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Typographer’s Glossary

Typeface: FF Clifford

Here’s a glossary of common type terminology, which along with the FAQs may answer many font related questions. If the information you need isn’t here, call us.

Abbreviations
Many fonts have abbreviations in their names. Some relate to glyph sets and font formats, others to design traits and foundries, and so on. A comprehensive list of these abbreviations and their explanation can be found in The Abbreviated Typographer from Unzipped.
Accents
See Diacritics
Adobe Type Manager (ATM)
A font utility published by Adobe that allowed computers to use PostScript Type 1 fonts. Since Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP, and Mac OS X natively support PostScript and thus do not require ATM, this PostScript font rasteriser has become obsolete on current computer systems. However, ATM Light is required for previous versions of Mac OS, including Mac OS X Classic, and for previous versions of Windows, including Windows 95, 98, and NT 4.0.

ATM Light 4.61 for Mac (.hqx / 3.43 MB)
ATM Light 4.1 for Windows 95/98/ME/NT4 (.exe / 12.11 MB )
AFM (Adobe Font Metrics)
A text file related to PostScript fonts that stores font metrics information such as character widths and kerning pairs. This file is often not needed as long as there is a PFM file (Windows format), so some fonts may come without an AFM file.
Alternates
Different shapes (or glyphs) for the same character in a typeface, for example small caps, swash characters, contextual alternates, case-sensitive forms, etc.

When alternates are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will not be able to access them.

Anti-aliasing
Blurring the edges of a font on screen to soften the look of bitmapped type. Anti-aliasing is usually desirable at large point sizes (16 points or above).
Antiqua, Antikva
The common German and Scandinavian names for serif faces, as opposed to "Grotesk" which means sans serif.

The common German and Scandinavian names for serif faces, as opposed to "Grotesk" which means sans serif.

Aperture
The aperture is the partially enclosed, somewhat rounded negative space in some characters such as ‘n’, ‘C’, ‘S’, the lower part of ‘e’, or the upper part of a double-storey ‘a’.
Ascender
Any part in a lowercase letter that extends above the x-height, found for example in b, d, f, h, k, etc. Some types of ascenders have specific names.

Axis
An imaginary line drawn from top to bottom of a glyph bisecting the upper and lower strokes is the axis.
Balt (Baltic)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian (also included in CE). The supported languages may vary a little depending on the foundry.
Baseline
The imaginary line upon which the letters in a font appear to rest.

Bitmaps
The files contained in the Mac bitmap suitcase; part of the PostScript font, used for screen display on older systems with no built-in rasterisation and not equipped with Adobe Type Manager. They are still necessary for display and printing. Also referred to as "screen fonts".
Body
Originally the physical block on which each character sat, in digital type it is the imaginary area that encompasses each character in a font. The height of the body equals the point size; its width is related the width of the character.
Bowl
The curved part of the character that encloses the circular or curved parts (counter) of some letters such as ‘d’, ‘b’, ‘o’, ‘D’, and ‘B’ is the bowl.
Bracket
The bracket is a curved or wedge-like connection between the stem and serif of some fonts. Not all serifs are bracketed serifs.
BS (Basque)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents for Basque.
Bundle
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
Cap height
The height from the baseline to the top of the uppercase letters (not including diacritics).

Case-sensitive
The position of a number of punctuation marks like hyphens, brackets, slashes etc. is centred on the x-height of the lowercase letters. Fonts with case-sensitive punctuation also have slightly raised alternates of these characters that are centred on the cap height (the height of the uppercase).

When case-sensitive forms are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will not be able to access them.

CE (Central European)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for Albanian, Croatian, Czech, Estonian, Finnish, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Slovak, Slovenian, and Sorbian (Lower & Upper).

The supported languages may vary a little depending on the foundry.

Character
Any letter, numeral, punctuation mark, and other sign included in a font. Some characters can be represented by more than one glyph.

