Typography rules and terms every designer must know

The glossary (A-D)

What is typography

A visual guide to some common typography terms - see key below

Key to image: 1. Bowl; 2. Stem; 3. Counter; 4. Arm; 5. Ligature; 6. Terminal; 7. Spine; 8. Ascender; 9. Apex; 10. Serif; 11. Ear; 12. Descender; 13. Crossbar; 14. Finial; 15. Ascender height; 16. Cap height; 17. X-height; 18. Baseline; 19. Descender line

Aesc

An aesc is the ligature of an 'a' and 'e'

Pronouced 'ash', this is a ligature of two letters – 'a' and 'e'. The aesc derives from Old English, where it represented a diphthong vowel, and has successfully migrated to other alphabets including Danish and Icelandic.

Aperture

You can see the aperture of the 'A' highlighted in red

The constricted opening of a glyph, as seen in the letter 'e'. Varying the size of the aperture has a direct effect on the legibility of a letterform and, ultimately, readability.

Apex

The point at the top of a character where the left and right strokes meet. The example shown in the header image is the top point of an uppercase 'A'.

Arm

A horizontal stroke that does not connect to a stroke or stem at one or both ends – such as the top of the capital T.

Ascender

What is typography

The ascender projects above the x-height of the font

The part of a lowercase letterform that projects above the x-height of the font. Ascenders are important for ease of prolonged reading, though the combination of too much ascender-height and not enough x-height can cause problems.

Baseline

The baseline is where the feet of your capital letters sit. Below this line are descenders and loops.

Bowl

The shapely, enclosed parts of letters such as 'p' and 'b'.

Beak

The beak-shaped terminal at the top of letters such as 'a', 'c', 'f' and 'r'.

Bicameral (as opposed to unicameral)

Bicameral refers to alphabets that have upper- and lowercase letterforms, such as Roman and Cyrillic – as opposed to the likes of Hebrew and Arabic.

Bracket

A wedge-like shape that joins a serif to the stem of a font in some typefaces.

Cap height

The height of a capital letter above the baseline.

Copyfitting

The job of adjusting point size and letter spacing in a bid to make text occupy its allotted space in a harmonious fashion.

Counter

Counters are highlighted in red

The enclosed – or partially enclosed – portion of letterforms such as 'c', the lower part of 'e' and 'g'; easy to get mixed up with the bowl.

Crossbar

The crossbar connects two strokes, as in 'H'. Not to be confused with the crossstroke that cuts through the stem of letterforms such as 't'.

Cursive

These are typefaces that imitate handwriting. Ever popular with Joe Public, the design community is often less than thrilled by these sometimes flowery fonts.

Descender

The part of the letterform that falls below the baseline. In lowercase terms, this means 'p', 'y' and 'q', and sometimes applies to uppercase 'J' and 'Q'.

Diacritical

Diacritical marks – such as the grave shown here – indicate how a letter should be pronounced

Is it so critical that you might die? No. Diacriticals refer to accents applied to letterforms by languages including French, Czech and German in a bid to enhance the function of the glyph.

Dingbat

What is typography

Dingbat are decorative elements such as bullets

Once known as printer's flowers, dingbats are decorative elements that can vary from simple bullets to delicate fauna and flora, often formed into themed collections.

Display fonts

Any typeface intended to be used in short bursts can be defined as a display font. They're often created just for use at large point sizes, as with headlines and titles.

Drop cap

The drop cap 'E' descends four lines

An oversized capital letter often used at the start of a paragraph that 'drops' into two or more lines of text, but can also climb upwards.

Next page: Glossary of typography E-L