TypeTalk: The Anatomy of a Character


TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above.
Q. Why should I care what the names are for parts of a character? Does it really matter?
A. Knowing the terminology for the anatomy of a character might seem like a painful exercise in memorization, but it’s actually useful knowledge for any design professional. Not only does it make it easier to communicate about typefaces and their characteristics, but it also serves to educate your eye to recognize the underlying structure of typeface designs, as well as the differences between them.
I’ve prioritized the following terms into three groups based on what, in my experience, are the most useful to know, and most frequently used, in everyday design work.

Click here to download a high-resolution version of the chart.
Ascender: The part of a lowercase character (b, d, f, h, k, l, t) that extends above the height of the lowercase x.
Baseline: The invisible line on which the flat part of characters sit.
Bowl: A curved stroke that creates an enclosed space within a character (which is then called a counter).
Cap height: The height of capital letters from the baseline to the top of caps, most accurately measured on a character with a flat top and bottom (E, H, I, etc.).
Counter: The partially or fully enclosed space within a character.
Descender: The part of a character (g, j, p, q, y, and sometimes J) that descends below the baseline.
Serif: The projections extending off the main strokes of the characters of serif typefaces.
x-height: The height of lowercase letters usually based on the lowercase x, not including ascenders and descenders.
Arm: An upper horizontal or diagonal stroke that is attached on one end and free on the other.
Axis: The angle of the stress of the round part of a character.
Bar: The horizontal stroke in characters such as A, H, R, e, or f.
Leg: A lower horizontal or diagonal stroke that is attached on one end and free on the other.
Loop: The lower portion of the lowercase g.
Shoulder: The curved stroke of the h, m, or n.
Spine: The main curved stroke of the S.
Stem: A straight vertical stroke or main straight diagonal stroke in a letter that has no verticals.
Stress: The direction of thickening in a curved stroke.
Stroke: A straight or curved line.
Swash: A decorative flourish replacing a terminal or serif.
Terminal (or Finial): The end of a stroke not terminated with a serif.
Ear: The small stroke that projects from the top of the lowercase g.
Link: The stroke that connects the top and bottom part (bowl and link) of a two-storey lowercase g.
Spur: A small projection off a main stroke, found on many capital Gs.
Tail: The descender of a Q or short diagonal stroke of an R.
Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at [email protected]. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com.

Ilene Strizver is a noted typographic educator, author, designer and founder of The Type Studio in Westport, Connecticut. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, is now in its 4th edition.
  • Anonymous says:

    Any way we can get that graphic as a bigger image, so we can print it out? Thanks!

  • absher5674 says:

    Thanks so much for posting this Ilene. I never, never get tired of seeing this kind of information put out there again. It’s always such a challenge listening to someone attempt to describe a font not knowing what the name of the part is…

    Lori Absher
    Design Creative | [email protected]

    “Thinking creatively means two things: thinking about what you see and visualizing what you think.”

  • Anonymous says:

    love to learn about fonts, thank you for the wonderful articles! This one will be so useful in describing the fonts and also in analyzing the differences. I would also love to have a printable version of this if it could be made available.

  • debramehrberg says:

    Just posted the comment above, did not realize I was not logged in. Please contact me if this image is available for purchase as a printable file.
    Thank you.

  • Anonymous says:

    you forgot to mention the tittle – the dot of the “i”!

    that’s gotta be on the impressive list. :)

  • Anonymous says:

    I’d love to have a vector version as well to print out for my office!

  • Strizver says:

    Thanks to all of you who requested a printable version of this chart, it is now available for download beneath the chart on the preceding page. Note I also added the tittle to the chart, as suggested by another viewer.

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    T H E T Y P E S T U D I O

  • alexhutton says:

    Awesome list :)

  • Anonymous says:

    Passing and adding through worthy subject, i am sure that you focused all aspects with real experiences. It’s nice that you worked well and gave good material over here. Calendula Salve

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  • Thanks for sharing this fantastic article, As a typographic designer, I love this article and I learn a lot of things about the font.

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