A Crash Course in Typography
@Arts Campus Library
Why it matters?
The brand is the unique personality (Apple - Myriad).
Typefaces are artifacts that can be aesthetically pleasing and functional at
the same time (headlines/body text).
People can be affected by good typography without being actively aware
of it (like films).
Increased reading speed and reduced eye fatigue.
* Degree posters, branding products, CVs, portfolio,
reports, infographics, motion typography.
There are a number of different ways to classify
typefaces and type families. The most common
classifications are by technical style: serif, sans-serif,
script, display, and so on.
Typefaces are also classified by other technical
specifications, such as proportional vs. monospaced, or
by more fluid and interpretational definitions, such as
the mood they create.
Serif typefaces are called “serifs” in reference to the
small lines that are attached to the main strokes of
characters within the face.
Serif typefaces are most often used for body copy in
print documents, as well as for both body text and
The readability of serifs online has been debated, and
some designers prefer not to use serifs for large blocks
10 of the best serif fonts
1. Old Style serifs (Adobe Jenson and Centaur).
2. Transitional serifs - the most common
(Times New Roman, Baskerville, Georgia).
3. Modern serifs (Didot and Bodoni).
4. Slab serifs (American Typewriter).
Sans-serif typefaces are called such because they lack
serif details on characters. Sans-serif typefaces are often
more *modern in appearance than serifs. The first
sans-serifs were created in the late 18th century.
1. Grotesque. Grotesques are the earliest, and include
fonts like Franklin Gothic and Akzidenze Grotesk.
These typefaces often have letterforms that are very
similar to serif typefaces.
2. Neo-grotesque. Include some of the most common
typefaces: MS Sans Serif, Arial, Helvetica and Univers
are all neo-grotesques. They have a relatively plain
appearance when compared to the grotesques.
3. Humanist. Humanist typefaces include Gill Sans,
Frutiger, Tahoma, Verdana, Optima, and Lucide
These are more calligraphic than other sans-serif
typefaces, and are also the *most legible (hence the
popularity of some of them for website body copy).
4. Geometric. Geometric sans-serifs are more closely
based on geometric shapes. Generally, the “O”s in
geometrics will appear circular, and the letter “a” is
almost always simple, just a circle with a tail.
*They’re the least commonly-used for body copy, and
are also the most modern sans-serifs, as a general
Scripts are based upon handwriting, and offer very fluid letterforms.
There are two basic classifications: formal and casual.
Formal scripts are often reminiscent of the
handwritten letterforms common in the 17th and 18th
*They’re common for very elegant and elevated
typographical designs, and are unsuitable for body
Casual scripts more closely resemble modern
handwriting, and date back to the mid-twentieth
century. They’re much less formal, often with stronger
strokes and a more *brush-like appearance.
Casual scripts include Mistral and Brush Script.
Display typefaces are probably the broadest category and include the
*The main characteristic is that they’re unsuitable for
body copy and are best reserved for headlines or other
short copy that needs attention drawn to it.
Display typefaces can be formal, or informal, and evoke any kind of
mood. They’re more commonly seen in print design, but are becoming
more popular online with the use of web fonts.
Proportional vs. Monospaced
* In proportional typefaces, the space a character takes
up is dependent on the natural width of that character.
An “i” takes up less space than an “m”, for example. Times New Roman is
a proportional typeface.
* In monospace typefaces, on the other hand, each
character takes up the same amount of space.
Narrower characters simply get a bit more spacing around them to
make up for the difference in width. Courier New is one example of a
monospaced fonts with
The mood of a typeface is an important part of how it should be used.
* Commonly used moods include formal vs. informal,
modern vs. traditional, and light vs. dramatic.
Some typefaces have very distinct moods. For example, Times New
Roman is pretty much always going to be a traditional font, which is why
it’s so commonly used for business correspondence. Verdana, on the
other hand, has a more modern mood.
