Tag Archives: choosing fonts

Typography Terminology: What Makes a Font?

When it comes to your business’s website, a beautiful design is really an accessory of vehicle to get your message across, a message that is usually contained in words. Those words are inextricably linked with the alphabet, which is for the purposes of the Internet, linked to typography.

Different fonts have different personalities. Some go together, and some clash terribly. In a previous post focused on helping readers to choose fonts for their web design, we discussed some of the overall aesthetic principles that should guide font choice. For this article, we’d like to look more closely at the actual characters themselves and learn some type terminology.

Glyph - the shape that represents a letter in a typeface. Examples incude ‘G’, ‘#’, ‘i’, ‘?’, and ’8′.

Letterfit – the way in which characters in a font fit together to create text based on the width of the glyphs and the kerning.

Kerning – The horizontal space between two letters. A well-designed font will contain specific “kerning pairs” that set the space between particular glyphs. For instance, the pair “WA” (the letters actually overlap horizontally) has a tighter kerning setting than ‘WW” (the letters are close but do not overlap horizontally).

Monospaced – a font in which all the characters are the same width and there are no kerning pairs (meaning the width between each character is also the same) is “monospaced.”

X-Height – the height of the lowercase ‘x’ in a particular font sets the “x-height” which is used to determine the type size. The x-height of all of these fonts is the same, but see how the relation of the ‘x’ to the other letters can make the overall typeface seem larger or smaller.


Aperature - partially enclosed negative space in a glyph, such as on the top and bottom of the letter ‘s’, the lower part of ‘e’, and the top of a double-story lowercase ‘a’. In a great font, the size and shape of these apertures are carefully considered to provide balance to the letters.

Eye - the (usually) enclosed circle at the top of a lowercase ‘e’.

Ascender – any part of a lowercase letter that extends above the x-height, as in the letter ‘d’, ‘t’, or ‘f’.

Descender – any part of a lowercase letter that extends below the baseline, as in ‘j’, ‘g’, or ‘y’.

Knowing the specific names for certain parts or features of glyphs will help you to not in recognizing various fonts when they are used, but also in matching fonts by similarities. Here’s a great graphic from Font Shop that shows even more glyph characteristics!