The Comprehensive Guide to Typography Jargon for Designers

Posted by Liquid Bubble on

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.

Aesc

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

Aperture

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

Apex

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

Arm

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’. 

Ascender

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.

Baseline

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

Bowl

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

Beak

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. 

Bicameral

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. 

Bracket

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. 

Copyfitting

The act of adjusting point size and letter spacing. 

Counter

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

Crossbar

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’. 

Cursive

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

Descender

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. 

Diacritical

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

Dingbat

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. 

Ear

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’. 

Ethel

A ligature of ‘o’ and ‘e’. 

Eye

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

Finial

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

Fleuron

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

<font-face>

This is the HTML5 tag that embeds typefaces into webpages. 

Glyph

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! 

Grapheme

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

Gutter

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

Justified

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

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

Leading

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. 

Legibility

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. 

Loop

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).

Logotype

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

Ligature

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

Manicule

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’.

Monospace

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

OpenType

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. 

Orphan

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

Pica

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. 

Pilcrow

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

Point

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

Readability

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

Serif

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

Sidebearing

The horizontal space between letterforms which separates one from another.

Spine

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

Squoosh

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. 

Spur

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

Stem

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

TDC

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

Tittle

The dots found above ‘i’ and ‘j’. 

Terminal

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

X-height

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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