height

AscenderLine_typography-terms_arturth

Ascender Line

An invisible line marking the height of all ascenders in a font

AxisStress_typography-terms_arturth

Axis / Stress

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

BallTerminal_typography-terms_arturth

Ball Terminal

Terminal with a circular or oval shape

Baseline_typography-terms_arturth

Baseline

The imaginary line upon which a letter rests

Beak_typography-terms_arturth

Beak

A decorative stroke at the end of the arm of a letter, like a serif, but usually more pronounced.

BilateralSerif_typography-terms_arturth

Bilateral Serif

Serif or slab serif extending to both sides of a main stroke

Bowl_typography-terms_arturth

Bowl

A fully closed round part of a letter

Bracket_typography-terms_arturth

Bracket

A curved or wedge-like connection between the stem and serif

CapHeight_typography-terms_arturth

Cap Height

The height of a capital letter above the baseline for a particular typeface

Counter_typography-terms_arturth

Counter

The area of a letter that is entirely or partially enclosed

Crossbar_typography-terms_arturth

Crossbar

The horizontal stroke in letters, usually across the middle of uppercase letters like A and H

CrossStroke_typography-terms_arturth

Cross Stroke

A horizontal stroke that intersects the stem of a lowercase t or f

Crotch_typography-terms_arturth

Crotch

An acute, inside angle where two strokes meet

Descender_typography-terms_arturth

Descender

The portion of a letter that extends below the baseline of a font

DescenderLine_typography-terms_arturth

Descender Line

The invisible line marking the lowest point of the descenders within a font

Ear_typography-terms_arturth

Ear

A decorative flourish usually on the upper right side of the bowl

Eye_typography-terms_arturth

Eye

Specifically the enclosed space in a lowercase 'e'

Finial_typography-terms_arturth

Finial

a somewhat tapered curved end on letters such as the bottom of c or e

Foot_typography-terms_arturth

Foot

The part of a stem that rests on the baseline

Gadzook_typography-terms_arturth

Gadzook

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

Glyph_typography-terms_arturth

Glyph

A specific shape, design, or representation of a character

Grotesk_typography-terms_arturth

Grotesk

German name for sans serif typefaces

Hairline_typography-terms_arturth

Hairline

A name for the lightest weight within a font family. Hairline can also refer to the thinnest stroke of a letter

Halbfett_typography-terms_arturth

Halbfett

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

Hook typography terms arturth

Hook

A curved, protruding stroke in a terminal, usually found on a lowercase f

Inktrap_typography-terms_arturth

Inktrap

A feature of certain typefaces designed for printing in small sizes

JointJuncture_typography-terms_arturth

Joint/Juncture

The point where a stroke connects to a stem

Leg_typography-terms_arturth

Leg

The lower, down sloping stroke of a letter, most common is a K or R

Ligature_typography-terms_arturth

Ligature

Where two or more letters are joined as a single glyph

LinkNeck_typography-terms_arturth

Link/Neck

The small, usually curved stroke that connects the bowl and loop of a g

Loop_typography-terms_arturth

Loop

The enclosed or partially enclosed counter below the baseline that is connected to the bowl by a link

Midline_typography-terms_arturth

Midline

The imaginary line at which all non-ascending letters stop

Overshoot_typography-terms_arturth

Overshoot

The degree to which a letter extends higher or lower than a comparably sized "flat" letter

Pro_typography-terms_arturth

Pro

Typeface supports additional languages including Central European and Cyrillic and/or Greek

Shoulder_typography-terms_arturth

Shoulder

The curved stroke aiming downward from a stem

Smallcaps_typography-terms_arturth

Small Caps

Lowercase characters typeset with glyphs that resemble uppercase letters but reduced in height and weight

Spine_typography-terms_arturth

Spine

The main left to right curving stroke in the letter S

Spur_typography-terms_arturth

Spur

The small protruding part on a main stroke

Stem_typography-terms_arturth

Stem

A vertical stroke in a character

Swash_typography-terms_arturth

Swash

An exaggerated decorative serif, terminal or tail

Tail_typography-terms_arturth

Tail

The descending, often decorative stroke on the letter Q or the descending, often curved diagonal stroke on K or R

Taper_typography-terms_arturth

Taper

The thinner and/or refined end of a stroke

Terminal_typography-terms_arturth

Terminal

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

Tittle_typography-terms_arturth

Tittle

A small distinguishing mark, such as an diacritic on a lowercase i or j

Vertex_typography-terms_arturth

Vertex

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

Weight_typography-terms_arturth

Weight

The thickness of the character outlines relative to their height

X-Height_typography-terms_arturth

X-Height

The distance between the baseline and the mean line of lower-case letters

Typography Rules

Justification:
Use One Font:
Skip A Weight:
Double Point Size:
Align To One Axis:
Limit Your Fonts:
Group By Using Rules:
Use Negative Space:
Mind The Gap

The arrangement of type involves legibility, readable, functional and appealing when displayed. The arrangement of type involves selecting typefaces, point sizes, line lengths, line-spacing (leading), and letter-spacing (tracking), and adjusting the space between pairs of letters (kerning).

The term typography is also applied to the style, arrangement, and appearance of the letters, numbers, and symbols created by the process. Type design is a closely related craft, sometimes considered part of typography; most typographers do not design typefaces, and some type designers do not consider themselves typographers. Typography also may be used as a decorative device, unrelated to communication of information.

Typography is the work of typesetters, typographers, graphic designers, art directors, manga artists, comic book artists, graffiti artists, and, now, anyone who arranges words, letters, numbers, and symbols for publication, display, or distribution, from clerical workers and newsletter writers to anyone self-publishing materials.

Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation. The digital era opened up typography to new generations of previously unrelated designers and lay users. As the capability to create typography has become ubiquitous, the application of principles and best practices developed over generations of skilled workers and professionals has diminished. So at a time when scientific techniques can support the proven traditions (e.g., greater legibility with the use of serifs, upper and lower case, contrast, etc.) through understanding the limitations of human vision, typography as often encountered may fail to achieve its principal objective: effective communication.

Camden Taylor

Author Camden Taylor

Camden is ARTURTH's Chief Editor, Senior Graphic Designer, and artist from the Pacific Northwest.

More posts by Camden Taylor