Last week, I defined typography. A while ago, I covered the basic typographic guidelines in my post on alignment. Here, I'll dive into type anatomy. Each character (defined as any number, letter or punctuation mark in a typeface) is made up of various pieces. Just like you have hands and feet, characters have specific body parts.
These aren't all of the terms that exist in the type world though. Some are a bit too specialized and usually reserved for people like typeface designers. But this list covers the general terms that are often discussed in lettering. Knowing these will enable you to talk type more easily with other letter lovers.
- aperture/open counter: partial opening in the curved negative space of a letter
- apex: pointed (though not always a sharp point) where two strokes meet at the top of a letter (also seen in M and N)
- arm: upward diagonal stroke connected to the stem at only on point
- ascender: part of the stem that extends above the x-height line
- bowl: rounded stroke that is enclosed
- counter: negative space that is surrounded by the bowl
- crossbar: horizontal stroke crossing over the stem
- descender: part of the stem that extends below the baseline
- ear: small stroke extending from the upper right corner of some lowercase g's
- leg: downward diagonal stroke connected to the stem at only on point
- loop: seen in double-story lowercase g's; rounded stroke that is enclosed or partially enclosed
- serif/bracket: decorative elements at the end of the main strokes of some letters; serif is the horizontal line, bracket is the curved shape between the serif and the stroke
- shoulder: rounded, downward stroke of a letter
- spine: main curved stroke of the s
- stem/stroke: main pieces of any letter; stem is usually vertical, stroke is diagonal or curved
- tail: descending decorative stroke
- terminal: endpoint of a stroke that doesn't include a serif
Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list of typeface anatomy. It's a compilation of some of the most common words discussed in lettering. There are endless possibilities to customize your lettering by tinkering with these specific pieces. Some typefaces (like my example above) have very long ascenders and descenders. Some decorative typefaces may treat the leg of the k and the tail of the Q the same way. Play around and see what customizations you can create!