Typographic glossary

The anatomy of type. The characteristics listed above determine the style and personality of a typeface.

The positioning of text within the page margins. Commonly used alignment include:
  • flush left — Type lines up only on the left edge of the column; sometimes referred to as ragged right.
  • flush right — Type lines up only on the right edge of the column.
  • justified — Type lines up on both sides of the column.
  • centered — all lines of type line up along the center of the column, leaving a ragged edge on the left and right sides.
Flush left and flush right are sometimes referred to as left justified and right justified.

(a) The stated point size, (b) the actual size or k-p size, (d) the x-height.

The part of lowercase letters (such as k, b, and d) that ascends above the mean line.
actual size
The size of type measured from the top of the tallest ascender to the bottom of the lowest decender, sometimes called the k-p size. It is slightly smaller than the stated point size. This is because type measurements were originally taken on the metal slugs, not on the letters themselves.
The imaginary line on which the majority of characters in a typeface rest.

A two-page spread in San Francisco magazine, with a full bleed on the left-hand page.

The practice of extending a picture off one or more edges of the page. When a picture completely fills a page, it is known as a full bleed. Usually the picture must extend at least an eighth of an inch off the page, which is then trimmed back to the correct size.
body type
The paragraphs in a document that make up the bulk of its content. The body type should be set in an appropriate and easy-to-read face, typically 9 to 12 points. Type larger than 12 points is considered display type.
bold face
A typeface with darker, thicker strokes that will stand out on a page. Headlines needing emphasis should be boldface. Italics are preferable for emphasis in body text.
A dot or other special character placed at the left of items in a list. Bullets are also known as dingbats.


cap height
The height from the baseline to the top of the uppercase letters. This may or may not be the same as the height of ascenders. Cap height is used in some systems to measure the type size.
Text placed at an equal distance from the left and right margins. Centered type can be effective for display use, but do not use it for body type because centered type is tiring to read in large blocks. Also avoid mixing centered text with flush-left or flush-right text.
character, character code
In printing, a typeface is made up of hundreds of characters, including upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, punctuation and symbols. In Web design, characters beyond the alphabet, numbers and some punctuation must be designated with a character code, often called a character entity or release sequence. For instance, an em dash — is designated by the code —
character map

The character map for Gill Sans, a Type 1 PostScript font.

A character map is a table in a font that encodes all of the glyphs contained in that font. Most fonts commonly have 256 glyphs such as upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, punctuation and a few symbols. But some extended fonts have hundreds more glyphs, including mathematical symbols and symbols contained in foreign alphabets.
A narrower version of a font used to get a maximum number of characters into a given space.
1. Differences in type on the page in size, weight, spacing and indentation that makes some type stand out. Contrast is the main tool in establishing a type hierarchy. For instance, the large, bold letters in a headline are seen as more important than body type. The goal is to establish a hierarchy without losing harmony.
2. Within a particular font, contrast refers to the difference between thick and thin strokes that make up a letterform. Lineal fonts such as Helvetica has low contrast, while modern serif fonts such as Bodoni have high contrast.
The process of adjusting the size and spacing of type to make it fit within a defined area of the page.


The part of lowercase letters (such as y, p, and q) that descends below the baseline of the other lowercase letters in a font face. In some typefaces, the uppercase J and Q also descend below the baseline.
Typefaces that consist of symbol characters such as decorations, arrows and bullets.
display type
Type in larger sizes used in headlines, titles and advertising. Many type families include a display font designed to look good at large point sizes, 12 points on up. Such a font is not readable in large blocks when used as body type.

A drop cap (top) and a raised cap, sometimes called a pop cap.

Type set flush left (ragged right).

An abbreviation for dots per inch. Refers to the resolution at which printers or image setters can form text and graphics. Laser printers commonly reproduce images at 300, 600 or 1,200 dpi. Theoretically, the higher the resolution, the sharper the image, but text printed at 300 dpi looks sharp to the naked eye. It’s in printing graphics, especially photos, that high resolution is most desirable. Professional image setters used by newspapers and magazines have resolutions in a range from 2,400 to 4,800 dpi. These machines use a photographic process to attain these resolutions rather than the toner-based process of the laser printer.
drop cap
A design style in which the first capital letter of a paragraph is set in a larger point size and aligned with the top of the first line. This method is used to indicate the start of a new section of text, such as a chapter.
ellipsis …
A punctuation character consisting of three periods that takes the place of an omitted word or phrase. Most fonts come with a true ellipsis that should be used instead of simply typing in three periods. A true ellipsis will not separate into individual periods at the end of a line.
em, em space, em quad
A unit of measurement in typography. An em is commonly defined as the current point size. For example, in 12-point type an em is a distance of 12 points. Ems are used in horizontal measurements such as word and letter spaces. Because the width of an em increases with the type size, those spaces are always in proportion.
em dash —
A dash the length of an em is used to indicate a break in a sentence.
en, en space, en quad
A unit of measurement in typography. An en is defined as half the width of an em.
en dash –
A dash the length of an en is used to indicate a range of values.
See character encoding.
flexography printing
A form of relief printing that uses rubber plates.
flush left
Text that is aligned on the left margin is said to be set flush left. If the same text is not aligned on the right margin, it is said to be set flush left, ragged right. The term ragged right is sometimes used alone to mean the same thing.
flush right
Text aligned on the right margin is said to be set flush right. The term ragged left is sometimes used alone to mean the same thing.
When type was made of metal, a font was a typeface of one size, such as 10-point Garamond Italic. Printers had to buy sets of type for each size they wanted to use. When scalable type came on the scene, the distinction between font and typeface was lost, and today the terms are interchangeable. See typeface.
font family
A collection of faces of a related design that are intended to be used together. For example, the Garamond font family consists of roman and italic styles, as well as regular, semi-bold and bold weights. Each style and weight combination is one typeface or font. Also called a typeface family.


