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Anatomy: Parts and shapes of type

From: Foundations of Typography

Video: Anatomy: Parts and shapes of type

When I was a little girl first learning the alphabet, I remember daydreaming about the letters above the blackboard. The little A, the big A, the little B, the big B, I loved all the shapes of the letters. Each one seemed to have its own personality and story. In my imagination, the big B was someone struggling to carry two overflowing bags of groceries home from the store. The big I was a soldier standing at attention. The little S was a small child rolling in the grass, perhaps with a puppy.

Anatomy: Parts and shapes of type

When I was a little girl first learning the alphabet, I remember daydreaming about the letters above the blackboard. The little A, the big A, the little B, the big B, I loved all the shapes of the letters. Each one seemed to have its own personality and story. In my imagination, the big B was someone struggling to carry two overflowing bags of groceries home from the store. The big I was a soldier standing at attention. The little S was a small child rolling in the grass, perhaps with a puppy.

We have known names of the letters since we were children, but the parts of those letters have names too. And the environment in which letters exist has its own descriptive language. This is useful knowledge for any design professional. It makes it easier to communicate about typefaces and their characteristics. It also helps to educate your eye about the differences between typefaces and to understand the underlying structure of a typeface. First, let's look at the little world where type lives in.

We say that type sits on a baseline. The next important term is based on the height of the lowercase X, that is called the X-height. Its Body width is the invisible boundary around the shape of the letter. The parts of the letters that rise above the X-height are called Ascenders. The parts that extend below the baseline are called Descenders. And together these are called Extenders. So the invisible boundaries of the Extenders are called the Ascender Line and the Descender Line.

The Cap height will vary based on the typeface. It might be the same as the Ascender Line or shorter. Now let's talk about letter parts. Remember, Serifs are the little feet or extensions that are the finishing strokes of the letterforms. Here are some other common names for the parts of letters. All the rounded letters have Bowls. Look at this B, the rounded part is called the Bowl. The tall vertical stroke is the Stem.

Strokes that extend from the stem are called Arms. We can see in an example on this E. A lot of the letters are like body parts. See how the Ear of the G sticks out like a real ear. Your Spine has a curve in it just like this S Spine. And just like your shoulder, the Shoulder on the M curves. The Leg extends to the baseline and at the base of the Leg is the Foot. Just like a cat's tail, the Tail of the Q often hangs below the baseline.

A Crossbar is a horizontal stroke in the middle of a letter like this one on the A. A Cross stroke crosses over a stem like this F. But on the E, we have what's called a Bar. Any enclosed space in a letter is called a Counterspace. On some letters, you'll see a Spur like a cowboy's spur on a boot. Over the J and the I, the dot in typographic terms is a Jot.

The end point of a letter is called the Terminal. And the Terminal of this F is also known as a Beak. The g has a nice Loop and a connecting stroke is called a Link. When two strokes come to a point like in this A, it's called an Apex. Here you can see the M has two Apexes. I also want to point out common names for the forms of the lowercase A and G. They can be single-story or double-story.

One more term relating to letter parts is Ligature. A Ligature is the connection between a specific pair of letters or in some instances, three letters. A ligature smoothes the connection to improve legibility. This might seem like a lot to learn, but it's useful to communicate using the same language as other design professionals. If you want to familiarize yourself with additional type terminology, you'll find resources in this course's exercise files. Most typed terminology makes commonsense.

The terms are pretty descriptive of how they appear. Did you notice how many of those terms are the names of parts of our bodies, which remind me how much like people, letters are, just as I daydreamed so long ago.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Typography
Foundations of Typography

46 video lessons · 33414 viewers

Ina Saltz
Author

 
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  1. 9m 5s
    1. Welcome
      1m 58s
    2. Why good typography matters
      1m 55s
    3. The power of type
      1m 53s
    4. The theory of typographic relativity
      1m 53s
    5. Getting the most out of this course
      1m 26s
  2. 23m 49s
    1. Serif vs. sans serif
      3m 27s
    2. Display type vs. text type
      3m 39s
    3. Type history
      2m 48s
    4. Type classification
      4m 8s
    5. Other type categories
      3m 24s
    6. Guidelines for combining typefaces
      3m 49s
    7. Using cases
      2m 34s
  3. 18m 28s
    1. Anatomy: Parts and shapes of type
      4m 35s
    2. Size and measurements of type
      2m 18s
    3. Type families: Widths, weights, and slopes
      3m 53s
    4. Reviewing the terminology of type, based on function
      3m 27s
    5. Working with color and tonal weight: Exercises
      4m 15s
  4. 20m 27s
    1. Kerning and kerning pairs
      3m 33s
    2. Tracking and leading
      3m 49s
    3. Exploring variations in type alignment
      3m 55s
    4. Hyphenation and justification
      3m 13s
    5. Indents, outdents, and hanging punctuation
      2m 26s
    6. Other typographic best practices
      3m 31s
  5. 10m 3s
    1. Where type begins: The mark of the hand
      2m 28s
    2. Related parts and shapes: Family resemblances
      4m 35s
    3. Designing a typeface
      3m 0s
  6. 22m 19s
    1. How legibility and readability differ
      3m 48s
    2. Examining factors affecting legibility
      4m 46s
    3. Hierarchy and functionality
      4m 29s
    4. Systematized hierarchy
      3m 52s
    5. Paragraphs, drop caps, and entry points
      2m 41s
    6. Typographic abominations
      2m 43s
  7. 11m 8s
    1. Opposing forces of typography
      3m 8s
    2. The grid: A structure for containing type
      3m 6s
    3. Contrast and scale
      4m 54s
  8. 9m 41s
    1. Typographic expressiveness
      3m 22s
    2. The emotional impact of type
      2m 47s
    3. Three-dimensional type
      3m 32s
  9. 8m 55s
    1. Working with numbers
      2m 10s
    2. Expert characters and analphabetic symbols
      1m 56s
    3. Using typography to navigate content
      1m 51s
    4. Using typography to navigate the environment
      2m 58s
  10. 9m 14s
    1. Managing fonts and building your type library
      3m 14s
    2. Developing your typographic eye
      2m 31s
    3. Breaking the rules
      1m 41s
    4. What's next
      1m 48s

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