Part 1: The Basic Terms - Teaching You Type
Typography is one of those fields with a whole bunch of specialized terms to describe absolutely every single tiny part of every letter, sentence, paragraph, or page. If you aren’t a type nerd or a graphic designer, you probably haven’t ever had much of an education on all of those type terms. You don’t need to be a typographer just to y’ know, run your business. However, knowing the basics will help. The right terms help you communicate with your designers, printers, and other creatives.
Since we’re so lovely and kind and good looking, we’ve put together a series of articles that will familiarize you with all the facets of fonts. We’re not saying that they’ll turn you into the next Johannes Gutenberg, but, well, pretty close.
Font or Typeface?
It’s a popular misconception that fonts and typefaces are the same things. Well, I’m here to tell you that they aren’t. We aren’t going to go deep into the history of type and type design in this article, but these terms have been around since the very early days of printing. A more recent word you might use instead of "typeface" is font family. Whichever name you want to use, font family, or typeface, it’s essential to know the fundamental distinction between them and a font.
A font is a single set of glyphs that share a consistent size, weight, style, slant, width, etc. amongst all the characters. A typeface is an entire matching set, or family, of fonts. For example, Neue Haas Grotesk Display Pro 75 Bold and Neue Haas Grotesk Display Pro 26 Thin Italic are two different fonts but are both parts of the typeface Neue Haas Grotesk Display Pro.
Serif, Sans-Serif, or Script?
You might’ve heard “serif” or “sans-serif” before and been a bit confused. To put it simply, they’re two of the main ways of categorizing font styles. Don’t worry, though, because once you know what that word “serif” refers to, you’ll be able to spot which is which in half a second.
Waaaaaay back in the day when the Romans chiselled Latin characters into stone walls, they followed painted templates. They did that so they didn’t end up with one of those banners your high school spirit club made where most of the word looks normal, but then they ran outta room really quick and had to scrunch the rest of it up into a tiny space on the end. When they painted the words onto the stone, they used a brush, which would flare at the end or beginning of a stroke. When they carved the letters into rock, those flares came along for the ride, giving us that classic serif typography style. With the increase in hot metal typesetting technology, and especially nowadays with digital publishing, font designers have more flexibility in the letterforms they create. Some fonts have very thin, curving, and pointy serifs. Others have prominent, thick, chunky, and square-ish serifs. We’ll go over this in a bit more detail in a later article. For now, though, just remember that generally, decorations on the ends of letters means it’s a serif font. A couple of examples of typefaces you might be familiar with are Times New Roman, Courier, or Garamond.
The term sans means without, so sans-serif simply means without serifs. Generally, sans-serif fonts are more popular these days, especially on screens. Typically, sans-serifs don’t have as much variation in their stroke widths as a serif typeface would. You’re probably already familiar with a few sans-serif typefaces like Helvetica, Arial, or Verdana.
Not really fitting into either category though, are script typefaces. A script typeface is one that mimics the way people handwrite. Umm. Not much more to tell you on that front. As a general rule, if it looks like handwriting, it’s a script typeface.
Let’s Wrap It Up
That brings us to the end of part one of our series on typography. Since nobody likes getting too way much information blasted into their brain at once, we’ve broken these up into helpful bite-sized lessons. We’d love to hear how you use typography from you on one of our social media channels! Get the conversation going today!
Coming Up Next:
In our next article, we’ll talk about the different parts of letters so that you can show off to all of your friends that you know the difference between a bowl and a counter.