Coordinated serif size, shape, and transitions from stems (or the lack of serifs altogether) provide rhythm and emphasize the baseline, x-height, and cap height. They also provide style in a subtle but consistent manner.
- [Instructor] What makes a great typeface? It's an orchestration of details. It's everything working together, from the broad strokes to the spaces between. Let's break it down, beginning with a tiny but essential element, the serif. Serifs are the tiny feet at the end of stems. Through their presence or absence, they divide typefaces into two major groups, those with serifs, and those without, sans serifs. The serif is a vestigial element. It comes from a time when letters were drawn with paint or ink.
They represent the act of edging the brush or quill onto the surface to begin the flow of liquid. Since the first Latin typefaces were imitations of calligraphy, these attributes were preserved in metal as in the central part of early designs. Serifs in contemporary typefaces are not essential, but are traditional. They promote horizontal flow and anchor letters to the baseline. The basic serif, also called a half serif, has a simple structure, the horizontal line and the bracket.
The bracket is the curved portion that connects to the stem. The shape and the curvature of the bracket is variable. It evolved over the first 300 years of type design, from irregular to highly rational. In addition to the half serif, there are several other basic types. When serifs are paired on either side of the stem, they form a whole serif. Horizontal half serifs are found in letters like the cap m and n. Half serifs can also run vertically, as in the c, e, f, g, s, t, and z.
Half serifs on lowercase stems are sometimes formed at an angle and are called wedge serifs. Serifs that represent a drop of ink, like on the a, c, f, r, and y, are also referred to as ball serifs, or lachrymal serifs. The lowercase r has a serif-like shoulder, referred to as a terminal, that often ends in a ball serif. There are a few less common serifs that bear mentioning. First is the spur.
These are sometimes found on the cap a and cap g, and in the lowercase b and q. Small hook serifs, or just hooks, appear on the lowercase a and in larger form, on the lowercase t in some fonts. As mentioned before, serifs evolved. In the 15th and 16th century, serifs were irregular in shape and size, with the left and right sides often constructed differently. In the 17th and 18th century, serif construction became more rational and regular.
At the end of the 18th century, a trend of non-bracketed serifs developed. And in the 19th century, the evolution ended with a highly regular, high fidelity, tapered serif. In the 20th century, revival and remixing resulted in a grab bag of serif types that continues to the present. One final note on serifs, display typefaces initially followed text typefaces in structure, though tended toward greater refinement afforded by their size.
Eventually, however, increasingly ornate typefaces were developed, in which the serif functioned to further the ornamental and decorative goals. The 19th century saw an explosion of type styles and serif structures, many of which are finding their voice again today in digital form.
- Why study typography?
- What makes a typeface great?
- Stroke angle, weight, and contrast
- Shape variations
- Finding good models
- Typeface vs. lettering
- Drawing the basic glyphs
- Producing a functioning font
- Printing, critiquing, and revising