Typography: Some basic terms

on 10.22.2014

Photography credit: Love From Ginger.

Like most designers, I love typography. I’m always spotting and recognizing typefaces, which is both a blessing and a curse. Me at a restaurant? The reason I’m taking so long isn’t that I don’t know what to order… I’m silently judging the font choice. I know, what a designer thing to say, but was it really necessary to print the entire menu in 40pt Comic Sans MS?

Today, I’d like to share my love and appreciation for typography by explaining a few basic terms.

Font or typeface?

Font and typeface are often used as interchangeable terms, but they’re actually not the same. A typeface is designed by a type designer. You can think of typeface as the “type family”. For example, “Arial” is a typeface, not a font. A font is a variant of a typeface — the size (e.g. 12pt), the style (bold, italic). So “Arial Bold” is a font, and so is “16pt Arial”, as well as “12pt Arial Italic”, “Arial Italic Bold”, “18pt Arial Regular”… Do you see where I’m going with this?

Kerning, leading, tracking and baseline

Since this post is only meant to cover the basics, I’ll keep it… well, basic. I’m focusing on these type tools that Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, etc. provide us with:

Typography: kerning, leading, tracking, baseline

Kerning = the space between two letters
Leading = the vertical space between lines of type
Tracking = the uniform space between all letters and words
Baseline = the line that most letters “sit” upon (some extend below the baseline, for example capital Q and lowercase g, j, p, q, y).

Typography can make or break a design. Here’s an example of bad kerning + leading that is too tight:

Typography mistakes

Creating this graphic physically hurt me

I hope this post helped you catch the typography bug, so the next time you see bad kerning (or other kinds of sloppy typography), you won’t be able to unsee it! If you’re already a type nerd like me, you can follow my Pinterest board “Typography & Lettering”. Enjoy your new vocabulary!

Web designer from Copenhagen, Denmark.


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