Tag Archives: vocabulary

Anatomy 101

Before I jump too far into discussing type and typography, it is important to understand the anatomy and vocabulary of type. Although this information appears on many web sites and virtually every book on typography, I’m rehashing it here because this blog is a comprehensive typographic resource.

You may have noticed that an uppercase A is drastically different than its lowercase counterpart (a), and indeed, very different than the letter Z. Before we can understand the differences between letters, we must understand the parts that make up letters.

Here are some of the most common terms that describe the physical characteristics of type:

  • Ascender. Ascenders are the parts of some lowercase letters that extend above the meanline. For example, the strokes in b, d, and h extend up.
  • Bowl. A bowl is the curved part of a letter that encloses a counter.
  • Counter. The counter is the space that is enclosed or partially enclosed by the strokes of a letter. For example, the hole or bowl created in such letters as b, d, o, and p are counters.
  • Descender. Descenders are the parts of lowercase letters that extend below the baseline. For example, the strokes in g, p, and y extend below the invisible line on which the letters sit.
  • Ear. An ear is the little piece that extends of the bowl of a lowercase letter. For example, many forms of the lowercase g have an ear.
  • Link. A link is a piece that connects two bowls. For example, some forms of the lowercase g have a link.
  • Loop. Like the bowl, the loop encloses a counter, but is specific to the lower part of the lowercase g.
  • Serif. Serifs are the finishing strokes or “feet” that appear in some typefaces. Typefaces that lack serifs are called “sans serifs,” which means, “without serifs.”
  • Thick and Thin. Thick and thin strokes are the different weights or thicknesses of lines in a letter. The thick and thin strokes denote the stress of a letter.
Anatomy of Type: The Parts of Letterforms

Anatomy of Type: The Parts of Letterforms

Here are some of the most common terms that describe the space occupied by type or the boundaries of type:

  • Ascender Height. The ascender height indicates the height of the ascenders of lowercase letters, which are often higher than the cap height.
  • Baseline. The baseline is the imaginary line on which the letters sit.
  • Cap Height. The cap height is the imaginary line that rests on the tops of capital letters.
  • Descender Line. The descender line indicates the floor of the descenders of lowercase letters.
  • Meanline. The meanline runs along the tops of the main parts of lowercase letters.
  • X-height. The x-height is measured from the baseline to the meanline and is so called because it is the height of a lowercase x. X-height varies from typeface to typeface and plays an important role in determining how dense type appears and how much space is required between lines of type.
Boundaries of type

Anatomy of Type: Space

This isn’t the end of your anatomy and vocabulary lesson, but it’s a good start.