Many of us are so inundated with text and typing on a daily basis that we don’t realize that there is an entire discipline of design devoted to it. Typography is essential for helping us navigate the world. While it goes largely unnoticed by the average person, when it is not done well, it can be problematic. Typography is key to achieving style and legibility of text, whether it’s ensuring the readability of important public signage, like for roads and subways, or perfecting the layout of one’s résumé to ensure it communicates professionalism to an employer. It is also an art that helps convey an atmosphere, a sense of importance, or silliness, which makes it a valuable asset to those in the spheres of branding and marketing.
In this article, we’re going to talk about what typography is, go over some important terminology, identify best practices for designers, and finally, show how PicsArt can help you achieve your typographic goals!
What Is Typography?
Typographic design is the culmination of centuries of human trial and error, from early handwriting to printing and now digitization. In graphic design, typography is the art of organizing letters and text so that they will be legible and aesthetically pleasing to the reader. While that sounds quite specific, it is actually a very broad field of study, which consists of everything from creating and designing new fonts, to deciding how those fonts will be laid out on a page (or screen). In essence, type designers bring our textscapes to life. Imagine if everything you read was in Times New Roman? It would be boring!
But for a sect of design devoted to laying out words and language, it’s pretty ironic that the world of typography seems to have a language of its own. There is a lot of terminology that can be pretty overwhelming. To help you learn the lingo, we have put together a list of top typography terms, pairing ones that are often confused with each other. Whether you’re an amateur or have been hand lettering for a while, this will be a good primer.
Top Typography Terms
- Font Versus Typeface: Though these two terms are often used interchangeably in today’s digital world, their distinction is important at a technical level. A typeface is the visual design of the letterforms and it consists of multiple variations. The variations are what we call fonts. In short, a typeface is a family of fonts, like Helvetica, for example, which can have an overwhelming amount of styles — from very light to very bold, from regular to italic, from condensed to expanded. All of these seemingly minute elements combine to create specific effects.
- Character Versus Glyph: These two terms are also often confused. While a character refers to the symbol that represents a letter, a glyph is a higher-level concept. It’s a little abstract — philosophical, even — but it is the “essence” of a specific letter. Like, what is it exactly that makes an ‘a’ an ‘a’? There are features unique to all ‘a’s that allow us to decipher it. The glyph is the minimum agreed-upon set of symbols we require to recognize and read an ‘a’.
- Leading: This term came about in the days of early printing when typesetters used strips of lead to separate the lines of type. Though all of that is done by computers now, it still refers to the space or distance between each line of text. There are many programs that allow you to adjust the leading just by typing in a value. It’s generally agreed upon by designers that, for text to be most legible, leading should be between 1.25 to 1.5 times larger than the font size. But if you’re wanting to achieve a more clustered effect or you are running out of space, you may choose to ignore this.
- Serif Versus Sans Serif: We’ve looked at the origins of these two terms in past articles, but in short, serif refers to typefaces whose characters bear short, decorative strokes at the end of a letter’s stem (called serifs) as a defining feature. One shining example of this is Times New Roman. Conversely, Sans serif refers to families of fonts that do not use serifs, like Arial or Helvetica.
Typography Best Practices for Designers
- Think Hierarchically: Establishing logical hierarchies is one of the most important functions of type. Clearly distinguished font sizes and selections establish a logical content order within your design. Type helps readers identify the priority order for reading and understanding. You can’t communicate effectively without that.
- Get on the Grid: In the world of design, grids are akin to godliness. Grids are what allow us to achieve an incredible level of precision in our designs, and nowhere is that more key than for typography, which is made up of minute visual features that combine to form larger units. By establishing and sticking to a grid system, you create a structure out of thin air. This means you can adhere to it to create a sense of logic and harmony, but when you wish to conjure an element of surprise, all you have to do is deviate from the grid. A grid approach can be as basic as setting a baseline and following it with all text across the page. Makes a world of difference, particularly in the world of publishing!
