How do you tell one typeface from another? If you’re trying to distinguish Helvetica from Times Roman, the difference is obvious. In other cases, however – especially between text designs having similar characteristics – the differences can be subtle and difficult for the less–experienced eye to see. One important step in training your eye to notice the details that set one design apart from another is to examine the anatomy of the characters that make up our alphabet.
As in any profession, type designers have a specialized vocabulary to talk about the different parts of letters. It isn’t necessary to commit the entire list to memory, but familiarizing yourself with this terminology will make it easier to communicate about typefaces and their characteristics. It will also help educate your eye to recognize the underlying structure of various designs and the differences among them.
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Opening at the end of an open counter.
A horizontal stroke not connected on one or both ends.
An upward vertical stroke found on lowercase letters that extends above the typeface’s x-height.
The invisible line where letters sit.
A curved stroke that encloses a letter’s counter.
Fully or partially enclosed space within a letter.
A horizontal stroke.
A downward vertical stroke found on lowercase letters that extends below the baseline.
An angled stroke.
A small stroke projecting from the upper right bowl of some lowercase g’s.
A tapered or curved end.
The thin strokes of a serif typeface.
Two or more letters are joined together to form one glyph.
A stroke that connects the top and bottom bowls of lowercase double-story g’s.
The enclosed or partially enclosed counter below the baseline of a double-story g.
The smaller form of letters in a typeface.
“Feet” or non-structural details at the ends of some strokes.
A curved stroke originating from a stem.
Uppercase characters that appear as a smaller size than the capital height of a typeface. Short for “small capitals”.
The main curved stroke for a capital and lowercase s.
A small projection from a curved stroke.
Primary vertical stroke.
A descending stroke, often decorative.
The end of a stroke that lacks a serif.
A letter or group of letters of the size and form generally used to begin sentences and proper nouns.
Also known as “capital letters”.
The height of the main body of a lowercase letter.
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