Thanks to the magic of computers, very few people need to spend any time thinking before they hit the print button. But, for those looking for accolades beyond the best company picnic invitation, here are a few terms and techniques to consider for your typographic masterpiece.
“Typeface” versus “font”
In olden times, we watched recorded motion pictures on video tapes but we wouldn’t go over to someone’s house to “watch a video cassette,” we’d go over to watch a “movie.” That’s the relationship between font and typeface. The font is the cassette and the typeface is the art form contained on it. Typeface is what it looks like, font is the nuts and bolts of the delivery. Font is the steak, typeface is the sizzle.
Waaaaayy back in the day, a font was a complete set of one particular typeface in just one particular size. All the periods, commas, capitals, super and sub-scripts, the works. Now, with computers and scalable type, font is the collection of every size.
Some days this feels like somewhat of a lost art. Typography is the way of setting and arranging type to convey the emotion of the words the letters spell. There are terms associated with this art and ways to not simply accept what the computer spits out after typing.
Serif and non-serif
That’s serIF, not an indentured labourer. A serif face has feet. Non serif does not. Generally, serif faces are easier to read because the little feet link the letters in a word together. Those dainty feet can turn into veritable pontoons when very large headlines are required so non-serif often wins out in that arena. Large amounts of copy do better with a serif.
Where type lives. You’re looking at one right now, you just can’t see it. Every font will have its own baseline - the rule of where everything sits. Usually anything with a flat bottom sits on the line and anything with a round bottom (don’t say it) dips a wee bit below.
Ascenders and descenders
Ascenders are the chimneys on b, d, f, k, l and t. The descenders are g, j, p, q and y and live below the surface, like morlocks.
The top line that all letters that are not ascenders reach. Often times, graphic standards call for specific “x-heights” as minimums of maximums. Such as a Canadian Food Inspection Agency requirement of a minimum x-height of 1.6 mm.
Not pronounced leeding. Same thing as line spacing. This is the distance between lines of text measured in points (as in type size points). The relationship between point size and leading changes depending on the size of the type. Larger type generally requires less leading proportionately where smaller type will benefit from more line space to ease in readability.
Like leading, this is a broad instruction to define the consistent space between characters. Not individual adjustments, one call does it all. Tracking is measured as a percentage from negative to positive. Useful for readability and tone of type.
Like arthroscopic surgery, kerning is the reduction of space between individual characters. Sometimes required to correct optical issues that occur between characters.
The opposite of kerning, letterspacing is about adding space between characters to get the line just so.
A ligature is the joining of two characters are joined together as a single piece. Like Th in a hand-written face - with computer type, hand-written characters don’t ligate by themselves. Type Nerd Alert: the letter W is an old-school (like, seventh century) ligature, it really is a double-u.
This is different from point size. Weight is how thick (or heavy) the stems of the character are. Up to recently, the weight has been named: thin, extra-light, light, normal, medium, demi-bold, bold, heavy and black are the most common.