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This glossary is arranged alphabetically; to jump quickly to a specific letter in the alphabet click on one of the letters below:


Ampersand: symbol for ‘and’; &.

Angle of serifs: serifs that join the terminal stroke at right angles are likely to be slab, modern or hairline; serifs that swell and angle in to the stroke are likely to be venetian, old style or transitional.

Angle of stroke: often key to distinguishing one typeface from another, and italics from their associated romans, angle of stroke is typically vertical in many sans serif and blackletter typefaces, but tilted anywhere up to 15 degrees from vertical in either direction for the majority of serif and script typefaces.

Antique/antiqua: northern European name for roman (see above) or latin typefaces.

Arts and Crafts: European design movement of the late 19th century founded by William Morris and others as a reaction to widespread industrialization; preaching values of guild-based crafts and individual artistry, it was a foreunner of the modernist movement.

Art Deco: another truly international design movement rising to popularity in the 1930s that paired streamlined, geometric and rectilinear styles with sophisticated urban colour schemes.

Art Nouveau: early modernist design movement, originating in European capitals at the end of the 19th century and known by a number of alternate names worldwide, recognisable for its organic flowing lines and naturalistic colour palettes.

Ascender/descender height: height by which strokes in the lowercase characters project either from the x-height (ascenders) as in ‘b’ or descend from the baseline (descenders) as in ‘y’ .

ASCII character set: numerical character encoding for English alphabets as originated with the American Standard Code for Information Interchange in 1963 and updated since, although most current computer encodings can support many more characters than ASCII’s 128, many of them are based upon ASCII.

ATypI: the Association Typographique Internationale, professional association of typographers worldwide.

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Baroque: exaggerated and elaborate style of music, architecture and arts originating in early 17th century Italy and sponsored by heavy patronage of the Roman Catholic church.

Bauhaus: Weimar-era German art school among the first to be run along progressive lines, embracing multi-disciplinary ideas and curricula; prototype of design and art education of the late 20th century.

Bitmap: pixel-based grid for showing typeface characters onscreen.

Blackletter: style of Gothic lettering, divided into four chronological subcategories; Textura, Fraktur, Schwabacher (Bastarda), Rotunda.

Block letters: name given to early sans serif lettering produced by signwriters and engravers.

Blunt serifs: both a design trend in the 1980s and a feature used in design for reduced computer memory; blunt serifs contain abrupt lines and angles and minimize subtle curves.

Bold: version of a typeface one weight heavier than the roman.

Bold Italic: cursive, sloping version of a typeface one weight heavier than the roman.

Bracketed serifs: a feature of transitional serifs where the edge of the serif curves to join the stroke, generally more graceful than old style serifs.

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Calligraphic lettering: letters written with a quill, dip-pen or brush.

Carolingian: the era of Charlemagne, Emperor of the Franks who, with Alcuin of York, introduced the Carolingian miniscule to reform the written communication of Europe between 800 and 1200 AD.

Capitals: the uppercase A-Z.

Casting type: making metal printing typefaces, either character-by-character (foundry or handset type), or line-by-line (machine composition such as a Linotype machine).

Chancery: ornate form of humanistic penmanship, originating in religious offices (chanceries) and often used as the basis for italic typefaces.

Clarendon: early slab serif typefaces of the 19th century, produced for the Clarendon press, lighter in appearance than Egyptian.

Classicism/neoclassicism: mid to late 18th century stylistic idealisation of roman and greek classic cultures in art, architecture and the decorative arts.

Compositor: one who sets type.

Condensed: the narrow form of the roman, not necessarily italicized in the large type families because the italic design was always traditionally narrower than the roman.

Contrast (thick/thin): the relationship between thick and thin parts of the stroke.

Counters: the ‘holes’ in letterforms such as the eye of ‘e’ and interior of ‘o’.

Counterpunch(es): hardened steel negative forms used to punch counters (negative forms) into the face of a punch.

