Ten typographic terms you should know


If you regularly work with a professional designer or printer to develop your business marketing collateral, it may be a good idea for you to expand your knowledge of basic graphic design terms. Understanding some of the industry’s most popular terms, will facilitate more productive creative discussions. Since we’ve already covered some basic printing terms in the past (check out our printing term series part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5), we thought now would be a good time to jump into the fascinating world of typography. Here are ten basic typographic terms you should know about:


A typeface is a collection of fonts that have similar characteristics. People often confuse the terms typeface and font; however, they are quite different. A typeface is basically a collection, or a family, of fonts. Common typefaces include Times New Roman, Helvetica, Arial and many more. Within each of these typefaces, several fonts offer different variations.


This probably sounds more familiar! Fonts represent a specific style of writing. A font refers to the particular arrangement and size of the letters, while the overarching style is considered the typeface.


Graphic designers and desktop publishing professionals use measurements called picas and points. These measurements are much more precise than inches and centimeters. A desktop publishing pica , which is just a bit smaller than a traditional printer’s pica, equals 0.166 of an inch. Picas are most commonly used to measure width and depth of columns, margins and individual units of text.


A point is the other common measurement used by printers, designers and desktop publishers. It is a sub-division of the pica, and twelve points are in one pica. To convert points to inches, one point equals 0.0138 inch. Points are most often used to measure leading (see below) and font size.


You may be used to thinking about line spacing in terms like single space, double space and so on. However, graphic designers use a slightly more sophisticated system for line spacing called leading. The unit of measurement for leading is called a point, and one point is much smaller than a single space in common word processing programs.


To fine -tune the overall look and flow of typography, designers may also adjust the spacing between individual letters in a typeface. This is called kerning.


Tracking may be confused with kerning because it is also a term specifically applied to spacing. However, it is spacing within large blocks of text rather than between individual letters. Tracking may be increased or decreased quite easily within most word-processing and desktop-publishing programs.


The baseline is the invisible line that the letters sit on. Certain characteristics such as the bottom of the “y” and curves of certain letters (like the bottoms of lower case As and Es) may extend below the baseline, in varying degrees depending on the font, but it provides a guide as to where the letters should sit.


Publishing professionals group fonts into two different groups: serif and sans-serif. A serif font has small strokes added to the edges of each letter. These strokes are said to help increase readability by directing the eye. A common serif font is Times New Roman.


Meaning “without serifs,” a sans-serif font is one that does not have any type of extension on the edges of each letter. Serif fonts are often useful for headlines and other types of text that is meant to be bold and prominent. One of the most common sans-serif fonts is Arial.

These ten typographic terms are commonly used throughout the desktop publishing and printing industries. Employing them when talking to your printer or graphic designer will give you a great professional edge. Go on, talk the talk!

Brittany Giles is the Social Media Specialist at The Printing House.

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