The Basics of Typography

Typography is certainly more than just text on a page. It expresses the type in much the same way a person’s voice can vary in tone. Typography communicates a message through the use of styles and faces.

In the bygone years, metal type was constructed to allow ink to pass across the surface of the type to the paper. Mechanical printing presses and specialised typographers used their skills to craft columns of text until the dramatic changes to the industry.

Terms used in typography come from both contemporary and modern computer graphics. The invention of computer graphic programs made typography available to everyone who got their hands on the software, allowing users to resize styles and format fonts to make expressive text layouts. The problem is everyone thinks they are a typographer but not everyone can do it well.

Font vs. Typeface
A font is computer software, while a typeface is a collection of letters in a similar style. Typeface is used by graphic or website designers when describing a particular style. The term font is only used when referring from the computer.

Paragraph Alignment
This term is used to describe which side a column of text leans up against. Left align is the default paragraph alignment used by graphic designers. Right-align paragraphs of text are used in pull quotes or short pieces of text. Ragged text is opposite side of text to an unjustified block, so a left-aligned text the right hand side would be ragged and vice versa.

Printers use this term when referring to the parallel space between the lines of copy. Metal blocks were crammed between lines to make spaces so text is spaced out correctly. Leading is used by designers to make lines of text appear less cramped and easy to read. It is increased on purpose to provide a design solution.

Kerning comes with the typeface style as built in, though some graphic designers prefer to manage and adjust the kerning to change the spacing visually. Tracking is very similar to kerning except it affects the whole word and not individual letters.

Rob Steele is a freelance graphic artist for roller banner ads.