Glossary of fonts

back up To match the vertical position of lines on the opposite sides of a sheet printed on both sides. back ground

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back up
To match the vertical position of lines on the opposite sides of a sheet printed on both sides.

back ground
The field on which a letter or graphic appears; the blank paper or screen on which the image is formed.

back matter
Material, such as indices or appendices, that comes after the main text. Also called “end matter.”

backslash /
A character that exists only on computer keyboards and not in historical printing. A basic element of computer coding, it has no typographical function.

ball terminal
A circular form at the end of the arm in letters such as a, c, f, j, r, and y. Examples of faces which use ball terminals are Bodoni and Clarendon.

barred H
A basic letter of the alphabet in Maltese, corresponding to the Arabic h. Omitted from most fonts.

barred L
A basic letter of the alphabet in Polish, Navajo, Chipewyan and many other languages. The barred L (or l-slash, as it is known in PostScript ) is now routinely included in standard text fonts.

barred O
A basic letter of the alphabet in Norwegian and Danish, corresponding to the Swedish ð. In PostScript jargon, it is known as o-slash.

barred T
A basic letter of the alphabet in Lapp, and it is therefore one of the standard ISO characters, but it is absent from most fonts.

The line on which letterforms rest. (Round letters like “e” and “o” often overlap it, as do pointed letters like “v” and “w”, while letters with foot serifs like “h” and “l” rest on it.)

baseline shift

The manual movement of the baseline in a block of text in respect to the letterforms. Most desktop publishing, and some word processing programs provide an option for shifting this.

The origin point of a letterform.

A class of blackletter types.

A French round handwriting developed in the early 17th century and modified by the current English commercial cursive.

Terminal A sharp spur, found particularly on the f, and also often on a, c, j, r, and y in many 20th century Romans. (Examples: Perpetua, Pontifex, Ignatius.)

The line reached by descenders in letters like “p” and “q”.

An animal book, with descriptions and/or illustrations of real and fantastic beasts and animals.

Second Letter of the Greek Alphabet. The font Symbol most often used on American Computers to Type Cyrillic Letters places it in ASCII 66- the space for capital “B” Oddly enough, It looks just like an “B”.

The point and curve system used to describe outline fonts to the printer. Beziers consist of two on-curve points, one at each end, and n-1 off-curve points in-between, making a total of n+1 control points. Named for Pierre Bezier, the French scientist who developed the mathematical representation of the curve.

bézier splines
A class of third-degree interpolating splines useful for representing letterform shapes.

A lover of books


A bicameral alphabet is two alphabets joined. It is the upper and lower case forms of an alphabet, which are similar in style, but obviously distinct character sets unto themselves. The English alphabet (called a Latin alphabet), is an example of a bicameral. Unicameral alphabets (the Arabic, Hebrew and Devanagari alphabets for example) have only one case. Tricameral alphabets have three, and a normal font of roman type can be described as tricameral, if you distinguish upper case, lower case and small caps.

Refers to lower case characters whose glyph is split into the appearance of two levels. Most notably in reference to the lower case “a” in Helvetica (as opposed to the lower case “a” in Avante Garde Book which is single level) and the lower case “g” in Times (as opposed to the lower case “g” in Helvetica which is single-level).

An array of intensity values, normally rectangular, used to create an image, as on a screen or on paper. The bits are mapped onto the screen or paper.

bitmapped display
An output device that portrays a bitmap image. A raster display is a bitmap display in which the bitmap data are scanned line by line.

bitmapped display
A picture of the font at a specific size that has been optimized for that size. It cannot be safely scaled bigger without distortion. Bitmap fonts also contain the kerning information for a font and must be installed with both type 1 and type 3 fonts. Their presence also speeds the display of commonly used font sizes.

A general name for a wide variety of letterforms that stem from the north of Europe. Blackletters are generally tall, narrow, and pointed. In architecture, comparable to the gothic style.

The apparent darkness of type as it appears on the page. Blackness depends on the broadness of the parts of the letter (boldness), as well as on the x-height and set.

blank character
A character, or bit pattern, used to produce a space in data. There are two of these in standard character map. The space key, ASCII 32 and the nbspace, ASCII 202.


On a display screen, not displaying a character or leaving a space. Also forgetting wife’s birthday.

An image that extends to the edge of the paper (after trimming).

