Know Your Typography Terms

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Ever have trouble communicating with others regarding typography? Use these key terms to pave the way to better understanding.

  • ascender – The part of a lower-case letter that extends above the x-height.
  • baseline – The invisible line on which the letters rest.
  • boldface – A heavier version of the normal weight of a typeface.
  • centered – A typographic arrangement in which type appears in the center of a defined space.
  • characters – Individual letters or numbers.
  • condensed – A narrower version of the normal width of a typeface.
  • descender – The part of a lower-case letter that extends below the x-height.
  • drop cap – An enlarged initial letter that extends below the first base line of body text. A drop cap should be base aligned with one of the text’s base lines.
  • font – One design of a particular typeface. It includes all of the designed characters such as numerals and punctuation.
  • initial cap – A larger letter at the beginning of a block of text. An initial cap may be a drop cap, or it may sit on the first line of text.
  • italic – Type in which the letters are slanted to the right and drawn to suggest handwriting.
  • justified type – Lines of type that are flush on both the left and right edges.
  • kern – To tighten the space between letterforms to achieve optically-consistent letter spacing.
  • letter spacing – Insertion of space between the letters of a word to improve the appearance of a line of type.
  • line spacing/leading – In text, the space between the baseline of one line and the baseline of the next.
  • loose lines – Lines of text with too much space between letters and words.
  • point size – The size of type measured from the top of the ascenders to the bottom of the descenders.
  • ragged – Multiple lines of type set with either the left or right edge uneven.
  • roman – Name often applied to the Latin alphabet as it is used in English and most other European languages.  Also used to identify vertical type as distinct from italic.
  • sans serif: Type without serifs. (The display text in this manual is sans serif.)
  • serifs – Small strokes at the ends of the main strokes of letters. (The body text in this manual has serifs.)
  • soft return – A carriage return that breaks to a new line but doesn’t start a new paragraph. In most programs, you can type a soft return by pressing the shift-return keys.
  • text type – Type, usually between 6 and 14 points, used for text compositions.
  • typeface – A named type design, such as Garamond, Helvetica, or Times Roman.
  • type family – All the variations of a particular typeface. Type families usually consist of the basic roman, italic, and bold. Larger type families may include condensed, expanded, outlined, as well as a variety of different weights.
  • typography – The style and arrangement of the headline and subhead letters on a page.
  • x-height – The height of lower-case letters without ascenders and descenders. It is defined by the base line and the mean line.

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