Cursive: the flowing script that is the basis of italic lettering generally.

Cupped serifs: a feature of venetian and early old style serifs where the terminal itself bows inwards in the middle of the serif.

Cut: the design of a typeface as fashioned by the original engraving of the punches.

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Deconstruction: term borrowed from French philosopher Jacques Derrida meaning to investigate notions of complexity arising from the act of reading an image or text in the light of unannounced assumptions about the reader’s construction of meaning.

Default font: the font used by software applications in the absence of any specific choice by the user.

Design for optimizing computer memory: computers use less memory to draw objects consisting of straight lines than curves - therefore a typeface like Oakland is less memory-intensive than a typeface like Snell Roundhand.

Digital CRT setting: later photosetting systems such as the Compugraphic used a cathode ray tube to create a sharper image on the photo paper and a wide, continuous range of type sizes available in 1/2 point increments, by dispensing with the lenses and film negative masters of the previous systems. CRT also allowed for some manipulation of the typesetting, such as backslanting, which had previously been impossible. The masters for the fonts were digital files held on floppy disks and loaded into the machines memory.

Display sizes: sizes 14pt and larger.

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Economy: a desirable quality in a text typeface; achieved by carefully optimizing character widths, width of spacing units, kerning pairs and letter fit between adjacent characters.

Egyptian: a subsection of the slab serif designation in the Vox/DIN/British Standards classification of type styles, an early 19th century precursor to the Clarendon style.

Empire style: sometimes called the second phase of neoclassicism, originating in Napoleonic France (the first French empire), and called Adam style in England or Louis XVI in France; applied to art, architecture and the decorative arts.

Extended: the inverse of condensed, an extra-wide design of the roman.

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Family of type styles: a related series or family will include several of the weights above with accompanying italics and possibly condensed and extended versions, making it more usable for a variety of typographic purposes. Cheltenham and Univers are good examples.

Fat face: early typeface style for posters of the early 19th century, maximizing stroke contrast and appearing very bold.

Font: the term used to mean the entire character set of a typeface in a single size; since the advent of digital typography it has come to mean the entire character set of a typeface regardless of size.

Form of stroke: dependent on the many writing implements that might characterize a design (pen, chisel, quill, paintbrush) and often discernable from the shape of the stroke terminals.

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Geometric: rectilinear and machine-like qualities found in typefaces from the 20th century either informed by design associations like art deco or by imaging processes like onscreen display.

Glyphic serifs: often wedge shaped, these serifs show similarities with marks made by inscriptional tools such as chisels.

Golfball typewriter: a typewriter (strike-on composition system), which allowed the user to select different fonts via a system of interchangeable spherical heads that contained the character sets for the font selected.

Gothic: Italian term for blackletter scripts and typefaces. Also the orthography from the saxon countries (Northern Europe); Germany, Northern France, the Low Countries and England.

Gothic: American term for a sans serif typeface.

Graffiti: the writing on the wall; takes its form from any number of implements used to mark public space in a counter-authoritarian way, so always reflecting the vernacular use of spraycans, broadtip markers, paintbrushes etc.

Grotesque: a section in the Vox/DIN/British Standards classification of type styles, denoting those typefaces produced in the pattern of the sans serifs of the 19th century.

Grunge: scrawly, handmade, ugly/beautiful and frequently deconstructed aesthetic that flatly rejected modernism in America, often associated with the indie music scene of the 1990s.

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Hairline serifs: serifs that appear as a fine line drawn at right angles to the stroke and without any bracketing; serif endings may be squared off or rounded.

High-resolution: output typical of film imagesetters and ctp platemakers; devices that typically print at 2400 dots per square inch (dpi).

House face/house style: the chosen typeface and/or composition rules of a given publisher or press (for example, the famous set of composition rules made for Penguin by Jan Tschichold in the late 1940s ensured consistency across a wide range of titles and imprints).

