Typographic terms can seem especially confusing when you don’t know exactly what they mean. In Part Two of our “Exploring The Bones Of Typography” series, we’re going to get into the actual placement and spacing of letters, numbers, and punctuation.
When you’re reading a block of text, a lot of work actually went into making sure that it’s not only legible, but comfortable to read after a font is typed out. Some parts of each letter’s placement happen automatically, but there are some parts that can be changed manually to suit your own needs when you’re designing something.
(If you’re just joining the series, catch up on Part One now!)
The “baseline” is the invisible line that the font rests upon. If your body were a letter, the ground that you’re standing on would be your baseline.
A “descender” is the portion of a letter that extends below the baseline. Letters like “y” “g” “p” and “q” have descenders.
The “cap line” is the invisible line that marks the uppermost boundary of capital letters in typography design. Let’s imagine once again that your body is a capital letter. The very top of your head would be the cap line – and not just because that’s where your baseball cap sits – but that visual totally works here.
“X-height” sounds like something out of a Marvel movie, but it actually refers to the height of a font’s lowercase letters, barring their ascenders. The term actually refers to the height of the lowercase “x,” but the lowercase letters typically share the same height (not counting any ascenders they may have), including “o” “v” and “u.”
“What the heck is an ‘ascender’?” you may be asking. An ascender is what rises above the x-height. You can find these in all sorts of letters, including “h” “t” “d” and “b.”
The way that letters are uniformly spaced along a horizontal line is what’s known as “tracking.” Tight tracking in typography means that the letters are close together, while loose tracking means that there is more s p a c i n g between the letters as they are typed along a line. Depending on your project, there are reasons for using tighter or looser spacing, and much of that decision boils down to what makes for the most comfortable reading experience.
“Kerning” is the horizontal spacing between just two characters. If you’re looking at a sentence or phrase, sometimes you’ll notice that within the series of letters, some of them appear to have more or less space between them. By adjusting the kerning in typography, you can bring two letters closer together (or farther apart) to create an improved appearance of uniformity in their spacing. Fonts are automatically kerned, but occasionally you’ll run into situations where you’ve got to manually adjust things a little bit to create more equal spacing between certain letter combinations.
Depending on the typeface, certain letter combinations just overlap. While the spacing of those letters can totally be adjusted by a little kerning in your , some typefaces offer “ligatures” – two or more of those letters intentionally tied together to create a single letter. Ligatures for “fi” and “fl,” for example, can improve the appearance and readability of those character combinations. Some ligatures even use a little decorative embellishment to connect characters together, and those embellishments are known as “gadzooks.”
Where tracking refers to the spacing between characters, “leading” (pronounced ‘ledding,’ and also known as line spacing) refers to the vertical spacing between multiple lines of text, from baseline to baseline. Most of the time, the leading is automatic and it’s entirely based on the size of the text you’re typing. But, just like with kerning, sometimes you’ll find that you need to adjust the leading manually so you can fit more text into a given space or spread it out farther, depending on what you’re working on.
In Part Three of the “Exploring The Bones Of Typography” series on YouWorkForThem, we’re going to dig into the physical structure of the characters themselves. We’re talking arms, shoulders, feet, and everything that makes up the “physical body” of a character!