Collection
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
Com
Linotype's "Communication" (or Com) fonts have been optimised for international communication and for use with Microsoft Office applications. They are TrueType-flavored OpenType fonts and are compatible with Mac and Windows operating systems. Com fonts support all languages defined as LEEC (Linotype Extended European Character set).
Complete
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
Contextual
Feature-rich OpenType fonts can detect certain characters or character combinations before and/or after specific characters and substitute them with alternate glyphs or ligatures according to the context.

Certain (older) operating systems and applications cannot access these OpenType features.
Counter
The enclosed or partially enclosed circular or curved negative space (white space) of some letters such as d, o, and s is the counter.
Crossbar
The (usually) horizontal stroke across the middle of uppercase ‘A’ and ‘H’ is a crossbar.
Cyr (Cyrillic)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes the cyrillic alphabet and all necessary accents for the cyrillic languages.

The supported languages may vary a little depending on the foundry.

Delta hinting
Instructions added to a TrueType font, allowing it to display nicely at any point size on screen. Delta hinting does not affect printing, nor is it available for PostScript fonts. Due to the time required to create delta hints, most fonts do not include them. Delta hinting is expensive, but makes for quality TrueType fonts.
Descender
Any part in a lowercase letter that extends below the baseline, found for example in g, j, p, q, y, etc. Some types of descenders have specific names.

Diacritics
A diacritic is a ancilliary mark or sign added to a letter. In the Latin alphabet their function is to change the sound value of the letters to which they are added; in other alphabetical systems like Arabic or Hebrew they may indicate sounds (vowels and tones) which are not conveyed by the basic alphabet.

Display
A category of typefaces designed for decorative or headline use. As opposed to text typefaces, display typefaces are usually meant for larger settings.

(appended to a font or volume name) URW++ identify their Display fonts by adding the letter D after the font name.
Ear
Typically found on the lower case ‘g’, an ear is a decorative flourish usually on the upper right side of the bowl.
Embedding
Including font information in a digital document, to ensure that the text is rendered with the font specified by the author. Some EULAs restrict embedding.
EOT (Embeddable OpenType)
File format developed by Microsoft to enable TrueType and OpenType fonts to be linked to web pages for download, to ensure that the text is rendered with the font specified by the author.
EULA (End User License Agreement)
As with most software, fonts are licensed to individuals and organizations. The EULA defines the terms and provisions for use of the font software. The EULA also indicates the number of CPUs the fonts may be installed on. The number of CPUs for which a font is initially licensed can vary depending on the manufacturer.

See license agreements by foundry.
Expert set
A font that contains special characters, such as small caps, fractions, ligatures, extra accents, and alternate glyphs. Because TrueType and PostScript only support a limited number of glyphs, some characters that are not used as frequently come in an expert font. OpenType fonts on the other hand, have the capacity for thousands of glyphs, so one font can include all these extras plus other alphabets etc.

Eye
Much like a counter, the eye refers specifically to the enclosed space in a lowercase ‘e’.
FA (Family)
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
Family
A collection of related typefaces which share common design traits and a common name. A type style means any given variant of this coordinated design and is the equivalent of a font or typeface.

Super families are very extensive with a very large number of weights and widths. Type systems are collections of related type families that cross type classifications.

See Styles, Weights, Widths - It's All in the (Type) Family on The FontFeed.

Feature-rich
The OpenType font format offers numerous advanced typographic features. However it is up to the type designer or foundry to decide how many and which ones to implement. Feature-rich or fully-featured OpenType fonts have a large number of those advanced functionalities built in.

Certain (older) operating systems and applications cannot access OpenType features. In those environments OpenType fonts behave like standard PostScript or TrueType fonts with a basic character set.
Fett
The common German name for the black weight in a type family; the bold weight is called "halbfett".
Font
(also, fount) A collection of letters, numbers, punctuation, and other symbols used to set text (or related) matter. Although font and typeface are often used interchangeably, font refers to the physical embodiment (whether it's a case of metal pieces or a computer file) while typeface refers to the design (the way it looks). A font is what you use, and a typeface is what you see.

