Drop that Line over the Counter

fontfriday, graphic design, helz-designToday I would love to talk to you about fonts in general.

You all know by now, that fonts can be classified into major systems. We have serif fonts, we have grotesques or san serif fonts, we have slab fonts, we have script fonts and we have dingbats and we have something I would call fun fonts.

But all fonts have something in common, even dingbats, although they don’t come along with letters but signs.

All fonts are aligned at a kind of typographic line system.

graphic design, Helz-Design

We have four general “help”lines – maybe they remind you of the time when you learned how to write. I used to have these lines in my exercise book.

The lowest line is called descent. The descender, the part of a letter that extends over the baseline, will end at that line. Letters with descenders are g, j, p, q, y. Descender space is also used for J and Q. Sometimes it depends on the font you are using. When you look at my example picture you will see that the descender of g in the serif font is more elaborated than the one of the san-serif-font.

The next line is called baseline. As the name says: this is the basic line of writing. Sometimes when you buy notepaper with lines, you will never have all four lines, but the one line that the notepaper industry uses to print, that’s our baseline.

Baseline is the line for all letters without descenders. This line is like a comfy chair for your letters.

Above the baseline you will find the mean line. The space between baseline and mean line is called median or x-height. The small letter x usually fits comfortable in between. Certainly it depends on the design of the font if it actually fits in.

In my example I used Garamond. And all small letters fit perfectly between base and mean line.

The space above the mean line is called ascender height – the parts of the small letters that are taller than x-height. Letters with ascenders are: b, d, f, h, i, j, k, l, t.

Capital letters are sometimes a bit smaller than ascender height, also depending on the design of the font. The line that restricts the space for capital letters is set up some points below the ascender line. This part is called cap height. Since the space is for capital letters, I guess it is menu-driven: A B C ……

There is more that letters have in common.

The area that is enclosed by the letters – entirely or partially  – is called counter. That’s the part that usually won’t print.
Letters with closed counters are: A, B, D, O, P, Q, R, a, b, d, e, g, o, p, q.  Examples of letters with open counters: h, m, n, s, u

Ever wondered why a serif font is called serif font?

Yes it is because of the serifs … ha. The serifs are tiny little details at the edges of the font. They are relicts from a time when written products haven’t been created with a computer, and not even with a printing press. At that time letters and books have been written by hand with a quill or brush.

A serif font has its baseline somehow in its pocket. The serif helps your eye to hold the line.

The way a serif is elaborated – straight, concave, rounded – helps us to classify the font.

But that will be next weeks story!


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© by Helen Bogun of Helz-Design.
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4 thoughts on “Drop that Line over the Counter

  1. theoddcoupleblogcom on said:

    You are so full of information. The lines do remind me of grammer school. Thank you for the history behind the different fonts.

    • yes my son had these lines in elementary school too … i have a font … schoolscript … which uses these lines too and it is the very typface german children got taught when learning how to write.

      you know that is my guilt pleasure … fonts and their history

  2. Ah, I hadn’t seen this in print in decades. Our original firm involved industrial design (with real technology added in), so I got my education then. Nice refresher course, Helen….

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