Humanist: curvilinear and scribal qualities usually found in typefaces of the 14th and 15th centuries where the design is clearly imitating lettering as formed by a pen, this term is used interchangeably with Venetian.

Hybrid type styles: in the last thirty years a number of large families have been designed that combine characteristics of both serif and sans serif styles; Lucida, Rotis, Stone and Thesis are all exemplars of this approach.

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Icunabula: early period of book production in Europe; 14th and 15th centuries.

Impression: physical act of printing, relative to the amount of pressure applied to the press, it may be a ‘kiss impression’ (low pressure as found in offset lithography) or a ‘heavy impression’ (high pressure as found in early letterpress).

Ink traps: minute notches cut into the junctions of typefaces designed for printing on absorbent surfaces to mitigate against ink build-up and clogging - the design of Bell Gothic is the best known example of this.

Inscriptional lettering: letters carved into stone or wood with a chisel or gouge.

Instant lettering: pre-printed sheets of reverse letters held in place by pressure sensitive adhesive film, invented by the founding partners of Letraset Ltd. A low-cost artworking alternative to letterpress or photo-typeset galley proofs that proved highly successful in the 1960s and 1970s.

International Style: otherwise called Swiss International Style, late European modernism often characterized by grid-based typography and a minimal approach to colour and form.

Ionic: early slab serif typefaces of the 19th century, like the Clarendons, lighter in appearance than Egyptian.

Italic: letters sloping to the right; truly a separate design from the roman of any serif typeface, introduced for economy in early book printing but generally denoting stress or emphasis in an English language text.

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Joining or non joining: whether or not the letters join up or touch one another; determining factor in identifying script faces, otherwise called flowing/broken scripts.

Junctions: the meeting points of the main strokes in a letterform.

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Kerning: the adjustment of letter fit between certain pairs of adjacent characters; in metal typefaces this was a considerable problem that involved adding or trimming material from the body of the type, but in digital typesetting it is easily achieved.

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Latin: Northern European term for Southern European scripts and typefaces. Also the orthography of the romance language countries (southern Europe); Italy, France and Spain.

Legibility style: typefaces based on the pattern of the Clarendon and Ionic types, clinically demonstrated to work effectively at a range of small sizes for applications like newspapers and dictionaries.

Letterform(s): the shapes of the alphabetic characters in a typeface design, capable of great latitude from one typeface to another.

Letterspacing: the inverse of kerning, the addition of extra space between letters, usually to adjust for optimum appearance, particularly in lines of capitals.

Ligatures: joining forms of commonly occurring pairs of letters, in English often fi, fl, ffi, ffl, and sometimes ct, st etc. these vary according to the language being typeset.

Lowercase: traditionally this was a compositors’ typecase in the lower position of the desk that held all of the lowercase letters for the font; now taken to mean the small letters.

Low-resolution: output typical of early model laserprinters and inkjet printers; devices that typically print at less than 600 dots per square inch (dpi).

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Majuscules: early form of capital letters, upper case A-Z.

Matrix (matrices): the brass reverse shapes in which white metal type is cast.

Metal (foundry): letterpress printing, which dominated the printing trade for approximately five centuries; cast metal type (typefounding) was assembled by hand, letter by letter, as a raised and reversed version of the printed piece, locked into place on the bed of a press and subsequently inked and printed.

Metal (machine): an automated form of letterpress in which a keyboard-driven machine composed cast lines of type (slugs), or individual characters, ready for assembly into a page forme. Monotype and Linotype were the two main systems for this, but were mutually incompatible and led to intense commercial rivalry in the early 20th century. Both systems had advantages and disadvantages; some letterpress machines are still in existence today.

Minuscules: early form of small letters, lower case a-z.

Modelling: variation of stroke width, often very subtle and used to counter optical illusions inherent in letterform designs.