See Font or Typeface? on The FontFeed.
Foundry
A company that designs and/or distributes typefaces; a type manufacturer. FontShop.com carries fonts from over 80 foundries.
FR (Frühneuhochdeutsch)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents for Middle High German.
Glyph
Every character in a typeface, (e.g: G, $, ?, and 7), is represented by a glyph. One single type design may contain more than one glyph for each character. These are usually referred to as alternates.
Gr (Greek)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes the greek alphabet and all necessary accents for Greek.
Grotesk
The common German name for sans serif faces, as opposed to "Antiqua" which means serif.
Halbfett
The common German name for the bold weight in a type family; the black weight is called "fett".
Hanging figures
See Oldstyle figures
Hinting
Guidelines added to a font to help it print and display more consistently at small sizes. Most fonts contain some form of hinting, ranging from very cursory to very thorough.

See Delta hinting.
Hybrid figures
An intermediary style between oldstyle figures and lining figures, hybrid figures are somewhat smaller than the capital letters and have a consistent body size, yet some parts extend slightly upwards and downwards.
When the different figure sets are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will only be able to access the default figures.
IC (Icelandic/Faroese)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for Icelandic/Faroese.
INF
A file accompanying PostScript fonts for Windows. The INF file contains information for families that contain style-linking, and is required to use the fonts.
Italic
A (mostly) slanted type style which takes its basic shapes from a stylised form of handwriting, and is usually narrower than its roman counterpart. Italics are commonly used for emphasis in text. They are primarily found in serif designs, while obliques originally were associated with sans serifs.

See Styles, Weights, Widths - It's All in the (Type) Family on The FontFeed.

Kerning
Kerning refers to the horizontal space between individual pairs of letters (a kerning pair), and is used to correct spacing problems in specific letter combinations. Well-spaced fonts need comparatively less kerning pairs. Fonts that are properly kerned appear evenly spaced without large open gaps of white space between any two characters.

Kursiv
The common German name for italic.
Leading
The vertical space between lines of text (baseline to baseline). Also known as linespacing.

LEEC (Linotype Extended European Character set)
LEEC is a set of languages supported by Linotype's Com fonts. The languages included in this set are: Afrikaans, Albanian, Basque, Bosnian, Breton, Catalan, Cornish, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, English, Estonian, Faroese, Finnish, French, Frisian/Eastern, Frisian/Western, Friulian, Gaelic/Irish, Gaelic/Manx, Gaelic/Scots, Gagauz (Latin), Galician, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Karelian, Ladin, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Modavian (Latin), Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Rheto-Romance, Romanian, Saami/Lule, Saami/Southern, Slovak, Slovenian, Sorbian/Lower, Sorbian/Upper, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, Turkmen/Latin.
Ligatures
Special characters that are actually two letters combined into one. In cases where two adjacent characters would normally bump into each other, a ligature allows the letters to flow together more gracefully. This usually makes word shapes more aesthetically pleasing. Some common ligatures are "fi", "fl", "ff", "ffl", etc.

When ligatures are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will not be able to access them.

Lining figures (LF)
Numbers that rest on the baseline, and are usually the same height as capital letters. Lining figures may be tabular or proportional.

When the different figure sets are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will only be able to access the default figures.
See Figuring It Out: OSF, LF, and TF Explained on The Fontfeed.

Link/Neck
Much like a counter, the eye refers specifically to the enclosed space in a lowercase ‘e’.
Loop/Lobe
In a double-storey ‘g’, the loop is the enclosed or partially enclosed counter below the baseline that is connected to the bowl by a link. The enclosed or partially enclosed extenders on cursive ‘p’, ‘b’, ‘l’, and similiar letters are also called loops.
Lowercase
The small letters in a typeface. The name refers to the days of metal type, as the small letters were kept in the lower part of the type case.

