In our second installment of Typography 101, we are going to talk about the actual anatomy and structure of individual letterforms. (View Part 1: Leading, Tracking, & Kerning) While some of this may be kind of on the dry side, it is still important to learn some of the basic terms behind the anatomy of letters. Some of these terms will also come into play in future Typography 101 installments, so becoming familiar with them will definitely be helpful.
Today we will be pulling a lot of the terms and definitions from a couple websites such as Typedia and Thinking with Type. These are excellent resources for getting an in-depth view of specific typefaces, as well as general typographic terms and history.
The areas of the letter that are highlighted and numbered correlate directly with the numbered list below it.
- Cap Height: The distance from the baseline to the top of the capital letter determines the letter’s point size (Thinking with Type).
- X-Height: The height of the main body of the lowercase letter (or the height of a lowercase x), excluding its ascenders and descenders (Thinking with Type).
- Baseline: Where all the letters sit. This is the most stable axis along a line of text, and it is a crucial edge for aligning text with images or other text (Thinking with Type).
- Ascender Height: Some elements may extend slightly above the cap height (Thinking with Type).
- Descender Height: The length of a letter’s descenders contributes to its overall style and attitude (Thinking with Type).
- Overhang: The curves at the bottom of letters hang slightly below the baseline. Commas and semicolons also cross the baseline. If a typeface was not positioned this way, it would appear to teeter precariously. Without overhang, rounded letters would look smaller than their flat-footed compatriots (Thinking with Type).
- Serif: “Feet” or non-structural details at the ends of some strokes (Typedia).
- Stem: Primary vertical stroke (Typedia).
- Crossbar: A horizontal stroke (Typedia).
- Counter: Fully or partially enclosed space within a letter (Typedia).
- Bowl: A curved stroke that encloses a letter’s counter (Typedia).
- Shoulder: A curved stroke originating from a stem (Typedia).
- Terminal: The end of a stroke that lacks a serif (Typedia).
- Finial: A tapered or curved end (Typedia).
- Ligature: Two or more letters are joined together to form one glyph (Typedia).
Of course, this is more of a general overview of some of the basic, fundamental anatomy terms. You can find a more in depth view of type anatomy as well as a comprehensive history of the written language by visiting Typedia and Thinking with Type.
In our next installment of Typography 101 we will be taking a look at how all of these terms come together and are utilized in different typeface classes. Stay tuned!
View Part 3: Learning the Basics of Typography: Type Classes