Typeface Anatomy Simplified

Confession: With all the time I spend drawing letters, I still don’t know the names of the parts of letters by heart. *Gasp*

So I thought I’d try to learn them best the way I learn most things—by doodling.

Drawing or doodling helps me get to know something better and cement the learning in my mind. Drawing something makes you more familiar with it.

When I study typefaces, reading books are not as helpful as me drawing Helvetica, Baskerville, Rockwell on paper. Staring, observing, analysing, doodling type.

So here are my educational doodles. Hopefully they will help you too.

 

Level 1: Easy/common words

Ascender (the part of a letter that goes above the x-height)
Descender (the part of the letter that goes below the baseline)
Crossbar
Stem
Diagonals

Level 2: Body part-sounding words

Spine
Tail
Shoulder
Arm
Leg
Throat
Ear
Hairline
Waist
Throat
Upper lobe
Lower lobe
Eye

Level 3: Advanced super hyper typophile words

Aperture
Counter
Spur
Link
Loop
Hook
Sheared terminal

*Most of the above terms are from Karen Cheng’s book Designing Type, in which she clarifies that “there is no official nomenclature for the unique structural features of type.” But “type designers, do in general use the specialized terms” she shared in the book.

Why learn names of the parts of letters?

They help you find the right words when discussing type

Instead of saying — “the thin thingie of the “o” is making this typeface hard to read in small sizes,” you can say, “This typeface won’t work well in small formats because the hairline is almost invisible.”

“We need to increase the leading because the descenders are hitting the ascenders on the next line.”

“Can you change it to a typeface with heavier stems?”

And when critiquing type / discussing type design

“Do you think the crossbar of the lowercase ‘t’ is a little too wide?”

“The spine of the ‘S’ is a little too thick.”

“The shoulder of the lowercase ‘n’ could use a little more weight.”

And hopefully the more we use these words, the more they will be cemented into our vocabulary. And we won’t need the word thingieanymore.