Modern serifs: a confusing term – ‘ modern’ generally refers to typefaces made in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as defined in the Vox/DIN/British Standards classification of type styles. But modern can also mean ‘contemporary’ design for serifs and typefaces in which case the meaning is different and might refer to designs optimized for reducing computer memory.

Modern: a section in the Vox/DIN/British Standards classification of type styles, denoting those typefaces produced in the pattern of the French and Italian printing houses of Didot and Bodoni, otherwise called Didone.

Modernism: The pervading style of the 20th century in European design; positivist and revolutionary, much of its apparent style was simply a reinterpretation of ‘truth to materials’.

Monoline: consisting of a single stroke width, having little or no contrast of stroke.

Monospace: a typeface in which all the characters occupy a uniform width, thus ‘m’ is as wide as ‘i’; a common feature of typewriter typefaces like Courier.

Multiple Master format: an extension of the Postscript Type 1 format that contained user-definable axes (morphing) for particular design criteria in the font, allowing the font to transform smoothly between narrow and extended, or light weight to extra bold. Superseded largely by the wider foreign language support of Opentype, MM fonts now only have continuing use as a ‘fallback’ font for displaying missing fonts in Adobe.pdf documents; Adobe Serif MM and Adobe Sans MM.

Multimedia font: a typeface that retains legibility both in onscreen and print applications.

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Narrowness: degree of condensation or compression used to achieve a typeface which will allow more characters per linear inch or cm.

Neo Grotesque: a subsection of the sans serif classification referring to large families of typefaces produced in the 1950s and 1960s – Univers, Helvetica and Antique Olive are all exemplars of neo grotesque style.

Novelty style: typefaces designed for outlandish or attention-seeking appearance rather than legibility, often referred to as display types - the other end of the typographic spectrum from the legibility group.

Numerals: the numbers in a typeface; 0-9
  • Lining figures (LF): numbers that range from the baseline to the height of the capitals.
  • Old style figures (OSF): numbers that range with the x-height of the lower case characters, having descenders and ascenders also.

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OCR: optical character recognition - the reading of typeset characters by a computer-controlled scanner; OCR scanning results in editable text files rather than images of letters.

‘Old English’: alternative (American) name for blackletter.

Old Style: a section in the Vox/DIN/British Standards classification of type styles, denoting those typefaces produced in the pattern of the Parisian printing houses at the time of Claude Garamond, otherwise called Garalde.

Opentype: the new standard font format jointly developed by Microsoft and Adobe Systems, successor to both Truetype and Type 1, and incorporating elements of both of them. Using Unicode as its encoding scheme means that Opentype fonts can support any script across a number of different operating systems, with a wider range of characters (glyphs) and greater ability for complex typographic arrangements than previously possible.

Operating systems: the basic instruction set that allows a computer to startup and execute the user’s commands - nowadays typically Microsoft Windows or Apple OS - but with early phototypesetting systems there were a number of competing and mutually exclusive operating systems.

Ornaments: decorative material in a typeface having no function as alphabetic character, numeral, punctuation or symbol.

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Photosetting/film setting: used mainly for display and headline typesetting, in which a continuous roll of photographic paper was exposed to a beam of light shone through a master negative of the individual character; lenses between the negative master and the photo paper determined the size of the type image, and the roll was wound on a specific distance before the next letter was exposed. A chemical processing unit would then develop the photo paper to produce the final image of the typesetting, usually for paste-up and camera-ready artwork.

Pi fonts/pictogram fonts: typefaces containing symbols or pictures, devised for almost every conceivable use from chess symbols to horoscope symbols to wash care label symbols, otherwise called dingbats.

Point sizes: the Anglo-American point is 1/72nd of an inch or 0.3528mm, which gives 12pt as being 1/6th of an inch or 4.23335mm; on a Macintosh screen, 1 point conveniently equals 1 pixel onscreen.

Postmodernism: a rejection of the central tenets of modernism and the promises of rationalism, positivism and the enlightenment in general; underpinned by the idea that the pursuit of progress has become obsolete.

