Glossary of fonts

U & lc Upper and lower case: the normal form for setting text in the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets, all of which are bicameral. Uncial

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U & lc
Upper and lower case: the normal form for setting text in the Latin, Greek and Cyrillic alphabets, all of which are bicameral.

An elegantly round form of bookhand used from the 4th to the 8th centuries in Latin and Greek manuscripts.

As you might imagine, a line drawn beneath the baseline across an instance of text.

Having only one case as in the Hebrew alphabet and many roman titling faces.

A book in which the edges of leaves have not been cut.

Depending on alignment, this term refers to text which is set flush left, flush right, or centered.

Capital letters such as A, B, C, etc. Derived from the practice of placing these letters in the top (upper) case of a pair of typecases by printers when laying out text.

upsilon 
Twentieth 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 “U.” While there is no directly corresponding letter in English, it looks like an “Y” with curved arms.



The darkness (blackness) of a typeface, independent of its size.

The generally light roman and italic letterforms favored by humanist scribes and typographers in Italy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as distinct from the generally darker blackletter script and type widely used north of the Alps. Whiteletter is the typographical counterpart to Romanesque in architecture, as blackletter is the counterpart to Gothic.

white line
A line space.

white space

The blank areas on a page where text and illustrations are not printed. White space should be considered an important graphic element in page design.

white vine
An illumination pattern of the Renaissance abased on 12th century work, in which a white foliate display is presented against a dark background color.

The last line of a paragraph occurring at the top of a page.

Type is also measured in width, or set size. A line of type is measured in ems. An em is equal to the square of the type body. It was originally so called because the type body bearing a letter m is square. For example, a pica em is 12 points wide. A space half as wide as the em is called an en. The length of line required to set the alphabet of small, or lowercase, pica letters is 13 ems. If this alphabet takes more than 13 ems, it is said to be a fat or expanded face. If it takes less space, it is said to be lean or condensed. Letters in small sizes of type must be wider for clearness and durability. Careful adjustment of leading, or the spacing between the lines, also makes a page easier to read. Leading, like type, is measured in points. The metal strips formerly used for this spacing were called leads and slugs. The typeless type bodies used to add space between types in a line were known as spaces and, when thicker, quads. These terms remain in the professional vocabulary of editors, typesetters, and printers, though the pieces of metal to which they refer are no longer in common use.

A Windows font that is roughly equitable to Macintosh Zapf Dingbats. It contains many non-alphabetic symbols for the purpose of designing forms and other thematic pages.

wood block printing

(or Xylography), is the art of printing from a wood-block carving, was invented in China, probably in the 5th century. In its earliest form the text or drawing to be printed was put down in ink on a sheet of fine paper. The inked side of the paper was applied to the smooth surface of a block of wood that had been coated with a rice paste to retain the ink. An engraver then cut away the uninked portion of the wood so that the text or design stood out in relief. To make the print, the woodblock was inked with a paintbrush; a sheet of dry paper was laid on the block and rubbed with a brush, transferring an inked image. This wood-block process made its way to Europe by the 14th century and came into wide use at the same time that paper mills were being established. The process of printing by woodblock had its shortcomings. In executing written text, each letter had to be individually carved. No matter how expert the engraver, each copy of the same letter would be slightly different. But the process was readily suited to printing of pictures and designs, and it became a natural and inexpensive medium for folk artists. They made a great variety of prints. Pictures of religious figures were among the earliest, but there were also designs for games, comic illustrations, and — much later — political posters.

wood type
Answered some of the needs of display advertising during the Industrial Revolution. It derives its name from the fact that instead of being made of metal, the type is carved from wood, cut perpendicular to the grain. It is distinguished by strong contrasts, an overall dark color, and a lack of fine lines. It may be unusually compressed or extended. Many wood types have an “Old West” feel, because they are most strongly associated with America in the 1870 – 1900 period. Some of the wood types most widely available today are those in an Adobe pantheon released in 1990, which includes Cottonwood, Ironwood and Juniper (Buker, Lind & Redick).

word processor
An application that allows for the manipulation of letters for the purpose of writing proposals, letters, stories or any other article of literature. Most word processors also have inherent functions that enable them to spell- check and perform other similar operations.

word space
The space between words. When type is set FL/RR, the word space may be of fixed size, but when the type is justified, the word space must be elastic.

word spacing
Adjusting the average distance between words to improve legibility or to fit a block of text into a given amount of space.

