Vocabulary of Typography: Guidelines

Doyald introduces this section, “The following list contains advice that will last a long time. These are not my rules: they are common knowledge gleaned from reading about type, teaching, and using it. Personal preference also plays a great part in typography.”


Accents (caps)—In the U.S. capitals are rarely accented. Lines of type must be leaded to accommodate them. 

Accents (floating)—Floating accents are extremely difficult to place with small type size. Better, specify a font complete with accents.

Alignment—See Centered, Flush left, Flush right, and Justified.

Alignment (optical)—Type should align visually, not mechanically. If type is set flush left, punctuation such as quotation marks may hang in the margins. Ts, As, Vs, Ws; and any letters with large amounts of negative space should hang to the left. In right-justified settings, periods, commas, and quotation marks should hang to the right. Align figures on the decimal points.

Asymmetrical (contemporary format)—A layout in which the type relates more closely to the edge of the page than normal margins. Negative space between words or paragraphs becomes an integral part of the design. Shifting the margins of the page has significant impact on the design.

Body text—Avoid setting body text in all caps, or italics, or reversed out type. It is difficult to read. Do not use headline faces for body copy: they were not designed for this purpose. There are many examples of good text settings in books and magazines on typography.

Bullets—Unless you are selling used auto parts, or dumpsters, avoid using bullets heavier than the text; they are distracting. If a stop is needed between disparate bits of copy, a center dot of the same point size will do the trick in a more subdued manner. Use half-word spacing around it. 

Brackets—Brackets can embrace an otherwise lonely folio. Centaur’s is an elegant thin line; other versions are two-weighted.

Caps (hung)—To optically align, hang the diagonals of AWV, and Y and the arms of the T when using justified lines of caps.

Caps (regular)—Five to ten percent additional spacing often improves the color of a line of caps. Kern the troublesome combinations if required: LTLYAT, etc. Most Type 1 fonts are well fitted and kerned.

Caps (small )—Small caps are usually a bit taller than the x-height. Use them spaced half again as much normal spacing (or a bit more) following an initial letter or following a regular sized cap. The opening sentence of an article, essay, or book can be set flush left with letterspaced small caps optional; subsequent paragraphs are indented.

Centering (caps)—To center a second line of capitals ending with an L, set an en space in front of the second line; this will optically center the line.

Centering (type)—Set an en space in front of the second line if it ends with a period. 

Color—Type should have an overall evenness of value: when you squint your eyes at a paragraph, it should be consistent in its overall value of gray or light areas and have no dark areas. The gray value of a bold type will be darker than that of a light face. (r_e_)

Communication —The ultimate purpose of typographic design is to communicate. Therefore, the more quickly and easily the viewer receives the communication, the more successful the design is. It is common to see personal taste, likes and dislikes, interfere with the communication. A design that is too unconventional or bizarre can be-come an obstacle to communicating clearly, quickly, and effectively.

Condensed type —Long columns of condensed type are tiresome and hard to read. Avoid them if possible.

Decks—A deck is a contrasting type set within runaround or surrounding text. Decks can be placed in the margin and / or extend into a column. Often deck type is larger than text size; the font may be the same style as the text or may be of contrasting weight, angle, or style.

Distortion—As a general rule, types are not designed to be significantly distorted—condensed, extended, or stretched. Noticeable distortions destroy the integrity of the font. Instead use a font that comes with condensed and extended versions (for example, Univers, Helvetica, Bodoni). MultipleMaster font families allow the letters to change weight and proportion without distortion. Use these fonts when you need to extend or condense a type face exactly. 

Duplicate words—Avoid repetitive words at the beginning or end of consecutive lines.

Ellipses—The space before and within an ellipsis should be the same. A period set before an ellipsis is set closed up to the sentence.… 

En / em dash—Use the en dash to indicate a range of pages: 1_5_–2_0_ _or 1_9_4_0_–4_5_. It is now fashionable to use an en dash surrounded with a full word space instead of an em dash for an aside, or separate thought, though the em dash is correct. Divide the space on either side of the dash to prevent an optical hole. If you do not use the space around the dash and it is followed or preceded by a round form, add one or two points to prevent touching.

