Alignment, like the design principle of proximity, aids in organizing your composition. Instead of randomly placing bits of text in your design, aligning them helps it look neat and orderly. But in lettering, alignment means a lot more.
Alignment is when you place elements along an invisible line. In terms of design, this principle helps to visually connect pieces of your design, even if they're not in close proximity. (You'll remember that proximity is when you arrange related objects to be close to each other).
You've likely seen the term "alignment" when you're typing a digital document. You know those three text alignment options: left, center and right? In the U.S., we read from left to right, so it's nice to have lines of text in a long document lined up on the left because your eyes always know where to start. If you centered a five-page document, it wouldn't be as easy to read because the lines would start at different places.
In reference to type, there are a few key concepts of alignment. The diagram above illustrates the essential imaginary lines that you'll need to remember: baseline, cap-height line, x-height line, ascender line and descender line.
The baseline is where the bottoms of all the letters sit. The cap-height line is where the tops of all the capital/uppercase letters hit. The tops of all the lowercase letters, like the letter x, meet at the x-height line. (The letter x just gets a special callout in the name!)
Ascenders are any strokes of a letter that extend above the x-height line. You see them in lowercase letters like b, d and h. So the ascender line is where the tops of all the ascenders line up. Descenders are the opposite: strokes of a letter that extend below the baseline such as what you see in g, j and p. Therefore the descender line is where the bottoms of all of the descenders sit. Playing with the position of all five of these lines will give your lettering different looks.
(There are some cases where you want to slightly overshoot certain rounded and pointed parts of letters to extend beyond these guidelines, but I'll save that for a future post.)
Once you know the rules about alignment in lettering, you can break them. What I mean is that you can actually alter the baseline within a word, like what I did in the feature image for this post. Moving the baseline around creates a fun, whimsical vibe that adds some character to your lettering composition.
Alignment plays a crucial role in lettering. The proportions of the letters in a word won't look right and may make it difficult to read if the characters aren't lined up where they should be. As I've said before, your end goal is to make your lettering feel comfortable and easy to read for the viewer.