Anatomy of Typography

Learning and understanding every aspect of the anatomy of typography is essential if you are to become a great typographer. These advanced skills will enable you to clearly communicate complex messages effectively with limited means, especially when the whole design is only using typography, like for example the ‘wordmark’ logo, where you redraw some letters to make them unique.

Anatomy of Typography


Anatomy of Typography

Typographic Definitions

Typeface and Font

A typeface comprises a family of fonts such as Garamond Regular, Garamond Italic, Garamond Bold, etc. A font is a specific weight or style within a typeface family, such as Garamond Italic.

Typeface Classifications

Serif and sans serif are the two most common typeface classifications. Serif typefaces have a more traditional look. Sans serf typefaces became populary in the late 19th century and are considered to be more modern.

Layout Grid

A layout grid is a structured yet flexible system able to help designers achieve coherency in organizing text and images on the page. Composed of guides and columns, the grid forms the foundation of a good typographic layout, so it’s important to use it in every design project. Using a layout grid system also enables the work to be split among several designers simultaneously. This ensures that they produce the same level of quality end result displaying both consistency and visual harmony.


This term refers to the actual length of lines of text in either a paragraph or column. Typically people tend to refer to it as ‘column width’. Measure is an important factor to get right, since it is crucial to the readability of the text and how your eyes follow it. If made too wide the text could be difficult to read since the eye has to travel a lot further after reading each line. When the measure is too narrow, it can be tiring to read as the eye is constantly moving back and forth.


Leading refers to the space between lines of type in a body of text. It plays a major role in providing readability. Correctly spaced lines improve the overall appearance of the text and make it easier for the reader to follow. Several factors affect leading including typeface, type size, weight, case, tracking, etc. The longer the measure, the more leading is required. Whereas the larger the type size, the less leading is needed. The origins of the word ‘leading’ come from the early days of printing and setting blocks of type. Strips of lead were inserted between the lines depending on space requirements.


In general, text should be given a flush left alignment since that is how people are used to reading. Consider centering or right aligning (flush right) text for only headings or captions. Justifying text should be used sparingly, since too much of it will make your layout look rigid. In addition, you should try to avoid justifying text in a small column width. The result can create noticeably short lines and irregular word spacing.

Kerning and Tracking

Kerning refers to making adjustments to the spacing between individual characters within a word. In comparison, tracking is the spacing of a group of characters.

Text Rag

This occurs when typesetting a body of text that has a flush left or flush right alignment. This creates a rag effect or uneven opposing side to each line. A bad rag can distract a reader since it is unsettling to the eye. A good rag presents a visually-pleasing balance without any lines that are too short or too long, without any apparent holes or disturbing shapes.

Hyphens, En dashes and Em dashes

Hyphens are used for hyphenating words. Typically, hyphenation should be avoided. However, splitting words correctly is considered necessary in order to prevent a bad rag text. The objective is to avoid using several of them in a body of text, or having them appear one after the other. They are also used to separate telephone or account numbers. En dashes are primarily for showing duration or range as in 9:00–5 :00. Em dashes are used as punctuation to indicate a break in thought, a digression or a change from one speaker to another. It can also be used to set apart clauses in a sentence.

Widows and Orphans

These dangling bits of text can make the story harder to read, destroy continuity for the reader and make layouts look unbalanced. A ‘widow’ is a very small line or single word left alone at the end of a paragraph. In comparison, an ‘orphan’ is a word or short line that appears at the beginning or end of a column. Since both create awkward rags they should be avoided.


This typographic element is used when two characters either collide or appear too close together and need to be replaced. Ligatures are combinations of letters that are joined together – some of them are functional, while others are used for decorative reasons. They are more commonly used with serif faces although sometimes with sans serifs. The most common example is ‘Œ’ or ‘œ’.


A glyph is essentially a single representation of a typographic character in a font or typeface. This includes all available letters, numbers and special characters.


En dash

Em dash

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