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Typography terminology

This entry is part 5 of 10 in the series Design Techniques & Terminology

The sixth of our technical/terminology articles. Below are some of the common terms used:

Typeface/Fonts
A typeface is a family of fonts. This may be made up of one weight or many, designed with stylistic unity, each comprising a co-ordinated set of glyphs. A typeface, in its basic form, is an alphabet of letters, numerals and punctuation marks (how many depends on the designer); it can also include ideograms and other symbols (for example, mathematical or map-making symbols). The term typeface is frequently interchanged with font; these terms had more clearly differentiated meanings before the advent of computers. The distinction between font and typeface is that a font designates a specific member of a type family such as roman, boldface or italic, while typeface designates a consistent visual appearance or style which can be a “family” of fonts. In the example below we see the typeface Hermes, which is made up of four fonts: black, bold, regular and thin.

Typeface and Fonts

Point size
The size of typefaces and fonts is traditionally measured in points; the most popular definition is 0.0139in/0.35mm. When specified in typographic sizes, the height of an em-square – an invisible box which is typically a bit larger than the distance from the tallest ascender to the lowest descender – is scaled to equal the specified size. In the example below, when setting at 12 point, the em square defined in the font is scaled to 12 points or 0.17in/4.3mm, yet no particular element of the font need measure exactly 12 points.

Point size

Kerning & Tracking
Kerning is when you adjust the white spacing in a proportional font based on character pairs, therefore you would have a strong kerning between a V and A and no kerning between the an S and T. This all removes unseemly gaps that can impede readability and be distracting to the reader. Be careful not to create negative letter spacing, where the characters start to overlap one another, this is not very readable.

Kerning & Tracking

Tracking (letter-spacing), on the other hand, refers to the amount of space between a group of letters to affect density in a line or block of text. This is adjusted evenly, regardless of the characters.

Leading
Leading (rhymes with heading) refers to the amount of space between each line of type (word processors call this “line spacing” and “double spacing”). It is called leading from traditional typesetting, when they would use strips of lead to space out evenly the lines of text. Paragraphs should have the same leading for each line.

Leading

Justification & Alignment
When a block of text is justified the text is spread out to be flush with both the left and right margins. Alignment options are flush right (= ragged left), flush left (= ragged right), and centred. Ragged alignment refers to text that is not justified, with white space of varying length at the end of a line. Justified blocks of text can give you nice clean columns of copy but you will get nasty ‘rivers’ of white space running though the copy. And, depending on the amount of words per line, the spaces can vary dramatically. You also need to correct bad rags, avoiding shapes appearing in the end of the lines (like pyramids, steps, wedges, angles and overly short or long lines) by tidying up the lines with soft returns/line breaks.

Justification & Alignment

Widows & Orphans
A widow is when a paragraph-ending line falls at the beginning of the following page/column, thus separated from the remainder of the text. In the example below you can see this at the top of the second column.

An orphan can be either a paragraph-opening line that appears by itself at the bottom of a page/column, or a word, part-word or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph. In the example below you can see this at the bottom of the second paragraph and at the bottom of the second column.

Widow & Orphans

Double spaces
This is a throwback to typewriters and a practice with which some people still persist; it is when you have two spaces between sentences. This is a big no-no, only one space should be used.

Dumb & Smart quotes/apostrophe
English curved quotes, also called “book quotes” or “curly quotes”, resemble small figures six and nine raised above the baseline (like 66…99), but then solid, i.e. with the counters filled. In many typefaces, the shapes are the same as those of an inverted (upside down) and normal comma. However, the ASCII character set, which has been used on a wide variety of computers since the 1960s, only made three quotation marks available: “, ‘, and the dubious backquote ` (also referred to as backtick or letterless grave accent). Smart quotes/apostrophes are preferred in formal writing and printed typography.

Dumb & Smart quotes
Dumb & Smart quotes

En dash
The en dash, n dash, or n-rule is used in ranges such as 6–10 years – read as “six to ten years”, and not a hyphen “6-10 years”. The en dash is wider than the hyphen but not as wide as the em dash. An em width is the point size of the currently used font, since the M character is not always the width of the point size.
En dash

Em dash
The em dash (—) or m dash, m-rule, etc, often demarcates a parenthetical thought or some similar interpolation.

Em dash

Paragraph indents
There are two ways to separate paragraphs, either by simply having an empty line between them or using paragraph indents. The first paragraph is never indented; subsequent paragraphs should be by one em, not the ½ inch that most software has set up as the default tabs settings.

Paragraph indents

Hanging punctuation
Hanging punctuation is where you typeset punctuation marks and bullet points, most commonly quotation marks and hyphens, so that they do not disrupt the “flow” of a body of text or “break” the margin of alignment. The name derives from the punctuation appearing to “hang” in the margin of the text, and it is not incorporated into the block or column of text. Because punctuation has less visual weight than letters or numbers you compensate for this by hanging the punctuation into the margin – it is commonly used when text is fully justified. See example below comparing non-hanging and hanging punctuation.

Hanging punctuation

Baseline
Whenever possible it is always better to have your text align to the baseline of the document. The baseline would generally be the same as the leading. By using baseline as you look across a series of columns all the lines line up with one another. Baselines of all columns of text on a page should align as this creates a pleasing margin of pure white space.

Baseline

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