ML (Multiple Language)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for additional languages (refer to the information provided by the foundry).
Monospaced
A font in which every character has the same width, and no kerning pairs. This allows for neatly setting columns of text and tables, for example in programming code, accounting, etc.

Oblique
A font that is slanted. Oblique fonts are different from italic fonts, in that they are mechanically sheared, then slightly adjusted. Italic fonts, on the other hand, are designed differently from upright or roman versions. They are usually narrower than their roman counterparts, and reflect more of a calligraphic sensibility than lowercase oblique fonts.

See Styles, Weights, Widths - It's All in the (Type) Family on The FontFeed.

Offc
FontFont offers a TrueType–flavored OpenType format called Offc (or Office). Offc fonts are ideal for users of Microsoft Office and other word processing and spreadsheet applications. They are style-linked so as best to take advantage of the applications' style selection options. Offc fonts also offer full compatibility across platforms.

Offc fonts carry the .ttf extension.

Oldstyle figures (OSF)
Numbers that have different heights, some aligning to the baseline, some below. Oldstyle figures harmonize well with lowercase letters. Using oldstyle figures helps keep the numbers from standing out too much and disturbing the overall flow of the typography on the page.
When the different figure sets are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will only be able to access the default figures

See Figuring It Out: OSF, LF, and TF Explained on The Fontfeed.

OpenType
The most recent font format emerged at the beginning of the new millennium. OpenType was initially developed by Microsoft, which were later joined by Adobe. In a few years time it has become the new standard format for digital fonts. The biggest advantages shared by all OpenType fonts are their single file structure, cross-platform compatibility, and advanced typographic functionality. This means any single OpenType font file will work on both Mac and Windows systems, and some OpenType fonts include expanded character sets and special features like automatic ligatures and alternate glyphs. OpenType is the best format for most purposes. It comes in PostScript flavour (OTF) and TrueType flavour (TTF).

While OpenType fonts will work on a basic level in most any application, there are some in which the advanced features might not be accessible, including Small Caps and Lining Figures.

Please see our OpenType page for more details.

OpenType features
See Feature-rich.
Optical size
Some type designs come in different versions optimized for use in specific point sizes. Subtle variations in weight, contrast, and proportion make them as legible in small text as they are beautiful in big headlines.
OT/OTF/TTF (OpenType font)
See OpenType.
Outline font
See Printer font
Package
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
Petite caps
Slightly smaller than small caps, petite caps are capital letters that are exactly as high as the x-height of the lowercase letters.
PFB (Printer Font Binary):
The outline file for a PostScript font on the PC.

See also Printer font.
PFM (Printer Font Metrics)
The metrics file for a PostScript font on the PC. The PFM contains spacing and kerning information that is required to use the font.
Pica
A typographic unit of measure corresponding to 1/72nd of its respective foot, and therefore to 1/6th of an inch. The pica contains 12 points. The standard in contemporary printing (home computers and printers) is the computer pica (1/72nd of the Anglo-Saxon compromise foot of 1959, i.e. 4.233mm or 0.166in). At 100% zoom one computer pica corresponds to 12 image pixels on a computer monitor display, thus one computer point corresponds with one image pixel.
Pixel
Originally, this word was short for the term "picture element". A pixel is a single rectangular point in a larger graphic image composed of many rectangular points. Computer monitors can display pictures because the screen is divided into millions of pixels arranged in rows and columns. Pixels are so close together that from a distance they appear to be connected.

Pixel fonts are modular type designs that take advantage of the pixel grid to render often very small type on screen. They are very popular in web design, but also became an aesthetic on their own.
Point
Type sizes are generally expressed in points. The point is a typographic unit of measure corresponding to 1/12th of a pica. At 100% zoom one computer point corresponds with one image pixel on a computer monitor display.
Point size
The point size of a typeface refers to the size of the body, the imaginary area that encompasses each character in a font. This is why a typeface with a large x-height appears bigger than typeface with a small x-height at the same point size.
PostScript
A technology developed and trade marked by Adobe Systems, Inc. On older systems, PostScript fonts require Adobe Type Manager. On the Mac, PostScript fonts consist of a printer font and a bitmap suitcase, which should always be kept together.