Some typefaces, like Helvetica, are more transcendent, and can convey
almost any mood based on the content and the other typefaces they’re
There are three general styles you’ll find with many typefaces: italic,
oblique, and small caps. Small caps are often used for headings or
subheadings, to add variety to your typography if using a single typeface.
* Italic and oblique are often confused or used
interchangeably, but are two distinct styles.
Oblique type is simply a slanted version of the regular characters. You
could create this using the “distort” function in Photoshop, although
sometimes a separate oblique font is included within a typeface.
Italics are slanted like obliques, but are actually a separate set of
characters, with their own unique letterforms.
The Anatomy of a Typeface
The different letterforms within a typeface share a few common
characteristics. These characteristics can be important in determining
whether two (or more) typefaces work well together, or clash. Here are
the most basic parts of a typeface:
1. The baseline is the invisible line that all the characters sit on.
2. The meanline is the height of most of the lowercase characters within
a typeface, and is generally based on the lowercase “x” if there are varying
heights among the lowercase characters. This is also where the term
“x-height” comes from.
3. The cap height is the distance between the baseline and the top of
uppercase letters like “A”.
The Anatomy of a Typeface
The image shows three common parts to letterforms:
1. The stem is the main upright of any letter, including
the primary diagonal. It’s could be considered the
anchor of the character.
2. The bar is any horizontal part, which are sometimes
also called arms.
3. The bowl is the curved part of a character that
creates an interior empty space. The inside of a bowl is
Combining typefaces: contrast
When combining typefaces, there are a couple of important principles
you’ll need to keep in mind, namely contrast and mood. Effectively
combining typefaces is a skill best learned through practice, and trialand-error.
* Contrast is the amount of difference between two
typefaces. Typefaces that are too similar tend to clash.
It is one of the most important concepts to understand when it comes to
combining typefaces. Without proper contrast, typefaces tend to clash,
creating a random, scattered look to your designs (and not in a good
Combining typefaces: weight
The weight of a typeface plays a huge role in its appearance. We often
think of weight in terms of “light”, “regular”, “medium”, “bold”, etc. But
different typefaces have varying weights to begin with.
* Combining typefaces based largely on weight is a
fairly straight-forward way of creating typographic
Combining typefaces: structure
* You either need to choose typefaces that have very,
very similar structures, or very different structures.
The structure of a typeface plays a huge role in how it works with other
typefaces. Letterforms that are only a bit similar are going to clash.
Typefaces that are very different in other ways can be unified by their
similar structures, though the reverse rarely works as well.
Combining typefaces: style
The style of a typeface has a huge impact on how it’s received. Generally,
when working with styles, you’re going to be either using regular or italic
* Underlines are also used, but in web design, they
should only be used for links (otherwise, they’re
Other decorations include things like outlines or drop shadows, both of
which can be used to unify varying typefaces.
Combining typefaces: style
Style and decoration can also be used to create contrast within a type
family or typeface.
* Combine regular and italic fonts, varying weights,
and things like shadows or outlines to create variation
within a font family and sufficient typographic
Combining typefaces: hierarchy
As a general rule, your hierarchy should start with your H1 heading being
the largest, and your meta information or captions should be the smallest.
* You need to balance the differences in scale with
differences in weight and style, too, so that you don’t
have too much variation in size between your largest
and smallest fonts.
Combining typefaces: classification
* In general, when combining typefaces, you’ll
want to choose ones that aren’t from the same
* Combine a serif and a sans-serif, or a serif and a
This way you’ll have a much easier time coming up with a combination
that has proper contrast and doesn’t clash.
Combining typefaces within the same classification is sometimes
possible, but there are some extra considerations. For one, you want
to find typefaces that are different enough that they’re immediately
recognizable as different typefaces, while also using typefaces that have
similar moods, structures, and other factors that tie them together.
Combining typefaces: classification
* One trick is to choose typefaces that are in the same
general classification, but fall under different subclasses (such as a slab serif and a modern serif, or a
geometric sans serif with a grotesk). This provides
more contrast right from the start.
