Glossary of fonts

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raised cap
A design style in which the first capital letter of a paragraph is set in a large point size and aligned with the baseline of the first line of text. Compare to a drop cap.

ranging figures
Figures of even height. Synonymous with lining figures. Ranging figures are usually titling figures , but some ranging figures are smaller than the uppercase letters.

rationalist axis
Vertical axis, typical of Neoclassical and Romantic letterforms. Compare humanist axis.

recto pages
The odd numbered, right-hand pages of a book. (The reverse side, is the verso, or left page.)

16th century Spanish roundhang.

A type of serif that simultaneously stops a main stroke and implies its continuation. Reflexive serifs are typical of roman faces, including the face in which these words are set. They always involve a sudden, small stoppage and reversal of the pen’s direction, and more often than not they are bilateral. See also transitive.

In digital typography, resolution is the fineness of the grain of the typeset image. It is usually measured in dots per inch (dpi). Laser printers, for example, generally have a resolution between 300 and 1200 dpi, and typesetting machines a resolution substantially greater than 1200 dpi. But other factors besides resolution affect the apparent roughness or fineness of the typeset image. These factors include the inherent design of the characters, the skill with which they are digitized, the hinting technology used to compensate for coarse rasterization, and the type of film or paper on which they are reproduced.


A term that refers to the degree of detail achievable by a monitor or printer. In monitors, resolution is commonly measured by the number of pixels that can be displayed in a specified area. In printers, resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). In either case, more pixels or dots mean a finer graphics image.

rho 
Seventeenth letter of the Greek Alphabet. The font Symbol most often used on American Computers to Type Cyrillic Letters places it in the space for capital “R.” It looks just like a serifed “P.”

RIP device
Raster Image Processor, a piece of hardware of software that converts (rasterizes) object-oriented graphics and fonts into the bitmaps required for output on a printer or imagesetter.

Rivers of White
A term to describe the eye-irritating lines of white formed when spaces between words aligh vertically on a printed or written page.

The “book” or “plain” face of a type family. The early typefaces were mechanical imitations of the handwritten letters in books of the era. Probably the first pure roman type was used by the brothers John and Wendelin of Speier in Venice in 1469. The next year Nicolas Jenson, also a printer in Venice but a Frenchman by birth, produced a more distinguished roman font. It still serves as a model for type designers. Later the foremost printer in Venice was Aldus Manutius, who began in 1495 to publish the Greek and Latin classics. Aldus was the first to use the sloping type now called italic, in 1501.

Roman Numerals

The Roman numeral system, in which letters represent numbers, was dominant in Europe for nearly 2,000 years. Roman numerals are hard to manipulate, however, and mathematical calculations generally were done on an abacus. Over time the easier-to-use Arabic numbers replaced Roman numerals. Today Roman numerals are used to indicate dates on monuments and cornerstones and to organize outlines. They also may number the introductory pages of books and the hours on clocks and watches. Seven letters denote numbers in the Roman system: I = 1; V = 5; X = 10; L = 50; C = 100; D = 500; and M = 1,000. Either capital or small letters may be used. Repeating a symbol repeats its value: II = 2. A symbol is not used more than three times in a row: III = 3. When a symbol of lesser value follows one of greater value, the two are added: VI = 6. When a symbol of lesser value is placed before one of greater value, the lesser value is subtracted: IV = 4, XC = 90, CD = 400. Numbers involving 4 or 9 are always written by placing a symbol of lesser value before one of greater value: 24 = XXIV. A bar over a symbol signifies multiplication by 1,000.

The French name for round hand, which developed out of Italic in the early 17th century.

A class of blackletter types, a script used primarily in Italy, southern France and Spain during the 14th – 15th centuries..

Ragged right, which is to say unjustified.

A text formatting standard developed by Microsoft Corporation that allows a word processing program to create a file encoded with all the document’s formatting instructions, but without using any special hidden codes. An RTF-encoded document can be transmitted over telecommunications links or read by another RTF-compatible word processing program, without loss of the formatting.

