The field of Typography employs a number of technical terms to describe letterforms. If you take the time to learn these, you will find it much easier to identify specific faces, and will quite possibly amaze all your friends with your knowledge of type.*

Typographic baselines

Throughout this post, the examples sit on a collection of lines.

  1. Ascender Height
  2. Cap Height is the extent of a capital letter.
  3. The Median is the line defining the X-height of the letterforms.
  4. Baseline refers to the line that all characters ‘sit’ on.
  5. Descender Depth.

Stroke

An uppercase A with stroke highlighted

Any line that defines the letterform.

Apex and Vertex

Uppercase A and V with apex and vertex highlighted

The point created at the junction of two diagonal stems.

Arm

uppercase F and Y with arms highlighted

Short strokes off the stem of the letterform, either horizontal (E, F, T) or inclined (K, Y)

Ascender

lowercase b,d,h and k with ascenders highlighted

The portion of the stem of a lower case character that rises above the median.

Barb

Uppercase C and S with barbs highlighted

The half-serif finish on some curved letterforms.

Beak

Uppercase T and E with beaks highlighted

The half-serif finish on some horizontal arms.

Bowl

A lowercase B with bowl highlighted

The rounded form that describes a counter. The bowl may be either open or closed.

Bracket

A lowercase H with brackets highlighted

The transition between the serif and the stem.

Counter

Lowercase A and D with an uppercase P, highlighted counters

The negative space within a letterform, either fully or partially enclosed.

Cross Bar

An uppercase A and H with cross bars highlighted

The horizontal stroke that joins two stems together.

Cross Stroke

A lower case F and T ligature with the cross stroke highlighted

The horizontal stroke in a letterform that intersects the stem.

Crotch

An uppercase K with crotch highlighted

The interior space where two strokes meet.

Descender

A lowercase P and Y with descenders highlighted

The portion of the stem of a lowercase letterform that projects below the baseline.

Ear

A lowercase G with ear highlighted

The stroke that extends out from the main stem or body of the letterform.

Finial

A lowercase A with finial highlighted

The rounded non-serif terminal to a stroke.

Leg

A lowercase K with leg highlighted

Short stroke off the stem of the letterform, either at the bottom of the stroke (L) or inclined downward (K, R)

Ligature

A lowercase F and I with the ligature highlighted

The character formed by the combination of two or more letterforms. Opentype fonts allow flexible access to ligatures.

Link

A lowercase G with link highlighted

The stroke that connects the bowl and the loop of a lowercase G.

Loop

An lowercase G with loop highlighted

In some typefaces, the bowl created in the descender of the lowercase G.

Shoulder

Lower case H and N with shoulders highlighted

The curved stroke that is not part of a bowl.

Spine

An uppercase S with spine highlighted

The curved stem of the S.

Spur

A lower case D with spur highlighted

The extension that articulates the junction of a curved and vertical stroke.

Stem

An uppercase V and T with stems highlighted

The significant vertical or oblique stroke.

Tail

An uppercase Q with tail highlighted

The curved or diagonal stroke at the finish of certain letterforms.

Further Reading

This post was created with heavy reference to A Type Primer by John Kane (Laurence King Publishing / ISBN 1-85669-291-4). If you’re interested in typography and grids, I can’t recommend it enough.

*NStudio can accept no responsibility for any loss of friendship resulting from discussion of this blog content.