Choosing and Using Type

Type Terms and Fundamentals


are the electronic files that contain typefaces. A single typeface is made up of the upper and lowercase letters of the alphabet, the numbers zero through nine, punctuation marks, and special characters-all in particular style, such as Times New Roman or Arial (both standard fonts that come with Windows). If the font is scalable-and most fonts are these days-you can use your application to change its size, from tiny to big enough to see across the street.

Type size

is always measured in points. There are approximately 72 points per inch. Body text, such as the text you're reading, is generally set from 10 to 12 point. Subheads should generally be between 14 and 18 point. Headings range from 24 to 72 point, or larger for special effects.

Proportional or Monospaced

Type can either be monospaced or proportionally spaced. Typewriter type, and certain fonts such as Courier and Letter Gothic, are monospaced-each letter has the same width whether it's an i or a W. Typeset-quality fonts, such as Times Roman (the typeface you're probably viewing this in) and Arial, are proportionally spaced-each letter is just the width of the character (you can fit four i's in the space of one W).

Monospaced Monospaced Fonts

Proportionally Spaced Proportionally Spaced

Serif or Sans

Typefaces fall into one of two camps: serif and sans serif. A serif is the small crossbar (or finishing stroke, or doohickey) that ends the main stroke of letters. Sans (French for "without") serif typefaces don't have serifs.

Serif / Sans


Typefaces generally come in several weights, such as Regular, Italic, Bold, and Bold Italic. Different weights of the same typeface are called a family. Each of these weights are contained in a single font file. Faces designed for headings and headlines may have only one weight, but body text faces usually have four, with professional fonts offering as many as 16 or so, from very light to extra black. Body text families should have at least three weights (some older serif faces were not originally designed with a bold-italic weight). Avoid inexpensive packages that provide only one or two weights, making the fonts much less versatile and useful than they should be.

Regular, Italic, Bold, Bold Italic

Body vs. Display

Type can be broken down into two more categories: body and display. Body typefaces, such as the one you're reading right now, are designed to be read for paragraphs or pages, but they can also be used for display text. Most body faces have serifs. Display text is larger type designed specifically for headings and headlines, that is, to be used for only a few words at a time. For the most part, display faces shouldn't be used for body text because they're too difficult to read in smaller sizes.

Display Type (Bremen)


The space between lines of text is called leading because in the days when metal type was used, the space between lines was achieved by using thin strips of lead hammered to a precise thickness. The general rule for determining leading is to add 20 percent to the type size-for example, if you have 10 point text, you should have 12 point leading. It's not unusual to add more leading, but you never want to use less because it can make type much more difficult to read.


involves moving letters closer together or farther apart so that they appear evenly spaced, which in turn makes them easier to read. Most fonts include kerning pairs (To, Tr, We, and so on) that adjust their spacing automatically when typed consecutively. The kerning pairs included in a font are usually all you need for body text, but sometimes you need to kern large text manually. However, the quality of today's fonts and kerning pairs is high enough so that manual intervention is rarely necessary.

Kerned TextKerned type

Unkerned type Unkerned Type

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