In medieval manuscripts, the red-colored letters that were used to set off a portion of the text, to begin a verse, or headline a prominent line or word.

A line added to a page for emphasis or decoration.

Letterforms of an alphabet used by northern European peoples (esp. Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavians). Monoline and very sharply angular.

running foot
Material, such as book title, chapter title, author’s name, or folio, printed below the main text of a page.

running head
Material, such as book title, chapter title, author’s name, or folio, printed above the main text of a page.



sans serif

A typefaces without serifs. Sans serif & slab seriftype forms made their first appearances around 1815–1817. Both are marked by simpler letterforms with (usually) relatively uniform strokeweight, lacking significant contrast, often geometric in underlying design. The earliest forms of sans and slab typefaces tended to be heavy, often monolithic, display faces, but there quickly evolved a wide range ofstyles. Although the earliest designs are not much used today, their descendants are common enough. Sans serif letters have no serifs, as the name suggests. The low contrast and absence of serifs makes most sans typefaces harder to follow for general reading. They are fine for a sentence, passable for a paragraph, but are difficult to use well in, say, the text of a book. The terminology of sans serif types can be confusing: essentially, gothic or grotesque are both generic names for sans serif (although Letter Gothic, confusingly, is more of a slab serif type). In sans serif faces, the italics are often, although not always, simply a sloped (mechanically obliqued) version of the roman letters, making them totally subordinate to the roman. By far the most common sans is Helvetica (1951, Miedinger), despite being abhorred by many typographers. Helvetica does have the advantage of coming in a huge range of weights and widths, which makes it versatile, and its ubiquitous character makes it easy to match. Other general-purpose sans serifs include Univers (Frutiger, 1952+), Arial (Monotype), Franklin Gothic (M.F. Benton, 1903) and Frutiger (Frutiger, 1975). Sprouting from the Art Deco movement in the 1920s and 1930s (see Art Deco), radical geometrical shapes began to be used as the basis for sans serif designs. There are a few other common sans faces which do not fall cleanly into the above categories. Eric Gill’s 1928 Gill Sans has an almost architectural quality, and its greater contrast and humanistic design makes it better-suited than most sans serif typefaces to setting bodies of text. The same can perhaps be said of a number of late 20th century humanistic sans faces.

scalable font
A scalable font, unlike a bitmapped font, is defined mathematically and can be rendered at any requested size (within reason).

scaling font
A digital font designed so that the weight and proportions of the letterforms alter in tandem with their size. Handcut foundry type always involves alterations of weight and proportion from size to size. (Small sizes are cut darker and bulkier than larger sizes, so that changes in size involve minimal changes in color.) Linotype and Monotype machine fonts were scaled in a similar way. But many early twentieth-century North American foundry faces were cut mechanically from a single set of patterns. With these faces, as with phototype, there is no difference in proportion from one size to another. Bitmapped digital faces frequently vary in proportion from size to size. Genuine scaling fonts - scaling fonts that allow for changes of proportion on the fly — are a recent development in digital typography.

From Latin scriba meaning “official writer”, a skilled penman; one who copies manuscripts.

A specific style of writing or alphabet, often named or designated accoording to characteristic letter features (fraktur = broken) or by geographical origin (Italic); also a group of pointed alphabets which are ordinarily continuously joined.

Script Faces

Script typefaces are based on handwriting; but often this is handwriting with either a flexible steel nib pen, or a broad-edged pen, and is thus unlike modern handwriting.Some common scripts based on steel nib styles include Shelley (Carter,1972), Coronet (Middleton, 1937-38), and Snell Roundhand (Carter, 1965, based on Snell ca. 1694). Script faces based more on the broad-edged tradition include the contemporary Park Avenue (Smith, 1933).There are also monoline scripts, which lack significant contrast in the letter strokes. One such is Freestyle Script. Brush typefaces look as if they were drawn with that instrument, which most of them were, at least in the original design from which the metal/film/digital face was created. Some of them resemble sign-painting lettering, such as Balloon (Kaufmann, 1939), Brush Script (Smith, 1942), and Dom Casual (Dom, 1952). Brushwork can also be the basis for script, as with Present Script (Sallaway, 1974) and Mistral (Excoffon, 1953) Although modern typography typically relegates the italic to a second- class citizenship subordinate to the roman, there are still some italic typefaces designed as such in their own right. The best known is doubtless Zapf Chancery (Zapf, 1979). Others include Medici Script (Zapf, 1974) and Poetica (Slimbach, 1992).

