Typography can be found in some form almost anywhere you look and it can really make the difference between a decent design and a brilliant design, so learning your beaks from your bowls can make all the difference to your design ability.

Typography, which is the art and technique of arranging type, is a huge topic, so we thought we’d cover the basics as a starting point for designers just making their first foray into the field.


Despite its spelling, this is actually pronounced ‘ash’. It’s a ligature of two letters: ‘a’ and ‘e’.


This refers to the constricted opening of a glyph. Changing the size of an aperture varies the legibility (readability) of the letterform.


This is the area at the top of a character where the left and right strokes meet.


The arm is a horizontal stroke that doesn’t connect to a stroke at one or both ends, such as the top of the letter ‘T’.


This refers to the part of a lowercase letterform which sits above the x-height of a font. For ease of reading (especially prolonged reading), ascenders are really important. However, there can be readability issues if there’s too much ascender height combined with not enough x-height.


A baseline is where the feet of capital letters sit. Descenders and loops fall below this line.


This refers to the enclosed, shapely part of a letter, as seen in ‘b’ and ‘p’.


This is a sharp spur that is found at the top of some letters, such as ‘f’, ‘c’, ‘r’, and ‘a’. It acts as a decorative stroke at the end of the arm of a letter.


An alphabet is bicameral if it has an upper and lowercase letterform. As an example, Roman and Cyrillic are bicameral, whereas Hebrew and Arabic are not.


A bracket is shaped like a wedge and, in some typefaces, it joins a serif to the stem.

Cap height

The height of a capital letter above the baseline.


The act of adjusting point size and letter spacing.


This is the fully or partly enclosed letterforms, such as the lower parts of ‘g’ and ‘c’.

A crossbar connects two strokes. As an example, the horizontal line in ‘H’. This is easily confused with the cross stroke which goes through the stem of letterforms such as ‘t’.


Typefaces which imitate handwriting are referred to as ‘cursive’.


The descender is the part of the letterform which falls below the baseline. The lowercase letterforms ‘y’, ‘g’, ‘q’, ‘p’, and ‘j’ have descenders, as do the uppercase letterforms ‘J’ and ‘Q’ sometimes.


Diacriticals are the accents applied to letterforms, such as in French and German, in order to strengthen the function of the glyph.


Dingbats, formerly known as printer’s flowers, are decorative elements that can range from delicate flowers to simple bullets.

Display fonts

A display font refers to any typeface intended to be used in short bursts. Display fonts are often made to be used at large point sizes, such as for headlines, headings, and titles.

Drop cap

This oversized capital letter is often seen at the beginning of a paragraph and can drop below (or climb upwards) several lines of text. It’s most commonly used in newspapers and novels.


This is the small stroke which extends from the upper-right side of the bowl in lowercase ‘g’. An ear may also be seen in lowercase ‘r’.


A ligature of ‘o’ and ‘e’.


Similar to a counter, but not quite the same, ‘eye’ refers specifically to the fully enclosed part of ‘e’.


A finial is a tapered or curved end, such as seen on ‘e’ and ‘c’. 


A subcategory of the dingbat, a fleuron is a floral mark created by printers with the purpose of decoration.

This is the HTML5 tag that embeds typefaces into webpages.


As the building blocks of typography, a glyph is an element that makes up a part of a font – even dingbats and punctuation are glyphs!


A grapheme refers to any fundamental part of a language, including letterforms, punctuation, and even Chinese logograms.


The gutter is the space between the facing pages or columns of text.


If a paragraph of text is justified, it has been arranged so that there isn’t any white space at the end of a line. Every line of the paragraph begins flush left and finishes flush right.


Kerning is a technique used to enhance readability and aesthetic. It involves adjusting the proximity of adjacent letters.


This is the vertical space between each line of type. It’s called leading because, years ago, strips of lead were used to separate lines.


As much as the two are similar, legibility is not quite the same as readability. Legibility refers to the ease at which one letterform can be distinguished from the letterform next to it.


The lower part of ‘g’ that falls below the baseline is known as the ‘loop’ or ‘lobe’. This is sometimes also known as the ‘tail’ (which is also what the part of ‘y’ that descends below the baseline is called).


This is the lettered part of any identity or marque. It can be separate from its accompanying graphic.


These pull two forms together in order to create a new glyph.


The manicule is a symbol of a pointing hand and is a really popular dingbat. The manicule can also be referred to as ‘the bishop’s fist’.


A monospaced font is one in which all of the letterforms take up an equal amount of horizontal space.


OpenType was designed by Microsoft and Adobe and is an improved version of TrueType and PostScript fonts.

Oblique/sloped Roman

Oblique letterforms aren’t the same as italicised letterforms, which are purposely drawn to be different to the upright version of the same font. Oblique letterforms are simply slanted versions of the usual Roman form.


This refers to the first line of a paragraph that’s stranded at the bottom of a page.


A pica is ⅙ inches long and there are 12 points or 16 pixels in one pica. A pica is associated with column width and line length.


A pilcrow is the paragraph symbol and it denotes the presence of a carriage return (or new line).


This refers to a typographical measurement which equates to ½ of a pica or 1/72 of an inch.


Readability refers to the ease at which text can be scanned by eye.


A serif is a flare or terminating flourish found at the end of a letterform’s strokes.


The horizontal space between letterforms which separates one from another.


The spine is the main curved stroke in a lower or uppercase ‘s’.


The largely frowned upon practice of squooshing refers to digitally squashing or expanding a typeface to fit within a particular space or for aesthetic reasons.


Also known as a beak or a beard, a spur refers to the small projection from the curve of a letterform.


The stem is the vertical, full-length stroke found in upright characters.


‘TDC’ stands for Type Director’s Club and it’s a New York-based typography organisation.


The dots found above ‘i’ and ‘j’.


A type of curve at the end of a stroke; examples include the teardrop shapes at the end of ‘beak’, ‘lachrymal’, and ‘finial’.


The x-height refers to the height of the ‘x’ letterform in any typeface.

Do you want to develop your design skills? Here are five great resources that every designer needs to take inspiration from.



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