Typography 101: Anatomy of a Letter

December 22, 2011 at 11:00 am | Posted in Conventional Art | Leave a comment
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Hello, fellow artists! It’s the Imikimi Team here, and we’re back again to share with you yet another helpful feature! We hope that you’ve been enjoying all of our features, and hope this one will no different. You may have heard the term “typography” and wondering what all the fuss is about. So today, we’re going to deconstruct some letter-forms today and show you some of their anatomy. Let’s get started, shall we?

Believe it or not, every time you type up an essay, newsletter, etc, you’re actually employing typography. You may not be doing so actively, but everything you type (or write, or letters you draw) is a form of typography. The maximum depth that most of us go to with typography is to change the font, the font size, or font color. But there are many, many more aspects than that. And today we’re going to start with what many feel are the starting points of typography, the letters themselves.

Every typeface (a fancier word for “font”) is comprised of letters, and each of these letters share common anatomy. Each part of a letter has a certain name and function, whether to increase legibility or aesthetics, everything has a role to play. Most all of us remember what it was like when we first began to read and write. We would be given large sheets of lined paper, and we were taught to write on those lines, that the bottom of the letters should touch the lines. In that moment, we were already learning typography, because that line is actually called a “baseline.” Normally, no letters other than “descenders” (which we’ll get to shortly) go below this line.

The “x-height” is the opposite of the baseline. The x-height is the maximum height for each letter (with the exception of capitals and “ascenders”). This is the distance from the bottom of the lowercase “x” to the top.

“Ascenders” are just that: they ascend above the x-height. These are easy to spot, and are the tall vertical lines found in letters like “b,” “d,” and “h.”

“Descenders” are exactly the opposite of ascenders: they descend below the baseline. These are also easy to recognize in letters such as “j,” “p,” and “y.”

You may have heard the terms “serif” and “sans-serif” before. Serifs are the little accents and “feet” found in many typefaces. If you hear of something referred to as sans-serif (“sans” meaning “without”), if would simply mean that the typeface does not include serifs.

“Cap height” refers to the maximum height of capital letters, typically 1.5 times the x-height, although that may vary from typeface to typeface. While these letters are some of the tallest, ascenders often surpass their height by a small amount.

A “bar” is a horizontal stroke found in letters like “E” and “F.”

The “leg” of a letter form is the downward stroke found on letters “R” and “K.”

“Shoulder” is a term used to describe the start of some letters’ legs, such as in letters like “n” and “m.”

We here at Imikimi thank you so much for stopping by, and we hope this feature has bestowed some typographical knowledge upon you, setting you on your path to learning more and more about this subject. Be sure to stop on by soon, as we’ll continue to churn out fresh, new articles for your education and enjoyment! Thanks, and we’ll see you soon!

Best Wishes,
The Imikimi Team

“The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning!” — Mark Twain

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