When working on a project, there often comes a moment when the layout designer will consider changing the font selection for a specified section of content. Designers understand the basics of good typographic and how to apply them to their layout. With some basic understanding of typography, anyone can improve the selection of fonts and overall typographic implementation used on a design project. We will briefly look at type foundries and the anatomy of type.
Before the digital revolution, type foundries manufactured metal or wooden typefaces for letterpress machines. These Linotype and Monotype machines required that each letter be hand positioned, making the process of type setting a page extremely time consuming. Since then, technology has streamlined the layout process with desktop publishing applications like Word and InDesign. Instead of metal or wooden typefaces, foundries digitally create and distribute their catalog of fonts online, making it easy for designers to discover and purchase typefaces in a wide range of styles.
Designers often choose a font based upon the individual components of each letterform. These components create a visual rhythm for the typeface which will complement or contrast with the design. Below is a reference guide for some of the notable features that make up a typeface.
Axis – The imaginary vertical line that bisects the upper and lower strokes of a letter
Stem – The main (usually) vertical stroke that acts as the trunk of the letter form
Crossbar – The (usually) horizontal stroke across the middle of uppercase ‘A’ and ‘H’
Bowl – The curved part of the stroke that encloses the circular portions of some letters
Counter – The enclosed curved negative space of some letters
Eye – Much like a counter, the eye refers specifically to the enclosed space in a lowercase ‘e’
Link – The short stroke of a lowercase double-story ‘g’ that connects the bowl and the loop together
Loop – The enclosed counter located below the baseline of a lowercase letter
Shoulder – A short arched stroke at the top of the stem that connects to a bar or terminal
Terminal – The decorative flourish at the end of a stem which is not a serif
Overshoot – The portion that barely extends beyond the baseline
Bracket – The curved connection between the stem and serif
Serif – the decorative flourish on the ends of a stem
Ear – a decorative flourish usually on the upper right side of the bowl
Arm – A horizontal open stroke ascender
Leg – A descending open stoke
Tail – A descending open stroke descender
Cap-height – The height from the baseline to the top of the uppercase letters
X-height – The height of the lowercase letters, disregarding ascenders or descenders. Often exemplified by a lowercase x
Baseline – The imaginary horizontal line upon which the letters in a font appear to rest
Ascender – The part of a lowercase letter that extends above the x-height
Descender – The part of a lowercase letter that extends below the baseline
Here are a couple common ways to adjust the spacing of a font when typesetting.
Kerning – increasing or decreasing the distance between each letter form
Leading – increasing or decreasing the distance between each successive line of type
Based upon the features inherent in the typeface, fonts are classified into several categories. Here are the most common classifications for type classification.
Serif – fonts that have decorative flourishes or serifs on the end of the stem
San Serif – fonts that do not have decorative flourishes or serifs
Slab – Fonts that have square serif on the end of the stem
Script – Cursive fonts
Blackletter – Gothic script and Old English typefaces
Novelty – fonts with unique characteristics and embellishments outside of standard type specimens
Symbol – Pictographic fonts (eg. Wingdings)
Now that we understand the elements that comprise a typeface, we will look at how fonts can be utilized to enhance layouts in the next installment.