In letterpress work, printing blind means doing so without ink, producing a colorless impression.

blind folio
A page which is counted in the numbering sequence but carries no visible number.

block quotation
A quotation set off from the main text, forming a paragraph of its own, often indented or set in a different face or smaller size than the main text. A run-in-quotation, on the other hand, is run in with the main text and usually enclosed in quotation marks.

Photographic proof where the type and images are in blue and not suitable for reproduction.

A modern typeface with unbracketed serifs, vertical stress and very high contrast.

body size
The height of the face of the type. Originally, this meant the height of the face of the metal block on which each individual letter was cast. In digital type, it is the height of its imaginary equivalent, the rectangle defining the space owned by a given letter (different from the dimension of the letter itself).

A blacker, heavier variation of a typeface, relative to the roman variation.


(1) the bulk of the text of a story as set, sometimes referred to as “body copy” (2) the height of the piece of metal on which a letter would be cast to set on a page if it were actually 3 dimensional type. In some cases the body is only a tiny bit larger than the length from the highest ascender limb to the lowest descender limb. In some cases, however, the body was cast much larger, allowing for a sort of built-in leading. This has carried over on occasion to digital type resulting in unusual type relationships. This is why 10 point Perpetua looks nearly the same size as 8 point Caslon. (3) In reference to foundry type: the actual block of typemetal from which the sculpted mirror-image of the printed letter protrudes.

body size
The height of the face of the type, which in letterpress terms is the depth of the body of the type. Originally, this was the height of the face of the metal block on which each individual letter was cast. In digital type, it is the height of its imaginary equivalent, the rectangle defining the space owned by a given letter, and not the dimension of the letter itself. Type sizes are usually given in points-but European type sizes are sometimes given in Didot points, which are 7% larger than the points used in Britain or North America.

A type font in which the main strokes of the letter are thicker than normal.

An ancient method of writing in which the lines are inscribed alternately from right to left and from left to right.

Possibly from old English word for beech, a material used for the carving of Germanic runes on wooden tablets; a collection of written, printed or blank sheets of paper fastened along one edge and bound between covers to form a volume.

The generally round or elliptical forms which are the basic body shape of letters such as (uppercase) C, G, O, and (lowercase) b, c, e, o, and p. Similar to the space known as an “eye”.

braces { } [ ]
Braces are rarely required in textwork, but they can function as an extra and outer set of parenthesis: {( [-] )}. Their primary use is marking mathematical phrases and sets. They also enclose a complete function in many programming languages.

From Greek, shorthand.

brackets [ ] < >

Square brackets are essentials of text typography, used for interpolations into quoted matter and as a secondary and inner set of parenthesis. Angle brackets, which are useful for many editorial purposes, and for mathematics, are missing from the standard ISO character set.

A tactile letterform devised to allow sight-impaired people to read. The Braille system contains 63 dot patterns, or characters. Each character represents a letter, combination of letters, common word, or grammatical sign. The dots are arranged in cells of two vertical rows of three dots each. To aid in identifying the dot patterns, Braille numbered the dot positions 1-2-3 downward on the left and 4-5-6 downward on the right. The first ten letters of the alphabet use dots 1, 2, 4, and 5. When preceded by the numeric indicator (#), these signs have a number value. The letters K through T are formed by adding dot 3 to the first ten signs. Five of the remaining letters and five common words are formed by adding dots 3 and 6 to these signs. When dot 6 is added to the first ten letters, the letter W and nine common letter combinations are formed. Punctuation marks, additional letter combinations, and various other signs are formed from different arrangements of dots 2 through 6. Like the numeric indicator, some of the non-letter signs are used to modify signs placed after them.

Deciding how much text shall appear on each line or page of a document.

An accent used on consonants and vowels in Rumanian, Malay and Turkish. In English, it is used in informal phonetic transcriptions to mark lax vowels. In writings on metrics and prosody, it is the sign of a quantitatively short vowel or syllable. The breve is always rounded, and should not be confused with the angular caron. (Breve is two syllables, with the stress on the first, pronounced “brave, eh?”) Also called short. (Sorry, symbol not available in English HTML.)


The perceived intensity level of light in a visual scene.

Property of a typeface related to its typographic contrast. Also referred to as sparkle.

built-in fonts
Fonts shipped with a printer, usually installed on its hard drive, and provided on backup disks. These fonts are pre-installed on the printer to save font download time when printing a document, and are usually a standard set of contemporary, conservative typefaces intended for most general document production. Depending on the memory available in the printer, a user may be able to store further fonts.

A mark used to set off items in a list, frequently a filled circle.

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