PostScript fonts are generally more difficult to maintain, and PostScript fonts can have compatibility issues with some operating systems like Windows Vista. We highly recommend purchasing OpenType (or TrueType) fonts whenever possible.
PQ (Welsh/Irish)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for Welsh/Irish.
Printer font
The vector font that a printer uses to draw character shapes. Printer fonts (sometimes called "outline" fonts) are also used by the operating system to draw letters on the screen.
Pro
OpenType Pro fonts share the same technical specifications as OpenType Standard (Std, or simply OT) fonts, but support a broader range of languages. Standard OT fonts contain support for Western languages, while Pro fonts include Central European, and often Greek and/or FontShop Blog article, FontFont OpenType Formats Explained.

Professional
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
Proportional figures
Proportional figures are different from Tabular figures in their total character width. They are spaced to fit together more like letters. For instance, the figure 1 is very narrow like the letter l and takes up less width than the number 6. Because their spacing appears more even, these figures are best in texts and headings where columnar alignment is not necessary.

There are Proportional Lining Figures as well as Proportional Oldstyle Figures.
PS/PS1 (PostScript Type 1 font)
See PostScript.
Rasterization
The process by which vector information is converted into pixel information, which can then be displayed by a monitor or printed by a non-PostScript printer.
RO (Romanian)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for Romanian.
Roman
The (standard) upright type style. The term Roman is also sometimes used to denote the Regular weight.

See Styles, Weights, Widths - It's All in the (Type) Family on The FontFeed.
SA (Saami)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for Saami.
SB (Bodytypes)
(appended to a font or volume name) The Scangraphic Digital Type Collection offers all of their fonts in headline and body text versions, with about two thirds of them in both.
Screen Font
See Bitmaps
Set
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
SH (Supertypes)
(appended to a font or volume name) The Scangraphic Digital Type Collection offers all of their fonts in headline and body text versions, with about two thirds of them in both.
Small Caps (SC)
Small caps are capital letters that are approximately as high as the x-height of the lowercase letters. When properly designed small caps are absent in the selected font, many applications can create small caps by scaling down the capitals. However this makes these fake small caps too light and narrow, and they don't harmonize properly with the lowercase. Originally small caps were only available for the roman text weight(s), but nowadays many type families also have them for the italics and the bolder weights.

When small caps are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will not be able to access them.

Spacing
Spacing refers to the distribution of horizontal space on both sides of each character in a font to achieve a balanced and even texture. Spacing problems in difficult letter combinations (exceptions) are solved with kerning. Well-spaced fonts need comparatively less kerning pairs.
Std/OT (OpenType Standard)
(appended to a font or volume name) OpenType Standard fonts support the basic range of languages. Some foundries use the abbreviation Std, while others simply use OT. In the latter case OT identifies both the font format and the language support. Some foundries do include Central European (CE) and Turkish in their Opentype Standard fonts.
Style
Any given variant in a type family; the equivalent of a single font or typeface.

See Styles, Weights, Widths - It's All in the (Type) Family on The FontFeed.
Style-linking
Families of fonts that are grouped together under a single item in the font menu. To access other styles in a style-linked family, use the style buttons in the application that you are using. Some applications like for example the Adobe Creative Suite don't support style-linking, yet still conveniently list the fonts by family.
Stylistic set
In OpenType fonts with alternate glyph shapes for certain characters, different character sets can be grouped in stylistic sets. Instead of having to manually switch individual characters, the user can select the appropriate stylistic set which has all the desired alternates.

Certain (older) operating systems and applications cannot access the stylistic sets, making only the default character set available.
Suite
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.

