Typography, Font Types & Font Categories


Typography is a beautiful world or letters, words and fonts. It is an essential element of design that adds character and brings your designs to life. Typography has the power to change and alter a design with even the simplest of adjustments and great designers and typographers have been using type for centuries to create visual language.

Every designer must understand typography. It is a fundamental topic of design that cannot be overlooked. Today, I am going to go over some of the font basics that will help get you started and on your way to becoming a better designer.

The Anatomy of Type

Typography is the art of setting and arranging type. The words fonts, type, typefaces are often used synonymously and just like any discipline, typography has a language of its own.

Here is the basic anatomy of type:

Font Anatomy

Fonts sit on a baseline. The height of a particular font is measured as cap height and x-height. An ascender is a portion of a letter that extends above the mean line of a font. A descender is a portion of a letter that extends below the baseline of a font. Most fonts are categorized as either serif or sans-serif fonts. Serif fonts have horizontal lines added to the beginning and end of the letters in a font. Sans-serif means without in French thus a sans-serif font is one without serifs.

Font Categories

There are many different font categories. Here is a basic description of some of the major ones most often used today.

Serif fonts

Serif fonts are classic fonts that have horizontal lines added to the beginning and end of the letters. The serif added to the letters give readers a horizontal line-of-reference for their eyes to follow. This makes serif fonts an excellent choice for use in any large bodies of text and thus, serif fonts are most often used in books, magazines and newspapers. Serif fonts can be divided into 4 different classifications: old style, transitional, modern and slab-serif. Some of the most common serif fonts used today are Garamond, Baskerville and Times New Roman.

Serif fonts

Sans-serif fonts

Sans-serif fonts are fonts without serifs. Generally, sans-serif fonts are seen as more modern than serif fonts. Like serif fonts, there are several different classifications for sans-serif fonts including grotesque, humanistic, geometric, etc. Some of the most common sans serif fonts used today are Helvetica, Verdana, Arial, Futura, Century Gothic and Myriad.
Sans-serif fonts

Script or handwritten fonts

Script or handwritten fonts are based on different styles of handwriting. Some are based more on calligraphy whereas others are based more on classic handwriting styles and techniques. The legibility of script fonts can vary greatly from one script font to the other. Two of the more common script fonts are Bickham script and Edwardian script.

Edwardian Script Font

Brush Script Font

Decorative or Novelty fonts

This category encompasses a lot. Any font that is tweaked, bizarre, irregular or funny fit into this category.

Ashhouse font

Pointy font

Web fonts

When it comes to print design, there are thousands of fonts to choose from. Unfortunately, when it comes to fonts on the web, there is only a very small and limited list of fonts that designers can use. This is often very frustrating for web designers as web designers must choose from the limited list of fonts that everyone has installed on their personal computers. For now, this is the only way that web designers can ensure that their websites look the same to everyone on the web. A few universal web fonts that web designers use are Arial, Tahoma, Verdana, Times New Roman, Trebuchet MS, Georgia and Lucida Sans. To learn more about web fonts, click here.

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