The Times typeface family has a true italic face; note the differences in the letters (top two) such as the a’s and the e’s. Helvetica on the other hand has only an oblique version in its typeface family.

In modern computer operating systems, glyph is often defined as the character in a font that results from a character code. The most common example of a glyph is a letter, but the symbols and shapes in a font like ITC Zapf Dingbats are also glyphs.
gravure printing
An intaglio printing process uses an etched cylinder to transfer ink to a substrate.
hanging indent
A paragraph style in which the first line of a paragraph is aligned with the left margin, and the remaining lines are indented an equal amount. This is sometimes referred to as outdenting. A hanging indent is commonly used with bulleted or number lists.
The short lines of emphasized text that introduce detail information in the body text that follows. Also the category of typefaces that are designed to work best in headline text.
The mathematical instructions added to digital fonts to make them sharp at all sizes and on display devices of different resolutions.
A slanted, script-like member of a typeface family. The upright faces are often referred to as roman. A true italic is a completely different typeface from its roman counterpart, as opposed to an oblique typeface, which is merely a slanted version of the roman typeface.
A block of text that has been spaced so that the text aligns on both the left and right margins. Justified text has a more formal appearance. It is the standard text alignment for books, magazines and newspapers.

The letter pairs at top are kerned; space has been removed to make the spacing look natural. The pairs at the bottom are unkerned.

The adjustment of horizontal space between pairs of characters in a line of text. Computer fonts come with kerning tables that specify how much space should go between each kerning pair. Kerning is important in large display sizes and in headlines. Without kerning, many letter pairs look awkward. The objective of kerning is to create space that looks equal between all letters.
Kerning may be applied automatically by the desktop publishing program based on tables of values. Some programs also allow manual kerning to make fine adjustments.
keyboard layout, keyboard mapping
Sometimes known as a character mapping, a keyboard layout or mapping is a table used by a computer operating system to govern which character code is generated when a key or key combination is pressed.


The space added between lines of text to ease reading. The term comes from the thin lead spacers that printers used to increase space between lines of metal type. The printers commonly spelled it ledding to avoid confusion between lead, the metal, and lead, the first paragraph of a newspaper story. Leading is measured from baseline to baseline: 10-point type with two points of space has 12-point leading, often referred to as 10 on 12, or 10/12. Line height and leading are synonymous. Line height is the term used in writing code for Web sites.

Four processes commonly used in commercial printing: relief, planographic, intaglio and screen.

A form of relief printing in which ink is applied to the raised surface of the type, then the type and paper are pressed together, leaving the image on the paper. Watch this video about one shop still using traditional letterpress methods.
Adjusting the average distance between letters in a block of text to fit more or less text into the given space or to improve legibility. Kerning allows adjustments between individual letters; tracking is letterspacing applied to a block of text as a whole.

Some common ligatures, Adobe Caslon Pro

Two or more letters tied together into a single character. In some typefaces, character combinations such as fi and fl overlap, resulting in an unsightly shape. The fi and fl ligatures were designed to improve the appearance of these characters. Many computer fonts include ligatures that can be applied automatically by programs such as Quark Xpress and Adobe InDesign.

Each glyph in an outline font is decribed by data points, allowing the glyph to be set at any size. For display on a screen or by a printer, the outline must be converted to a bitmapped image, represented here by the grid.

The white space around the edges of the page that define the printable area of a page. Most printers can’t print to the very edge, and presses require a special setup. But margins also define the shape of the text block and aid in navigating the page. Most books allow generous margins. In magazine printing, pictures often extend to the edges of the page in what is known as a bleed.
A slanting version of a face. Oblique is similar to italic, but without the script quality of a true italic. The upright faces are usually referred to as roman.
outline font
Data files that describe letter shapes (glyphs) by means of vector points that define lines and curves. Examples include TrueType, PostScript and OpenType. Outline fonts are resolution independent, meaning that the letterforms can be scaled to about any size, depending on the program and operating system being used. When the font is sent to an output device, the outlines must be converted to a bitmapped image, either screen pixels or the dots of a printer, a process called rasterization. The device that performs this conversion is a raster image processor (RIP).


paragraph rules
Graphic lines associated with a paragraph that separate blocks of text. Rules are commonly used to separate columns and isolate graphics on a page. Some desktop publishing programs allow paragraph styles to be created that include paragraph rules above or below the paragraph.
Metal Type

Metal type on slugs. Much of our terminology for typography, such as point size, comes from the early days of printing. a) face, b) shoulder, c) body or shank, d) nick, e) groove, f) foot, g) body size or point size.

