Typographic Terms

Knowing the terms that are commonly known to typographers will greatly help understanding typography in general, and it will enable you to expand your knowledge base as you learn more about type and it's intricacies. If you find something that you feel should be included, please fill out the feedback form and submit your term for consideration.

Agate - A unit of measurement used in newspapers to measure column depth. 14 agate lines=1 inch.

Alphabet - A group of abstract symbols, called characters, that represent sounds created by speech.

Alphabet length - A unit of measurement, in points or picas, of the lowercase alphabet of a specific typeface and size.

Ampersand - A symbol, developed as a shortcut by scribes by combining the letterforms e and t, meaning "and".

Analphabetic - A symbol used with the alphabet, but not having a place in the alphabetical order. (example: an asterisk or umlaut)

Aperture - The openings of letterforms such as C, s, and e.

Arm - A horizontal stroke that is free on one or both ends.

Ascender - The part of a lowercase letterform that rises above the x-height, or meanline.

Axis - The axis of the stroke that creates the letterform. Normally the thins of a letterform reveal the axis. This is not to be confused with slope.


Baseline - The imaginary line that letterforms rest upon.

Bicameral - An alphabet that is a combination of two alphabets. The modern Latin alphabet is an example of a bicameral alphabet. See also unicameral.

Blackletter - Better known as Gothic Lettering. Blackletter was what Gutenberg duplicated when he printed his 42-line Bible. See also Incunabula.

Body - 1. Referring to metal type: The actual piece of metal that contains the letterform. 2. Referring to photo and digital type: The rectangle around the letterform that represents were the metal would be. The term has been retained for use in spacing and sizing type.

Body Copy - See Text Type.

Boldface - A heavier version of the normal weight of a typeface, characterized by thicker strokes.

Bowl - The basic round shape of a letterform. Also called an eye.

Bullet - A dot that is used as a decorative or organizational element.


Capital - A letterform that is larger, and usually different in shape, that the corresponding lowercase letterform. Also known as uppercase.

Cap Height - The height of a capital, or uppercase, letterform from the baseline to the top of the letterform.

Character Count - The total number of characters in a piece of copy.

Character - The individual shapes-symbol, sign or mark-in a typeface.

Cicero - The continental European equivalent to the British and American pica. See also point.

Color - The darkness of the mass of set type. Not to be confused with the weight of the typeface.

Contrast - When analyzing type, this is the degree of difference between the thick and thin strokes of a given letterform.

Column width - The left to right measurement of a group of lines of set type.

Condensed - A narrower version of the normal width of a typeface.

Copy - The text of a manuscript.

Copyfitting - The process of estimating the amount of space copy will occupy when it is set in type.

Counter - The white space that is either partially or completely enclosed by a letterform.

Crossbar - The horizontal stroke of a letterform that is attached at both ends.


Descender - The portion of the lowercase letterform which goes below the baseline.

Dingbat - An ornamental symbol.

Display type - Type that is larger than 18 points. Used when setting headlines.

Drop Cap - A large initial capital, or versal, that is mortised, or sunk into, the text. Compare with elevated cap.


Elevated Cap - A large initial capital or versal that sits on the baseline of the first line of text.

Em - 1. lineal measure: the distance equal to the type size. 2. square measure: the distance equal to the type size. Also called mutton.

En - Half an em. Also called nut.

Expanded - A wider version of the normal width of a typeface.

Eye - See bowl.

Fleuron - A dingbat that is shaped like a flower or a leaf.

Folio - A page number.

Font or Fount - A set of sorts or glyphs. 1. Metal type: A given alphabet with all needed characters in a given size. 2. Phototype: Usually the assortment of standard patterns forming the glyph palette or the actual filmstrip or wheel on which the patterns are stored. 3. Digital Type: The glyph palette itself, or the digital information encoding it.

Glyph - An onscreen version of a character. See also sort.

Gutter - The empty space between two columns of type, or the margins of between the spine of two facing textblocks.


Hairline - The thinnest stroke of a letterform.

Hard Space - Also called a Hard Return or Non-Breaking Space, where a linespace will not turn into a linebreak.

Hint - The process of defining, at smaller sizes, the distortion of a digital letterform. This is done so that the font will remain identifiable at small sizes with low resolutions. It isn't necessary at large sizes. Hints are usually included with most digital fonts.

Italic - A style of letterform that is midway between roman and script with a pronounced diagonal slant.

Incunabula - European printing from the time of Gutenberg until 1500.

Kern - verb. To adjust a letterform combination so that the space between them appears to be same as the rest of the letterforms that create the word. (an example of what would be kerned is "To".)


Leading - The distance between lines of type. A term that has been retained from the days of metal type. Also known as line spacing.

Ligature - Two or more letterforms that are combined to create a single letterform. Some common ligatures are fi, fl and ff.

Letterform - The alphabetic characters of a typeface. See also character, font.

Lining Figures - Characters usually the same height as capitals.

Italic - A style of letterform that is midway between roman and script.

Lowercase - The alphabet of small letters.

Meanline - The imaginary line that represents the top of the x-height.

Miniscule - An early term for lowercase letterforms.

Measure - The standard length of a line of type, usually measured in picas.

Oblique - A slanted roman character.

OldStyle Figures - See Text Figures.

Orphan - The first line of a paragraph on the bottom of a page. To be avoided at all costs. See also widow.


Pagination - The sequential numbering of pages.

Pica - A unit of measure equal to 12 points. 1. Traditional printers' measure: 4.22mm or .166 inch, approximately 1/6 of an inch. 2. Postscript™: exactly 1/6 of an inch.

Point - 1/12 of a pica or cicero. 1. British and American pica: There are approximately 72 points per inch, or 28.5 points per centimeter. 2. Continental European cicero: Based on the Didot point, which is larger. There are 67.5 points per inch, or 26.5 points per centimeter. 3. Phototypesetters, digital typesetting devices, Postscript™ and TrueType™: 72 points equals exactly one inch, or 6 picas.

Postscript™ - A programming language that was developed by Adobe Systems that mathematically places text and images on a page.

Quad - See em.

Roman - A style of letterform that has a vertical alignment.


Sanserif - A typeface without serifs.

Script - A style of letterform that most resembles handwriting.

Serif - A stroke that is added at the beginning or end of a main stroke of a letterform.

Slope - The angle of inclination of letterforms of a typeface.

Solid - Leading that is equal to the size of the typeface that is being used.

Sort - A letterform of one particular style and size of metal type. See also glyph.

Stem - Straight, or mostly straight, main strokes of letterforms that are not a part of the bowl.

Stroke - A mark made by an instrument, usually a pen or brush.

Swash - A letterform that either contains extra flourishes or takes up more space than normal, or both. Usually they are capitals, but may be extended to the lowercase.


Terminal - The end of a stroke.

Text Figures - Numerals — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc. — that are designed to match the lowercase letterforms in color and size. Most are ascending and descending forms.

Text Type - The main body of a manuscript. Usually set with 6-14 point type.

Typeface - Characters that have been designed with consistent visual properties. See also font.

Unicameral - An alphabet that has only one case. See also bicameral.

Versal - A large initial capital.


Weight - The darkness, or density, of a typeface, independent of size. See also color.

Widow - The end line of a paragraph that has a small number of words. Also to be avoided. See orphan.

Word Space - The distance between words.

x-height - The distance between the baseline and the meanline, usually the approximate height of the lowercase x.

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