Another name for a scribe.

The writing room of a monastery, where the copying of manscripts was done.

The text of writing area of a page exclusive of the margins.

The highly skilled Italian scribes of the Renaissance who often knew Latin and Greek.

(1) An early form of book, where sheets of written papyrus were glued end to end and then rolled. (2) smmetrical, decorative flourishes.

A stroke added to the beginning or the end of one of the main strokes of a letter. In the roman alphabet, serifs are usually reflexive finishing strokes, forming unilateral or bilateral stops. (They are unilateral if they project only to one side of the main stroke, like the serifs at the head of T and the foot of L, and bilateral if they project to both sides, like the serifs at the foot of T and the head of L.) Transitive serifs — smooth entry or exit strokes — are the norm in italic. There are many descriptive terms for serifs, especially as they have developed in roman faces. They may be not only unilateral or bilateral, but also long or short, thick or thin, pointed or blunt, abrupt or adnate, horizontal or vertical or oblique, tapered, triangular and so on. In blackletters they are frequently scutulate (diamond shaped), and in some script faces, such as Tekton, the serifs are virtually round. (Not all type historians agree that the word serif should be used in the relation to italic letters. But some term is is necessary to denote the difference between, for example, Bembo italic and Gill Sans italic. In this book, the former is described as a serified italic, the latter as unserified.)

setting type

The presentation of textual material in an aesthetic form on paper or some other media. Originally the setting of individual movable letters made of metal or wood for a printing press, rendered obsolete by hot-metal setting machines such as the Linotype machine (1886), and then by computer-aided photosetting machines (1980s).

A less-used term for serifs.

A title or subhead set flush left (more rarely, flush right) or slightly indented. Compare crosshead.

sigma Σ σ
Eighteenth letter of the Greek Alphabet. The font Symbol most often used on American Computers to Type Cyrillic Letters places it in the space for capital “S.” It looks like an “E” with or a backwards “3.”

single stroke commercial gothic
A type of lettering used most often used in mechanical drawing.

Lateral lean of a face forward or backward. Most italics are skewed about 12 degrees laterally different than their plain form.

Slab Serif

Sans serif & slab seriftype forms made their first appearances around 1815–1817. Both are marked by simpler letterforms with (usually) relatively uniform strokeweight, lacking significant contrast, often geometric in underlying design. The earliest forms of sans and slab typefaces tended to be heavy, often monolithic, display faces, but there quickly evolved a wide range ofstyles. Although the earliest designs are not much used today, their descendants are common enough. These faces have block-like rectangular serifs, sticking out horizontally or vertically, often the same thickness as the body strokes. There is some debate about the origin of slab serif typefaces: did they originate by somebody adding serifs to a sans face,or were they conceived independently?But even if they had a separate genesis as a family, it is certainly the case that many of the most common and popular slab serif forms have been created by adding slab serifs to sans faces by the same designer (e.g. Adrian Frutiger’s 1977 Glypha from his Univers, Herb Lubalin’s 1974 Lubalin Graph from his Avant Garde). Other slab serif faces include Berthold City (Trump, 1930), Memphis (Weiss, 1930), Serifa (Frutiger, 1968) and Silica (Stone, 1990). The Clarendons or Ionics are an offspring of the slab serif typefaces in which the serifs are bracketed. These are often used in newspaper work, because their sturdy serifs hold up well under adverse printing conditions. The most famous member of this sub-family is CenturySchoolbook (M.F. Benton, 1924–35).

The angle of inclination of the stems and extenders of letters. Most (but not all!) italics slope to the right at something between 2 degrees and 20 degrees. Not to be confused with axis.

Character designed to show paragraph breaks.

small capitals
Referring to capitals of the same height as body letters (x-height).