Often refers to a type system with members in more than one classification, such as sans and serif companions.
Super family
See Type system
Superset
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
Swash
An elegant extension on a letter form, either a modification of an existing part or an added-on part.
When swash characters are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will not be able to access them.

Tabular Figures (TF)
Numbers that share identical character widths (that is, they are monospaced). Using tabular figures enables you to set columns of numbers, and have them neatly line up vertically. This is especially useful for tables, thus "tabular". Tabular figures are often lining.

When the different figure sets are built-in as OpenType features, certain (older) operating systems and applications will only be able to access the default figures.

See Figuring It Out: OSF, LF, and TF Explained on The Fontfeed.
Tail
In typography, the descending, often decorative stroke on the letter ‘Q’ or the descending, often curved diagonal stroke on ‘K’ or ‘R’ is the tail.
Terminal
The end (straight or curved) of any stroke that doesn't include a serif.
Three-quarter caps
Slightly taller than small caps, three-quarter caps are capital letters that extend to about halfway between the x-height and the cap height.
Three-quarter figures
See Hybrid figures
Translit (Transliteration)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes accented Latin characters for transliterating languages using non-Latin alphabets.
TrueType (TT/TTF)
A font format developed by Apple Systems, Inc. and licensed to Microsoft Corp. TrueType fonts are natively supported by the Windows and Mac operating Systems. On the Mac, both the printer and screen fonts are combined in a single TrueType font suitcase file.
Turk/TU (Turkish)
(appended to a font or volume name) Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for Turkish.
Type family
See Family.
Type foundry
See Foundry.
Type manufacturer
See Foundry.
Type size
See Point size.
Type system
Also called super families, type systems are collections of coordinated type families that cross type classifications, and are designed to work together in perfect harmony. They can be sans and serif companions, text and display cuts, or any other combination. The different families in a type system or super family share common character architecture, proportions, x-height, weights, and pedigree, to name a few.

See this list of Sans/Serif Companions.
Typeface
An artistic interpretation, or design, of a collection of alphanumeric symbols. A typeface may include letters, numerals, punctuation, various symbols, and more — often for multiple languages. A typeface is usually grouped together in a family containing individual fonts for italic, bold, and other variations of the primary design.

See Font or Typeface? and Styles, Weights, Widths - It's All in the (Type) Family on The FontFeed.
Unicase
Type design with upper- and lowercase letter forms that share the same height (with a few exceptions).

See this list of Unicase designs.
Uppercase
The capitals in a typeface. The name refers to the days of metal type, as the capitals were kept in the upper part of the type case.

Vector
A mathematical equation that defines a curve or straight line. These lines define the shapes of the character outlines in a font. Vector information is used to rasterize the characters for displaying on monitors or printing on non-PostScript printers.
Volume
Fonts can be purchased individually, but packages or volumes always offer the best value and performance. A font volume is a collection of fonts that are sold as a unit. This can either be a type family, part of a type family, or a collection of fonts that are stylistically or thematically related.
VP (Value Pack)
(appended to a font volume name) A discounted font volume.
Weight
A single style or iteration of a typeface. Sometimes, the term "weight" is refers specifically to the heaviness of a typeface. However, it is often used as a general term for any style: Italic, Small Caps, Bold, Light Expert, etc.

See Styles, Weights, Widths - It's All in the (Type) Family on The FontFeed.
Western
Language support; includes all necessary accents and characters for Albanian, Breton, Catalan, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Irish, Italian, Norwegian (+ Bokmål & Nynorsk Norwegian), Portuguese, Rhaeto-Romance, Spanish, and Swedish.

The supported languages may vary a little depending on the foundry.
X-height
The height of the lowercase letters, disregarding ascenders or descenders, typically exemplified by the letter x. The relationship of the x-height to the body defines the perceived type size. A typeface with a large x-height looks much bigger than a typeface with a small x-height at the same size.