Combining typefaces: colour & texture
When you need to add visual contrast or unify
disparate typefaces, the use of color and texture can do
wonders. For example, when you need to add contrast
among typefaces that are nearly identical (or within
a single type family), changing the color of some
elements instantly adds interest. Adding texture has the
* Alternatively, if you have wildly different typefaces,
color and texture and unify those typefaces, creating
a harmonious look. The principles of color theory still
apply to typography, so be sure you don’t go overboard
Combining typefaces: extreme contrast
Extreme contrast can be a great option if you’re
working with display or script typefaces. In these
instances, it can be difficult to find typefaces with good
contrast that aren’t too dissimilar. So rather than trying
to do that, go for completely different typefaces.
* Try combining a rather simple typeface with
something more elaborate for the best results, rather
than two elaborate typefaces.
Combining typefaces: mood
The mood of the typefaces you select is vital to the way
they work together. Mood can be anything from formal
to casual, fun to serious, modern to classic, or anything
in between. This is where a lot of people run into
trouble with combining typefaces.
* Selecting typefaces that not only have similar (or
complementary) moods, but also have moods to
match the project you’re designing is crucial.
Customising a font
A nice and easy way of injecting a bit of personality
into some typography is to customise the type. The
smallest change will have an impact.
* Some of the most used favourites are; shortening
descenders, making the cross bar on letter ‘As’ stop
short on one side and cutting the corners off letters at
Ligatures are sometimes considered antiquated, and
don’t show up often in web type. They’re not seen much
more often in print design, either.
But if your goal is to *create a typographic design
that has an antique, traditional, or very formal look,
adding ligatures can be a fantastic way to reinforce that
Ligatures can also improve readability among certain
characters, in certain fonts (especially italics and
Hyphens and Dashes
Hyphens and dashes are two of the most improperly used characters in
typography. Hyphens should only be used when hyphenating words.
*There are two different kinds of dashes: the en-dash and the em-dash.
An en-dash is shorter, roughly the width of the letter “n” in a particular
font (hence, the name). An em-dash is wider, roughly the width of the
En-dashes should be used when showing a range
(such as January–March) or when creating an open
compound word (South Carolina–Georgia border).
To create an en-dash, just use –. The em-dash is used mostly in informal
writing, and can replace commas, semicolons, colons, and parentheses.
They’re often used instead of commas to set apart independent clauses or
an abrupt change of thought. To create an em-dash, use —.
Ampersands (‘&’) are another special character that are sometimes used
in typographic designs. To create an ampersand, just use &.
They work well in headlines and similar short blocks of text, but aren’t
really appropriate for body text (despite the fact that many people seem to
use them that way).
*Ampersands are appropriate for use artistically, or
in instances where space is limited (like in a table).
Don’t use an ampersand just as an abbreviation for
the word “and”.
If using an ampersand artistically, you may find that ampersands in
italic fonts are more attractive than their regular counterparts. Italic
ampersands tend to follow the older style, and closely resemble the letters
“e” and “t”, which make up the Latin word “et” (which translates to “and”).
Tips and tricks
*It is usually recommended to stick with high quality
typefaces you know the names of.
Many free or cheap typefaces are going to be missing
important glyphs, and this will kick you later if you
don’t take care of this up front. Especially if you are
doing some important commercial work.
However, there are some websites that have great
collections of free fonts (like fontsquirrel.com, you just
need to be selective).
*Hang quotes in the margin of the body of text.
By not doing so a quotation mark that is flush with
the text will interrupt the left margin and disrupt the
rhythm of the reader. Hanging quotes keeps the left
alignment intact and balanced therefore increasing
Length of a line (measure)
The measure is the length of a line of type. To a reader’s
eye, long or short lines can be tiring and distracting.
A long measure disrupts the rhythm because the reader
has a hard time locating the next line of type. The only
time a narrow measure is acceptable is with a small
amount of text.