A softfont is a bitmapped or scalable description of a typeface or font. They can be downloaded to your printer and used just like any other printer font. Unlike built-in and cartridge fonts, softfonts use memory inside your printer. Downloading a lot of softfonts may reduce the printers ability to construct complex pages.

Set without additional lead, or with the leading equivalent to the type size. Type set 11/11 or 12/12, for example, is set solid.

Originally an individual piece of metal type. In digital type, where letters have no physical existence until printed, sort has become almost synonymous with character.


Horizontal spacing, i.e. the spacing between words and between letters on a line, is most often measured in ems and ens. An em is a space equal to the current point size. An en is one-half the width of an em. So a 12-point font would have a 12 point em and a 6 point en, while an 8-point font would have an 8 point em and a 4 point en. A regular space between words is held to be one-third of an em.In justified type the inter-word spacing is necessarily going to vary. The more narrow a column-width, the more variation will occur in the spacing of justified type. This is one argument in favor of unjustified text where the line-length is very short. Ideally, words in regular text should not be spaced apart more than an en or less than a quarter em (one “thin space”). Thin spaces are often used to separate dashes from adjacent words, and single quotes from double quotes. Letterspacing is more easily and smoothly accomplished today than in the age of hot type, but it is often abused. When used for effect in headings, it is important to also space the words themselves widely enough apart to separate them clearly. Letter spacing in justified text should be used sparingly.

The central curved stroke of the letter S.

A projection smaller than a serif that reinforces the point at the end of a curved stroke, as in the capital letter G.

squared serif
A font or type having serifs with a weight equal or greater then that of the main strokes.

D. Stempel AG, the last major type foundry to operate in Germany. It was founded in Frankfurt in 1895 and acquired punches and matrices from many other German foundries as they closed. The Stempel Foundry ceased commercial operation in 1985. A museum and noncommercial foundry has now been formed from the old core.

Vertical sticks on capitals- on lower-case letters they are referred to as ascenders. The letter o has no stem, the letter l consists of stem and serifs alone.

The angle at which contrast occurs, usually ranging from vertical to a somewhat back-slanted diagonal. This can best be noted by looking at, for example, the letter “O” and noting if the bottom left is thicker than the top left, and the top right is thicker than the bottom right. If this difference exists, the letter has diagonal stress. If the two halves of the “O” are a mirror image of each other, with the sides thicker than the top/bottom, then the letter has vertical stress. If the top and bottom of the “O” are the same thickness as the sides, there is neither contrast nor stress.

Any part of a letter that is ordinarily made in a single movement of the pen.

One of the variations in appearance, such as italic and bold, that make up the faces in a type family.

Any sharp, pointed instrument used for writing, marking, or engraving.


The Subfamily string in the ‘name’ table should be used for variants of weight (ultra light to extra black) and style (oblique/italic or not). So, for example, the full font name of “Helvetica Narrow Italic” should be defined as Family name “Helvetica Narrow” and Subfamily “Italic.” This is so that Windows can group the standard four weights of a font in a reasonable fashion for non-typographically aware applications which only support combinations of “bold” and “italic”.

Figures thatascend above the normal alighment.

A font management program distributed by Extensis.

A flourished letterform. True italics are usually swash. Some swash letters carry extra flourishes; others simply occupy an abnormally large ration of space. Swash letters are usually cursive and swash typefaces therefore usually italic. True italic capitals (as distinct from sloped roman capitals) are usually swash. Hermann Zapf’s Zapf Renaissance italic and Robert Slimbach’s Poetica are faces in which the swash extends to the lower case.

Syllabic writing
A secondary stage in the development of phonetic writing, where a sybmol was used to represent each syllable in a word.

A category of type in which the characters are special symbols rather than alpha numeric characters.

symbol set
The symbol set of a font describes the relative positions of individual characters within the font. Since there can only be 256 characters in most fonts, and there are well over 256 different characters used in professional document preparation, there needs to be some way to map characters into positions within the font. The symbol set serves this purpose. It identifies the “map” used to position characters within the font.

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