Typography: Basic Terminologies

In the graphic design world, typography is inevitable. In order to work better with typography, every designer should know what each typography jargon means and how to use it properly.


Graphic designer, developer, and instructor Derek Weathersbee provides some of the terms often used in typography and how to apply them.



Baseline refers to the invisible line where the letters of a typeface rest. The flat bottom part of the typeface rests normally flush against the baseline while fonts with curved characters go a little below the baseline, and a little above the cap height.


Cap Height

Cap height is the distance from the baseline to the top of the capital letters. Flat-top capital letters are usually flush with the cap height. Cap height is not the same as ascenders.



Ascender is the part of a lowercase letter that goes past the x-height of a typeface. Oftentimes, ascenders reach higher than the cap height. Letters with ascenders are b, d, and f. The b, d, and f letters may require an ascender line since these consistently reach the same height above the cap height.



X-height refers to how far the baseline is from the top of a lowercase x. X-height also serves as a guide for the size of the main part of a lowercase letter, and affects the legibility of a letter and its stylistic feel.



Counter is the space enclosed by any of the letters. This could refer to both partially enclosed and fully enclosed areas. It serves as a letter’s negative space.



Descender is the part of a lowercase letter that goes past the baseline of the font. Letters with descenders include the ones with tails like g, j, and p, among others, depending on the typeface.



Leading refers to the distance between the baseline of two successive lines of type. Leading can also be referred to as the line height or vertical spacing of characters. The leading affects the legibility of the body of text and varies depending on the font.



Tracking is the horizontal distance between letters on a line. It is also known as letter-spacing. This isn’t limited just to the space between the letters but can also refer to the space over a length of text.



Kerning is the individual spacing adjustment made between pairs of letters that sometimes don’t look like they have equal space between them. Kerning gives the appearance of asymmetry between letters as they are adjusted. Kerning is often confused tracking. Some letters that may require moderate kerning are curved letters like C and O, while diagonal letters like A and V may require extreme kerning. Upright letters like M and N rarely requires kerning.


Small Caps and Faux Small Caps

Small caps are capital letters that are sized as big (or as small) as lowercased letters and are often used as stylistic variants. They have the same stroke weight as the lowercase fonts, making them appear to fit together naturally. Faux small caps, on the other hand, are fake versions when a typeface doesn’t have small caps. Faux small caps are not recommended to be used as they have smaller stroke width which doesn’t really look good.


If typography gets too technical, you can always reach out to the creative professionals to help you create typographic art that works well with your design project. Our dynamic team of designers, along with developers, creative writers, and animators here at MicroCreatives, is always willing to help.