For optimum readability you want the measure to be
between 40-80 characters, including spaces.
* For a single-column design 65 characters is
Range left - the most popular and rightly so.
Range left is easy to read, easy to set and gives a nice, clean left-hand edge
for your eye to return to.
* It is good for most of the things, and the only thing
to look out for is horrible ragged edges on the right.
Towards the end of the job, start looking at line breaks and tiny words
that look like they are hanging off the edge.
Time spent looking at these edges and adjusting them using all of your
typographic tricks, like word spacing etc. will give you a smart looking
paragraph. There is no point in doing this at the beginning of a job unless
you absolutely know that the copy won’t change.
It is usually the preserve of *decorative text or a small
amount aligning to a logo, on a business card for
instance. It isn’t easy to read and your eye has to do
gymnastics every time it reaches the end of the line.
Centred text is good for *adverts and posters. Don’t
use it for any length of text you would actually like
someone to read. It’s fine for headlines or things like
photo captions. But for paragraphs, it’s not suitable.
A common type of text alignment in print media is
“justification”, where the spaces between words are
stretched or compressed to align both the left and right
ends of each line of text.
*Treat the last line of a paragraph separately. A good
way of finishing a column of justified text is to range
left last line.
Character and Word Spacing
The space between characters and words can be broken down into a few different areas. The basics are kerning,
tracking, and word spacing.
Is the space around specific characters, is generally done automatically within individual font files. Programs
like Photoshop or InDesign give you some control over kerning between individual characters, but on the web
it’s mostly impractical.
One place you’ll always want to use letter spacing (tracking) is between strings of capital letters (includings
small caps) and strings of numbers. Set a letter spacing of around .1em between capital letters, small caps, or
numbers to improve legibility.
It can greatly improve readability if done correctly, as it makes word recognition easier. People often read
words just by recognizing their shapes, and increasing the space slightly around each word can speed up this
Tips and tricks
* Kern upside down
Kerning upside down is a well-used and tested
technique. This enables you to see your letterforms
and the space between them without actually reading
the words - bringing meaning to them. If you’re
doing something fancy with the kerning based on the
meaning, it won’t work, but otherwise it’s a well-used
and tested technique and one you should try if you’re
struggling with kerning character pairs.
Should be used for headings and subheadings only.
Leading is the space between lines of text and
probably one of the more commonly known elements
of typography. Leading will greatly effect the
readability of your text content. Leading will need to
be changed based on the type face, size, weight and
* Generally stick with about 2-5pt’s larger leading
than font size depending on the type face, size, etc.
and how it feels reading it.
Read the text
*First read the text and try to find a visual equivalent
for its characteristics, mood, atmosphere, and so on,
within the fonts.
Always start by choosing a typeface for the body text
that’s related to the message of the text and the images,
but also to the proportions of the spreads.
The headlines should either support the shapes and
impression of the body text – for example, by choosing
them from the same family – or be in strong contrast.
Tips and tricks
* Create rhythm and consistency
The best font kerning has good rhythm and
consistency. One character sitting next to another
should appear rhythmic and balanced. One way of
achieving this is to *step back from the monitor and
observe the text.
Does the text ‘box’ appear as one equal shade? Or does
it appear darker between some characters and lighter
Use a baseline grid
*Establish consistent typographic vertical spacing.
Grids aren’t just for structural layouts. It helps keep
the page balanced and proportional throughout your
The difference between “just okay” typography
and professional-level typography is usually in the
details – like hyphenation. Often overlooked, proper
hyphenation is essential for optimum readability and
getting your message across.
Five hyphenations in a row is unacceptable
Think of the hierarchy of your page as a conversation at
a party with the viewer.
*Make something stand out, and pepper the body
text with visual reminders that this is an interesting
Break up the boring small talk with a visual
arrangement, pace and elements that keep us
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Notice typography around you
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A Crash Course in Typography
@Arts Campus Library