Classifying Type

Roman Oblique Italic
Typefaces can be placed into a variety of different classifications. The posture of most typefaces will be roman; however, they may also be oblique or italic. The difference between the three should be readily noticeable. Roman letterforms are upright. Oblique letterforms are structurally the same as romans, but they are at an angle. Italic letterforms are structurally different than roman letterforms, but belong to the same typeface family.

When you begin to classify a typeface, it is done by the visual characteristics of the typeface. There are four fairly broad categories that most typefaces can be placed in: Serif, Sans-Serif, Script, and Graphic/Experimental. All of these different categories can be further broken down, but Serif classifications are the main ones that we will deal with in any depth.

Most serif typefaces are categorized by more historical characteristics than anything else. The most common categories are: OldStyle, Transitional, Modern and SlabSerif. But before going to far, I thought that it would be a good idea to show the variety of serifs that are in use today. I have made no effort to place these particular typefaces into a category, however, you may want to...

Sans Serif

Based on Roman capitals and humanistic writings of the fifteenth century, OldStyle typefaces have a diagonal axis, bracketed serifs and, on the top of the lowercase ascenders, the serif tends to be oblique.

There is a greater contrast between the thicks and thins of the stroke in Transitional typefaces. Transitional typefaces also have finer and straighter bracketed serifs, and a less diagonal axis.

Contrast in the stroke of Modern typefaces is extreme. Modern typefaces are also distinguished by a vertical axis, unbracketed hairline serifs, and a "regularized" uppercase-meaning that the wider letterforms are condensed while the narrower ones are expanded. Their strong geometric quality is characterized by rigorous horizontal, vertical and circular shapes.

Also known as Egyptian type, slab-serif typefaces are set apart from other typefaces by their heavy, square, unbracketed serifs. Usually there is minimal, if any stroke contrast.

Easily recognizable due to their lack of serifs, sans-serif typefaces are usually geometric in their construction. They often have a vertical stress, if any. Some sans-serif typefaces combine organic and geometric qualities.

Closely resembling the natural flow of handwriting, scripts originate from pen or brush strokes. Script typefaces best reflect hand-drawn letterform creation, calligraphy.

This category is something of a catchall for typefaces that don't fit the conventional categories for one reason or another. Graphic and experimental typefaces have unique visual qualities that may reflect a certain mood or give a particular effect when used.

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