A unit of measure that equals a sixth of an inch in computer systems. The traditional British and American pica was 0.166 inches.
A unit of measure in typography. The point as used in desktop publishing, sometimes called the PostScript point, is exactly 1/72nd of an inch. In traditional measurements, the point was slightly more than 1/72nd of an inch.
point size
The stated size of type, such as 10-point, 9-point or 72-point. Also called the body size, a term taken from the days of hand-set metal type. The point size is slightly larger than the actual letters measured from the ascender line to the descender line. In Europe, type is often measured by the cap-height in millimeters.
raised cap
A design style in which the first capital letter of a paragraph is set in a large point size and aligned with the baseline of the first line of text. It is an alternative to a drop cap.
relief printing
A type of printing in which the type is raised above the surface of the carrier. Letterpress is a form of relief printing.
The technique of printing white or light-colored text on a black or dark background for emphasis. This technique reduces legibility, especially with small type.
  1. The upright typeface within a font family, as opposed to the italic typeface.
  2. A style of type marked by serifs, an upright stance and contrast between thick and thin strokes. The earliest versions of this style can be found on ancient Roman buildings such as Trajan’s column. Thus the name.

An inscription on Trajan’s column (113 A.D.)

A solid or dashed graphic line in documents used to separate the elements of a page. Rules and other graphic devices should be used sparingly, and only for clarifying the function of other elements on the page.
sans serif
A type face that does not have serifs. Generally a low-contrast design. Sans serif faces lend a clean, simple appearance to documents.
screen printing
a process in which ink is transferred through small openings in a screen that is created by a stencil. The ink flows through only the open image areas of the screen onto the paper.


Small decorative strokes that are added to the end of a letter’s main strokes. Serifs are thought to improve readability by leading the eye along the line of type.
set solid
Leading that is equal to the point size of the font in use. Generally used only with larger display sizes.
A variation in appearance, such as italic and bold, that identifies a typeface in a type family.

David Carson printed what he thought was a dull interview with Bryan Ferry using the symbol font Zapf Dingbats in a 1992 issue of the experimental music magazine Ray Gun. The two-page spread had to be decoded like a cryptogram, although the entire interview was reprinted in a legible type at the back of the magazine.

A category of type in which the characters are special symbols rather than alphanumeric characters. An example is Zapf Dingbats.
tabular figures
Numerals that all have the same width, making it easier to set numbers in a table.
The average space between characters in a block of text. Sometimes also referred to as letterspacing.
One of the styles of a family of typefaces. For example, Garamond Italic is one typeface in the Garamond type family. With the advent of scalable type, first with phototypesetting then with the computer, the terms typeface and font mean the same thing.
type family
Also known as a font family. It is a collection of typefaces designed and intended to be used together. For example, the Garamond family consists of roman and italic styles, as well as regular, semi-bold, and bold weights. Each of the style and weight combinations is called a typeface.
typographic color
The apparent blackness of a block of text. Color is a function of the relative thickness of the strokes that make up the characters in a font, as well as the width, point size, and leading used for setting the text block. One mark of well-set type is an even color without lakes or rivers of white.
The balance and interplay of letter forms on the page, a verbal and visual equation that helps the reader understand the form and absorb the substance of the page content.
Depending on alignment, this term refers to text which is set flush left, flush right, or centered.
The relative darkness of the characters in the various typefaces within a type family. Weight is indicated by relative terms such as thin, light, bold, extra-bold, and black.
white space
The blank areas on a page where text and illustrations are not printed. White space should be considered an important graphic element in page design.

Typefaces with differing x-heights can look radically different. The sample on the left, Garamond, has a small x-height, while Excelsior’s x-height is much larger. Both samples are the same point size set on the same leading.

One of the possible variations of a typeface within a type family, such as condensed or extended.
word spacing
Adjusting the average distance between words to improve legibility or to fit a block of text into a given amount of space.
An acronym for What You See Is What You Get. Macintosh, Windows, and some UNIX environments provide a WYSIWYG screen display. What you see on the screen is what you will get on printed output, as accurately as the screen can render it.
Traditionally, x-height is the height of the lowercase letter x. It is also the height of the body of lowercase letters in a font, excluding the ascenders and descenders. Some lower-case letters that do not have ascenders or descenders still extend a little bit above or below the x-height as part of their design. The x-height can vary greatly from typeface to typeface at the same point size.



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