Kerning, Serif, Glyph, Oh My: A Glossary of Typographic Lingo

Kerning, Serif, Glyph, Oh My: A Glossary of Typographic Lingo

From the packaging in which your new toothbrush arrives, to the sign greeting you at your neighborhood coffee shop, typography is likely the most common way through which the average person interacts with the world of graphic design. But up until the Digital Age, the art of typography was reserved for specialists working alongside a dossier of proven techniques meant to achieve the underlying goal of typography—clear, effective communication.

These days, with the advent of computers and our incredible exposure to advertising, we all experiment and engage with type to some degree. But despite the fact that typography is a part of our everyday aesthetic lives, the lingo of typography remains a niche little world. For designers, this can pose a challenge with clients. Many people know what they like or don’t like, but do not necessarily have the language and terms to discuss, critique, and refine designs. Below, we create a working glossary to translate the world of serifs and kerning for designers and non-designers alike.

Type Classification

Serif

 
Humanist

Humanist

Didone (aka Modern)

Didone (aka Modern)

Old Style

Old Style

Glyphic

Glyphic

Transitional

Transitional

Slab (aka Egyptian)

Slab (aka Egyptian)

 

Sans Serif

 
Grotesque (aka Gothic)

Grotesque (aka Gothic)

Geometric

Geometric

Neo-Grotesque

Neo-Grotesque

Square Sans

Square Sans

Humanist

Humanist

 

Type Lingo

Alignment or Range

The setting of text flow or image placement relative to the space the type is set to occupy. Basic variations include flush left, flush right, justified, centered.

Display V.S. Text

Type is designed to be used for display and text purposes. While display fonts are used for large text and headings, text fonts are used for body copy.

Glyph

An elemental symbol within an agreed set of symbols--so, the various ways that we recognize the letter “a” in the English language.

Kerning

The adjustment of the spacing between individual characters.

Tracking

The spacing of a group of characters.

Leading

The amount of space between lines in a block of text.

Ligature

When two or more letters are joined as a single letter (i.e.  “æ” in which the letters a and e are joined).

Weight

The "thickness" of a font when compared to its standard typeface. Usually categorized as "bold," "light," "normal," etc.

Measure

The length of a line of text as measured by number of characters on said line.

Rag

Uneven vertical margin of a block of type. Usually the right margin that’s ragged, but either or both margins can be ragged. A poor rag (left) creates distracting shapes in the white space of the margin.

Widows and Orphan

Widows are the gaps between words usually caused by justifying text. Orphans refers to when a single word falls to a new line of text.


Anatomy of Type

Ascender

The part of a glyph that rises above the x-height in letters such as ‘b’ ‘d’ and ‘h’

Bowl

The closed, rounded part of a letter in letters such as ‘a’ ‘b’ and ‘p’

Counter

The negative space within a curved letter in letters such as ‘a’ ‘c’ and ‘e’

Cross Bar

The horizontal stroke in letters such as ‘H’ ‘a’ or ‘e

Cross Stroke

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

Descender

The part of a glyph that drops below the baseline in letters such as ‘g’ ‘p’ and ‘y’

Serif

The small strokes or “feet” of a letter in Serif style fonts

Spine

The center part of the stroke in the letter “s”

Stem

The vertical stroke of a letterform in letters such as ‘F’ and ‘H’

Swash

Exaggerated decorative serif, terminal or tail

Terminal

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


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