20 Typography Terms You Need to Know

When working with a designer, you might find they’re speaking a foreign language. And that’s because they are speaking in “type talk!” However, “type talk” is not hard to pick up and in the long run will save you and the designer plenty of headaches, time and googling.


I’ve condensed the list down to about 20 of the most important words you need to know, and while this is just the basics, these words will earn  you a loving nod of approval from your designer.





*Many of these definitions have been paraphrased to make them easily digestible.


    1. Logotype: Text set in a style that is used to represent a brand identity of a group. Can be placed adjacent to logo or can be used on its own as the full identity.
    2. Typeface: A typeface is a complete collection of fonts with varying widths and classifications (i.e. regular, bold, italics…) For example, if we look at the typeface Arial, within it are Arial Regular, Arial Bold, Arial Italics… etc.
    3. Font: A complete assortment of letters, numbers and glyphs designed to be of one style within a typeface. (i.e. Arial Regular)
    4. Serif: A slight projection finishing off a stroke of a letter in certain typefaces. In smaller set body copy it often aids in legibility. In larger set display type, it often is used as a decorative element.
    5. Sans-serif font: A font without serifs, or projections that finish off a stroke of a letter.
    6. Display font: Large set type often used as a header to grab a viewer’s attention. Since they are larger and therefore easily legible, decorative elements are often added to these. These are not designed to be used as small body copy.
    7. X-height: The midpoint between the base and height of the letterform. Each typeface is set at a different midpoint, defined by the height of the typeface’s lowercase letter x. Typically, the higher the x-height, the more legible the typeface.
    8. Body copy font: A smaller set type used for large amounts of text for easier legibility. Typically, the higher the x-height in small body copy, the easier it is to read.
    9. Leading: The spacing between two lines of text. The origin of this word comes from the days of placing pieces of lead between lines of text in a traditional letter press.
    10. Tracking: The spacing distributed evenly throughout a single word.
    11. Kerning: The spacing between individual letters.
    12. Left-align/right-align/center-align: The edge of the text is aligned with the left or right margin. Center-alignment is aligned around a midpoint (this one should be used the least as it is the least legible).
    13. Jagged-Left or Jagged-Right: When the text is aligned to the either the right or left margin but it is not aligned with the other.
    14. Justified: Text edges line up flush with both margins.
    15. All caps: All letters are uppercase.
    16. Small caps: Uppercase letters set to be no taller than the typeface’s x-height. Typically used to distinguish certain words within text. Best to use a small caps font where it has been intentionally designed into its typeface.
    17. Drop cap: The first letter or letters lowered into the beginning of a paragraph, often a few lines deep. Typically found on chapter pages of a book. Originates from its use in Medieval books.
    18. Letterform: The makeup of a particular letter style.
    19. Roman hanging punctuation: The spacing of letters to align optically with the edge of the paragraph, resulting in punctuation that extends the width of a paragraph. Used to enhance the optical grid alignment of a block of text or more than one line of text by extending punctuation, such as quotation marks.
    20. Hyphens, EN dashes and EM dashes:
  • Hyphens (-) are the shortest of these dashes and are used (and should be used minimally) to break apart a word in a paragraph.
  • En dashes (–) are a little longer (the length of the letters e and n together) and on a PC can be created by the shortcut (alt+0150) and on a Mac by (cmd+hyphen[-]). They are meant to be used to define a range between two separate words or numbers to replace the word: “to”. For example: I ate about 2–3 apples yesterday.
  • Em dashes (—) are used to break apart two separate thoughts in a sentence. For example: Last time I went swimming in the ocean—though I typically love swimming—I was stung by a jellyfish!
  • Please use these properly! (End rant.)


Now go get ‘em.



Comment, like and share! If you have any questions or suggestions for terms I missed please leave them in the comments below. Let’s spread the knowledge and save a breath or two for designers.




http://www.google.com (Google Dictionary)



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  • Anonymous

    No. 11 Kerning reduces letterspace between certain combinations of characters such as in “AWAY”.

    • Anonymous

      That’s a great clarification! Thanks.

  • Binod Kumar


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