Postscript: the page description language (pdl) published in 1984 by Adobe Systems, which (along with the Apple Macintosh laser printer), instigated the desktop publishing revolution. Postscript broke new ground by combining features then only available in plotters and dot matrix printers - the code-based description of both fonts and graphics by cubic Bezier curves that allowed for device independency, meaning the same file could be printed to a low-resolution laserprinter or a high-resolution imagesetter.

Printer font: the postscript code component of a postscript font, referenced by the screen font for the controlling application and sent to a RIP as a consequence of issuing the ‘print’ command.

Printers flowers: another name for ornaments and flourishes found in typesetting - not illustration material.

Private Press faces: typefaces created for a particular printing company for their own output; not released to the general trade and therefore ‘private property’.

Proportion: can refer to the ratio of width to height for an overall letterform or the ratio of stroke contrast – both are usually consistent within a typeface.

Proportional width: common feature of ‘proper’ typefaces like Times Roman, whereby different characters occupy different widths, opposite to monospace.

Proprietary faces: typefaces created for a particular institution, client or company as part of their branding; not released to the general trade and therefore ‘private property’.

Punch(es): steel positive forms to be struck into (softer) brass matrices to produce the master reverse forms from which the (white metal) type is cast.

Punch cutter: one who engraves steel punches (and counterpunches) for striking matrices and thereby producing the masters for the type.

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Random font: a very rare kind of postscript font that changes its outline description by implementing a subroutine called ‘freakto’ on the print command.

Recut: a remake (often by a rival foundry) of an existing design, attempting a facsimile copy but frequently introducing distortions to the design.

Related type styles: components of a type family are related by overall design criteria such as stroke style, serif formation, letterform angle etc; even in those cases where these are kept to a minimum, there is likely to be an underlying relationship.

Renaissance: the period following the middle ages and preceding the reformation in Europe, spanning the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, notable for the revival of learning based on classical sources, the rise of courtly and papal patronage, the development of perspective in painting, and the advancements of science.

Replica: a facsimile, an exact copy.

Revival: a remake of an existing design (which may incorporate new features, distinct from the original).

Rococco: stylistic interlude between the baroque and neoclassical styles in European art and architecture, originating in early 18th century France and characterized by a lighter, more opulent theme than the baroque style preceding it.

Roman: the upright letter in a normal weight of both upper and lower cases.

Roundhand/Copperplate: flourished, joining script style produced by highly formal penmanship of the 18th century and later.

Rubricator: traditional name for person highlighting pre-printed pages with red ink.

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Sans Serif: without serifs, otherwise called lineale in the Vox/DIN/British Standards classification of type styles.

Screen font: the onscreen component of a postscript font, composed of bitmaps of the entire character set at fixed sizes (usually 10, 12,14, 18, 24 point sizes).

Script: a typeface that imitates written letterforms, regardless of the instrument used to create the lettering.

Secretary Hand: the polite term for the ‘bastard hand’ – a quick flowing script employed for business throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

Serif: the short near-horizontal strokes at the terminals of a serif typeface; differences between them are often key to distinguishing one serif typeface from another.

Set width: some typefaces ‘set wide’, some ‘set narrow’; according to the qualities of their design (proportion) and criteria for economy (above).

Slab serifs: block serifs usually joining the stroke at right angles and of a similar thickness to the stroke itself.

Sloped roman or oblique: an angled letter obtained by tilting the roman version to produce a faux italic (false italic) either photographically or digitally, but sometimes occurring as the designated italic of a sans serif typeface.

Small capitals: capitals carefully redrawn and sized to fit with the lower case a-z.

‘Snap-on’ serifs: the ability for a user to add or subtract serifs from a typeface has only recently become possible with digital typography and the contextual glyph substitution feature of some Opentype typefaces; Walker is the examplar of this.