The making of a letter in the same number of strokes as the letter has essential parts.

writing lines
The lines which align the bodies of leters and their ascenders and descenders. Sometimes drawn out when designing an alphabet or practicing letterforms.


An acronym for what you see is what you get. What you see on the screen is what you will get on printed output, as accurately as the screen can render it. There have been many system extensions and applications to add WSYIWYG font menus to desktop publishing and word processor software. Some programs (MS Word, FreeHand) now include this feature in their software.



xi Ξ ξ
Fourteenth 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 “X.”

The distance between the baseline and the midline of an alphabet, which is normally the approximate height of the unextended lowercase letters — a, c, e, m, n, o, r, s, u, v, w, x, z — and of the torso of b, d, h, k, p, q, y. The relation of x-height to cap height, and the relation of x-height to length of extenders, are two important characteristics of any bicameral Latin typeface.

see wood-block printing




zeta 
Sixth 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 “Z.” It looks like an “Z.”

Animal form or forms used in a decorative pattern.

BLACKLETTER (“Old English”)

Features: ornate capitals, roughly diamond-shaped serifs, and thick lines

Usage: display, headlining

History: Evolved from the Carolingian by a gradual movement towards narrowing and thickening of lines. Textura is a form of blackletter used by Gutenberg in his first Bible. Other sorts of blackletter are fraktur, bastarda and rotunda. Fraktur was in use in Germany well into the 1900s, though it was gradually being superseded by Roman typefaces. The Nazis at first fostered a return to Fraktur, then outlawed it as a “Jewish typeface” in 1940.

Examples: Cloister Black, Fette Fraktur, Textura



Features: angled serifs on lowercase letters, moderate thick/thin transitions, and diagonal stress

Usage: body copy, any long selections of text (the “warm” moderate transitions make these typestyles the easiest for the eye to read)

History: Based on the hand lettering of scribes in 1500s, a wedge-tipped pen shaped the letterforms. Italics were still independent designs, and were generally used completely separately; a whole book could be set in italics.

Examples: Centaur, Bembo, Jenson, Garamond, Caslon



Features: vertical stress and slightly higher contrast than old style typefaces, combined with horizontal serifs

Usage: titles, body copy

History: With the change from woodcut to copperplate engravings in the 17th century, the lines of the letters became more fine and rich in contrast.

Examples: Baskerville, Fournier



Features: sudden-onset vertical stress and strong contrast, modern serifs and horizontals are very thin, almost hairlines; a technical and exact appearance

Usage: Though very striking, these typefaces are sometimes criticized as cold or harsh, and may not be quite as readable for very extensive text work, such as books.

History: Arose with the distribution of copper and steel engraving techniques in the 17th–18th century. Named Didone after Didot and Bodoni. A number of designers created the first modern typefaces in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The most influential was Giambattista Bodoni, of Parma, Italy. Nowadays, most common “modern” typefaces are reinterpretations of Bodoni’s labor.

Examples: Didot, Bodoni, Walbaum


SANS SERIF (also: Gothic or Grotesque)

Features: no serifs, no thick/thin transition in strokes, no stress

Usage: The low contrast and absence of serifs makes most sans typefaces harder to follow for general reading. Italics are often simply a sloped (mechanically obliqued) version of the roman letters.

History: When first issued in Britain in 1816, these typefaces were regarded as awkward since they lacked the traditional serif, and called Grotesque. A hundred years later, in the 1920s, the Bauhaus movement popularized them.


Early and Neo-Grotesque: Arial, Helvetica, Swiss 721, Univers, Franklin Gothic

Geometric (Bauhaus): Futura, Avant Garde, century Gothic

Humanist: Gill Sans, Optima, Frutiger, Albertus, Myriad


SLAB SERIF (Egyptian)

Features: horizontal and tick serifs on lowercase letters, vertical stress, very little or no thick/thin transition or contrast in the strokes.

Usage: casual body copy and display, generic manuscript format (Courier)

History: Developed for advertising, posters and flyers in the early 1900s. The name “Egyptian” is derived from its use in a publication about booty from Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign.

Examples: Clarendon, Memphis, New Century Schoolbook, Courier, Rockwell

Subgroups of Slab Serifs:

Ordinary: square, unbracketed serifs

Clarendons: square, bracketed serifs

Typewriter: similar weight in stems and serifs and a constant character width



Features: all typefaces that cannot be assigned to any other group, including: historic, decorative, typewriter, display, and experimental type

Usage: sparingly, for stylized titles and headings, and minimal amounts of text

History: Advertising needs striking typefaces matching the product. For this use graphic or commercial artists invented decorative typefaces.

