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Lexicon of typography
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Typographical terms

Fewer and fewer of these words are keeping their meaning in the age of $100 2400dpi printers but they are still good to know and crucial for communicating with other designers, print houses, and clients.

uncial · A typeface without full upper or lowercase but composed of a mix of both. Irish and late Latin texts are recognizable versions of uncial print.

font · From “foundry” and “type foundry.” Font specifically refers to one set of a face, e.g., 12 point Caslon. Therefore it’s generally misused to mean typeface but so commonly misused it’s become synonymous.

point · A printer’s measurement. 72 points to the inch. 10 point Times is almost certainly the most common printface in books and journals over the last 100 years.

kerning · The adjustment in spacing made to letter pairs whose shapes are complementary. For instance, the shapes of “V” and “o” fit snuggly together but as print characters they have straight spacing boundaries at their outermost edges. So they can’t fit together without help, kerning.

leading · Line spacing. Line height. In typography, “leading,” is pronounced, “led,” as in Pb, Saturnine, the metal of the dead: lead. It’s the measure of space between lines. Leading comes from the early printers’ practice of inserting narrow strips of lead between lines of print to increase line spacing.

M-square · The basic shape of typography has been the square since the Romans by design and since Gutenberg by technology. Type was cast on little pieces of metal which were necessarily rectangular to fit together and stay in a plate. There were no lowercase letters at all until long after the Roman alphabet so the space below the baseline was not an issue. The M is the closest letter to square so it has been used as the bounding box for all the letters in a face. M-square isn’t always meaningful anymore, especially outside serif Roman faces. The unit of measure is sometimes expressed as an “em” and can be used along with pt (point), px (pixel), % (relative percentage) in Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Eg to use all the measures setting the four sides of a CSS padding: “padding: 10pt 50px 5% 1em;” The benefit ems have over points and pixels for CSS is that they are directly proportional to the font face, therefore changes in font size will scale spacing in direct ratio.

M-dash (em-dash) and N-dash (en-dash) · The dashes that are the width of an M (—) and an N (–) in a given face. They will always be wider than a plain dash or hyphen, excepting monospace faces.

registration · A printing term referring to the accuracy of the printing measurements/layout. Usually only an issue when more than one color is being used because the registration needs to be good or the colors will overlap.

bleed · To let the ink bleed to the edge of the printed page. Once the paper is printed it is usually trimmed so the “bleed” is clean to the edge.

galley · Historical meaning is a metal or wooden tray for holding composed type. Today galley, especially galleys, usually means mocked up or proof copy. A related term is tear-sheet. A page is torn, sometimes metaphorically, from a proof print run to be shown to editors, clients, etc.

CSS · Cascading Style Sheets. Typography for the web. There is an excellent set of guides and tutorials for this and more at the W3Schools.

10/12 · A common shorthand to signify 10pt type with 12pt leading. Generally speaking, this is an excellent ratio for readability. 10/10 is harder to read, 10/14 starts to look like a children’s book.

minuscule · Lowercase.

majuscule · Uppercase.

greeking · Text rendered nonsensically to demonstrate a design without the need for—or the distraction of—real content. Greeking is most often rendered in Latin since English uses the Roman alphabet. Web-oriented greeking in JavaScript can be done quite easily.

bookface · A serifed and specially weighted typeface designed for legibility at small print sizes. Times is the most famous bookface.

blackface · A heavy, thick typeface.

sans serif · A typeface with no serifs (small end caps or other decorative marks).

monospace · A typeface where all characters are the same width. Courier is the most common member of the group.

Gothic · Gothic in architecture, ornate and detailed, means exactly the opposite of what it does in typography, a sans-serif, usually black, face.

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