Specimen sheet: promotional material from a typefoundry or typeface vendor; display of different sizes, weights and settings of a newly-released typeface design.

Stroke: the main construction lines of a letterform – A has three, O has one and M has four.

Superellipse: a squared oval shape favoured in the type designs of Hermann Zapf, which is less memory-intensive and easier to image than regular oval constructions.

Swashes: decorative curlicues and extensions from the letterforms of the capitals (usually) to give display possibilities to an otherwise ordinary-looking typeface.

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Terminals: the ends of the main strokes in a letterform, the end of the line.

Text sizes: sizes up to and including 12pt.

Titling face: a typeface consisting of the uppercase only, usually designed for large-scale work (posters, signage).

Trade: commercially oriented typesetting and printing companies, generally distinct from state institutions (government printers), academic establishments or private enterprises.

Transitional: a section in the Vox/DIN/British Standards classification of type styles, denoting those typefaces produced in the pattern of the Romain du Roi.

Transitional serifs: generally thinner and more graceful than earlier serif forms, bracketed towards the stroke.

Truetype: Apple Computer’s rival format to the Adobe Type 1 standard, produced as a response to Adobe’s high licensing fees and obliging Adobe to publish the Type 1 standard in 1991 during the ‘font wars’ between Apple and Adobe. Truetype used an alternative Bezier description scheme called quadratic curves, but never achieved the market share of its rival, despite a distribution and licensing agreement between Apple and Microsoft.

Tuscan: heavily decorated ‘carnival’ style of Victorian lettering, often with bifurcated or ornamented serifs and stems.

Type 1: the first font format devised by Adobe uses a simplification of the Postscript language to describe character glyphs by use of mathematically defined outlines including cubic Bezier curves. An established industry standard for digital typesetting, the Postscript Type 1 font comes in three parts - the outline (printer) font file, the bitmap (screen) font file, and the Adobe font metrics (afm) file.

Type designer: one who designs letterforms and typefaces.

Type founder: one who casts type, the principal of a type foundry.

Type foundries: companies responsible for converting type designs into fonts of printable type and subsequently issuing printing typefaces to the general trade.

Type sizes: known by a variety of names until Fournier and Didot in the 18th century created standardisations, metal type is still measured in point sizes of the body on which it is cast, and this tradition continues (anachronistically) with digital type.

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Uncials: a monastic script composed of majuscules used between the 3rd and 13th centuries and surviving as a lettering style to the present day, distinguished by broad, rounded and flowing shapes.

Unicase: typeface composed of one set of characters that are identical in the upper and lower case.

Unserifed: sans serif, but in the sense of never having had serifs to begin with; some inscriptional typefaces from classical Greece and Rome are better called unserifed.

Uppercase: traditionally this was a compositors’ typecase in the upper position of the desk that held all of the uppercase letters for the font; now taken to mean the capital letters.

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Venetian: a section in the Vox/DIN/British Standards classification of type styles, denoting those typefaces produced in the pattern of the Venetian printing houses prior to Aldus Manutius, otherwise called Humanist.

Versals: illuminated capitals found in religious and devotional works, often highly decorated.

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Wedge serifs: angled in a straight line back towards the stroke.

Weight: thickness of the stroke of a letterform (heavier or bolder weights creating a denser, darker appearance when typeset), in ascending order; Light, Book, Medium, Semibold, Bold, Heavy, Black. Note that other terms may apply – such as regular, normal or roman for medium.

Wood: the earliest method of printing letters was an accompaniment to woodblock illustration printing; as recently as the 20th century some typefaces (notably Johnston’s Railway Sans) were still made out of wood, kept as individual masters for all reproductions of the typeface. The printing face of the wooden type was usually mechanically engraved out of a boxwood veneer which was then mounted on a cheaper or softer wooden body or block.

Woodblock: an early relief printing method, still employed for crafts and textile printing.

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x-height: the mean height of the lowercase alphabet from the baseline; height of letters without ascenders.