- Utilize Principles of Contrast to Pair Fonts: Pairing typefaces is one of the biggest challenges designers face when laying out a page. It can be a hard formula to get right. One thing to keep in mind is that contrast is everything. If your header typeface is sans serif, you will want to choose a serif for your body text. If your header is bold, you will want your body text to be light. And so on.
- Don’t Overdo It: We’ve all seen cheesy-looking advertisements that overwhelm our visual field. Most people can’t put their finger on it, but it’s usually not just because there’s too much copy, but because of the way text is styled and positioned. In an effort to make information stand out, some designers place every bit of copy on the page in a different typeface or font. After all, it doesn’t matter if you’re saying something loud if it’s not beautiful to look at! Try to achieve harmony above all, and choose your battles wisely about what information you want to make pop.
Typography Anatomy Tips
Typography is an incredibly deconstructivist pursuit, that is, it is constantly finding ways to break down into smaller and smaller components, in the same way, we do to the human body when we’re learning about anatomy. This process helps establish how to identify norms and lets us interpret when it’s okay to break them to achieve the desired effect. Here is a list of major anatomical features of the type that you will soon be able to recognize and name on your own.
- Stroke: Strokes are the main components of any character. They can be straight-line segments or curved.
- Stem: The main stroke running in upright letters is called the stem. Examples of stems include the main stroke in a lowercase ‘k,’ or the strokes that make up the two sides of an ‘A’ are also stems. But strokes can also be slanted, like in the case of ‘Z.’ If the stroke is rounded, as in a lowercase ‘c,’ then it’s either open or closed.
- Bar: This is the horizontal stroke in a character that connects one stem to another is called the bar. In a capital ‘A,’ for example, the bar runs from one slanted stem to the next.
- Baseline: There are a number of “imaginary lines” in typography, which designers use to help create characters that are clean and uniform in proportion. Think back to elementary school when you were learning to perfect your handwriting. You practiced letters on lined paper. The baseline is the line that the bottom curve of the lowercase letter ‘a’ falls on.
- Descenders: There are letters with strokes that fall below the baseline. These strokes are called descenders. One example is the hook descending from a lowercase ‘g.’
- Cap Line: Refers to the maximum height of a capital letter. Though there are some letters that overshoot beyond the cap height, like the point on a capital ‘A.’
- X-Height: This is the line we place smack dab in between the baseline and the cap height.
- Ascender: This refers to strokes that exceed the x-height. An example is the upper stroke that makes up the lowercase letter ‘h.’
- Terminal: This is the end of any stroke which is not a serif. Think for example, of the stray stroke on a lowercase ‘e,’ or the top of a lowercase ‘f.’ Terminals can be finial, which are curved or tapered, or ball, which is circular.
Create the Best Typography Designs With PicsArt
With PicsArt, you can choose from over 200 unique typefaces Text Editor to bring your images to life with typography. Use these tutorials to experiment with new types and fonts in the app, and see if you can identify some of the principles we’ve discussed in this post, and use them to enhance your designs.
If you’re on the PicsArt app, follow these easy instructions:
- Open the app and upload your image.
- Tap on the Text icon at the bottom of your screen.
- Type in the first piece of text and choose the orientation (left, middle, or right).
- Click on the checkmark at the top right and place the text anywhere on your image.
- You’ll see a number of font options at the bottom. Scroll through and select your desired font for your first piece of text.
- After selecting the font, you can edit the font’s color, opacity, shadow, etc.
- Click Apply at the top right once you’re done editing.
- Save or post your image!
If you’re using PicsArt on web:
- Open the Desktop Editor and upload an image.
- Click on Add a Heading, Add a Subheading, or Add a Body Text. Then type in your text and move the text box to the desired area on your image. You can also adjust the text box size by clicking and diagonally dragging the corners of the textbox.
- Click on Font above the image and you’ll see a dropdown of typefaces you can choose from. You can also adjust for size, letter spacing, line height, alignment, caps, and the options to make your text bold, italic, or underlined.
- Next, have fun with your font! The app lets you adjust the Color, Outline, or Shadow.
- Finally, click Share to post on social media or Download at the top right.
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