Exploring the anatomy of type helps Illustrator users understand what makes each type unique, and which typeset works best for a particular graphic design. In this online video, you'll learn the meaning of important terms like serif, terminal, ascender, cap height, x-height, baseline, aperture, bowl, and descender, so you can figure out type proportions that work with your visual design.
Let's continue our look at typography by exploring something that I like to call the anatomy of type. There's no need to take notes in this section because I've included a free info-graphic depicting all of these terms and definitions that we're going to discuss here in this movie, and I've included that in your exercise files folder. Feel free to open that up and review it as we go along, or even print it out if you'd like and you can follow along with it that way. Now, we're going to break down the parts and pieces of typography so that we can understand what makes typeface unique and so you can better understand what you need to be looking for in specific typefaces that you want to use for your designs.
Let's start off with the three lines that we saw on screen when we first started this slide. The bottom line is known as the baseline. The baseline is just the imaginary line upon which a line of text rests. You can see here, it almost looks like the type is just kind of sitting on that line. There are some special cases where the typeface would extend past that line as you'll see with lowercase y's or g's, but we'll talk about what those are called in just a minute. Next up is the x-height. The x-height is the distance between the baseline of a line of type in the top of the main body of a lowercase letter.
Like the baseline, however, there are certain portions of lowercase typefaces, like a lowercase h, for example, that extend past the x-height, but again, I'll get to what that means in just a minute. The top line is known as the cap height. Cap height refers to the height of a capital letter, which sits above the baseline for a particular typeface. It specifically refers to the height of capital letters that are flat on top, such as an h, an i, or even an uppercase t, as opposed to round letters such as a letter o or c, which can sometimes breach the cap height just ever so slightly.
Now, let's take a look at this lowercase h right here. Obviously, it extends past the x-height, and it does so because it's got something called an ascender attached to it. Ascenders get their name because they make the letter ascend past the x-height of the particular typeface. Occasionally, ascenders can also breach the cap height as well. A descender is the polar opposite of an ascender in that it extends the letter past the baseline, as seen in lowercase g's, p's or in this case, a y.
Let's jump over here. Take a look at the upper case T. Notice how the T, when you look at it, almost looks like a person standing there with their arms out to each side, and this little extension is actually called an arm. The small flare at the end of the arm that points down, that's known as a beak, and it kind of looks like a bird beak when you think about it. The stem, usually a vertical stroke of a letter form like this portion of this upper case T, is sort of like the base of a set of type. And so in this case, it just looks like the stem of a flower, you can think of it that way.
And a tail is the descending part of a letter, which is often attached to a decorative stroke. You'll see this a lot on the letter q for instance, and in some cases, lowercase y's as well. We've already talked about serif typefaces, but the little extension off the top of the y here? That is called a serif. And these little parts right here inside of the o and the g, that's called a counter. That refers to any area that's enclosed within a typeface, sort of like in this o or this g right here.
The small extension on the g? That's known as an ear. And then this little extension off the edge of the r, while it kind of looks like a serif, it's actually called a terminal. You'll also see that over in the letter right next to it. The a also has a terminal on the end of it as well. This next area, which refers to the open space at the top of the a here, that's known as a aperture, and that refers to the partially enclosed, somewhat rounded negative space in some characters like lowercase n's, c's, s'es and a lower part of an e or the upper part of an a.
On the p here, this little bulging area of the p is known as the bowl. You'll also see that on the letter b as well. Now, I know this is a lot of stuff to remember. I know, I get it, and I bet you didn't think there were so many things that actually went into the construction of your favorite typefaces. However, the more you study things like this, the more insight you're going to be able to provide during the design process on which typeface is actually good for the project that you're working on. Maybe you need letters with wide stems, or you need ones that, you know, really have a stylistic tail.
But if you don't know what the proper names for these things are, you might not be able to communicate that to others on your team, or even fellow designers or your clients. You might not be able to find the typeface that you're looking for. I highly recommend learning as many of these terms as possible. And remember to review the info-graphic that I created for you anytime you get stuck. The anatomy of type is a vast and complex thing, but once you take the time to learn it, it will be a valuable asset to you in every single project that you take on.
- Understanding the impact of color
- Sketching your ideas
- Removing unwanted objects from images
- Cropping photos
- Resizing and saving images for print
- Drawing basic shapes
- Creating a custom color theme with swatches
- Applying styles
- Creating tables
- Preflighting documents
- Packaging files for print
Skill Level Beginner
Q: This course was updated on 09/01/2016. What changed?
A: We revised the first four chapters with new graphics and examples.