Examples: Arnold Böecklin, Codex, Hobo, Stencil



Features: axis clearly sloped, round and smooth outlines

Usage: sparingly, for stylized titles and headings, and minimal amounts of text

History: By the end of the 15th century, italic forms of the Roman type developed from the fast handwritten letters. At first the capitals were still showed upright, but later these got the same slope as the minuscules and numbers.

Examples: Tekton, Brush Script, Dom Casual



Features: appearance of handlettering with a calligraphic pen or brush (or pencil, or technical pen)

Usage: sparingly, for minimal amounts of stylized text

History: Developed from the handwriting styles that maintain the connections between the individual letters, e.g. cursive or calligraphy.

Examples: Shelley, Coronet, Snell Roundhand, Park Avenue, Present Script, Freestyle Script (monoline)



Features: based on letters carved or chiselled in stone

History: Languages and alphabets pre-dating paper-recorded history.


pre-1450 A.D.

Books produced by scribes. Libraries often contained a mere dozen volumes.


Johannes Gutenberg perfected the printing press. His company was repossessed and The Gutenberg Bible printed by Fust and Schoeffer, in Mainz, Germany. A punch made of steel, with a mirror image of the letter was struck into a piece of softer metal. Molten metal was poured into the softer metal, and type blocks are created. The type were put into a matrix to form the page of text, inked, then pressed into paper.


Over a thousand printer shops in over two hundred European cities. Typical print runs ranged from two hundred to a thousand books. Some were artisans, others were entrepreneurs. In some European countries, books could only be printed by government authorized printers, and nothing could be printed without the approval of the Church. Printers were held responsible for the spread of unwanted ideas, and some were even executed.


Steam Press


Rotary Steam Press


Linn Boyd Benton of Milwaukee invented a mechanical punch-cutting device. The machine was later modified and improved upon by Frank H. Pierpont of the Monotype Corporation Ltd.


Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the Linotype machine


American Type Founders (ATF) formed in the United States, to escape bankruptcy.


First typeface issued by the Lanston Monotype Machine Company in the USA as Modern Condensed (Series 1).


The first photocomposition devices (the French “Photon’ ’ and Intertype’s “Fotosetter”) debuted, but didn’t catch on until the early 1950s. Typeface masters for photocomposition were on film; the characters projected onto photo-sensitive paper. Lenses were used to adjust the size of the image, scaling the type to the desired size.


The earliest computer-based typesetters were a hybrid between photocomposition machines and later pure digital output. Each with their own command language for communicating with output devices. None of the early command languages handled graphics well, and all had their own font formats. Some of these devices remained in service through the 1990s, for use in production environments which required more speed and less flexibility (phone books, newspapers, flight schedules, etc.).


First laser printer from Xerox (cost US$500,000)


Apple released the first Macintosh computer


Fontographer font design software program released by AltSys (Two years before Adobe Illustrator, three years before Macromedia FreeHand) Apple Computer released the first LaserWriter printer (cost US$7000).


Apple released TrueType font format


Microsoft introduced TrueType fonts into Windows operating system


PostScript emerged as the de facto standard for digital typesetting. When combined with the Macintosh (the first widely used computer with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get display) and PageMaker (the first desktop publishing program).


Digital typesetting was commonplace, and photocomposition was almost unpracticed. Most high-end typesetting still involved printing to film, and then making printing plates from the film. However, the increasing use of high-resolution printers (600–1200 dots per inch) made actual printing presses unnecessary for short run jobs. Copier/printer manufacturers had produced cost-effective direct-to-film or direct-to-plate machines, popular with many small print shops. Increased use of Fontographer software by individuals and small companies, combined with the introduction of CD-ROM typeface collections, moved digital type away from being an expensive, specialized tool, towards becoming a commodity. American Type Founders went bankrupt. Major digital type foundries became the norm.


PostScript predominated as a page description language, in professional desktop publishing (Adobe’s PageMaker as the student’s and small business’ runner-up), and Postscript Type One fonts used by most printers. (Multiple Master fonts were used occasionally, Truetype fonts were regarded as inferior for reliable printing — but were the majority of non-commercial fonts, and OpenType was considered an experimental negotation between Adobe and Microsoft.)


OpenType gained popularity as a digital font format.

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