Figures—Oldstyle figures (typographers like to call them that instead of numbers or numerals) are best used with text. Cap-high figures tend to dominate. But for copy with many figures, like balance sheets, cap high figures work better. 

Oldstyle figures visually align with the x-height of the font. Some of the characters have ascenders and descenders. Use these when they are available and you want a classic, refined look to your typography.

Filling a line—In justified settings, word processing programs will automatically fill a line. The results can sometimes be unhappy. Hyphenation zones may be changed for better fill. Or increase word spacing in the offending line, or increase tracking minimally; the line, or lines should not appear openly spaced. In dire circumstances the type width may be expanded 1 percent, but never more than 2.

Fleurons—Explore the use of fleurons, sometimes called flowers or ornaments. Some, over 400 years old, have yet to be excelled in design. Caslon’s are inimitable, Bodoni’s contemporary, and Fournier’s exquisite. They have a rightful home in fine typography.

Flush right—Flush right text looks “arty,” or pretentious, and is uncomfortable to read except in small amounts of text because the eye wants to return to the origin of the first line.

Folio—Folio is from the Latin folium, leaf, and is a page number. Folios are generally the same size as the text, and Oldstyle figures are recommended. Even-numbered pages are referred to as verso, odd-numbered pages as recto (left and right). Depending on format style, folios may be a contrasting font, size, and style (italic), as in this book.

Font mixing—Be judicious in the choice of types. Use no more than three different fonts in a layout and restrict the number of sizes. Successful layouts can be made with a single font, cap-and-lowercase and different sizes. In advertising, package design, and special uses, capitals are used for emphasis; so are italics, though not in the text of proper bookwork. 

For more prominence, use a bold face (e.g., for important information). Or use a hierarchy of weights: ultra bold, bold, or medium coupled with a light weight for text. Mix bold sans serif with light or regular weight sans serif, or with a serif face. Don’t combine an Oldstyle serif face with a Modern face. If you must, make certain they are contrasting weights. Change weight or size if you change type style.

Footnotes—Depending on the font, set notes two points smaller than text size, and no less than 8-point if set solid, 7-point if leaded.

Fonts—Familiarize yourself with as many fonts as possible. It will save valuable time when you must choose an appropriate type style. As a general rule, use traditional, classic type faces for body text. It is hard to go wrong with Garamond, Times Roman, Baskerville, and Bodoni.

Fractions—Proper fractions generally do not exceed cap height. Use the fractions that come with the font instead of making them yourself. Word processing programs reduce the font’s figures and the resulting fraction is a lighter weight than the font.

Hairline rule justification—Hairline (1⁄4-point) rules that separate copy, or underscores, will optically align with type if set one-half to one-point wider.

Hierarchy—Remember that most layouts contain information in degrees of importance. Let the sizes of type or weights reflect these levels. Greater contrast creates a dynamic layout.

Hyphenation—There are purists who hold that hyphenation is forbidden in flush-left layouts. Rarely is a text so sacrosanct that words cannot be broken to avoid extreme ragged lines.

Hyphenation restraints—Use a dictionary for correct hyphenation. There must be two letters before the hyphen and three after it. 

Hyphens—Avoid more than two consecutive hyphens at the end of a line. Rewrite if necessary. Some style manuals permit three hyphens.

Initial caps—Initial capitals perk up masses of gray text. Stand-up initials use the same baseline as the opening line, and stand up as much as you dare; drop initials can be 2, 3, 4, or more lines deep. Initials may be placed to the left of the text. The initial may be the same font, or a contrasting one, i.e., sans serif initial with serif text, or a script cap with serif text. 

Italic—For small sizes of text, choose a font with a wide italic for greater legibility, and gently letterspace.

Justification—Flush left and flush right text is commonly used in periodicals, books, and in the world of advertising, though the word spacing is not as consistent as unjustified text. With the propermeasure and adequate line-spacing, “rivers” can be avoided. Short measures of justified text, depending on the point size and proportion, produce extreme word spacing or excessive hyphenations. Avoid.

Kerned fonts—Purchase kerned fonts only. Additional kerning may be required. 

Kerning—Kerned characters invade the space of another to improve letterspacing: ATYoLT, etc. Be cautious when kerning a lowercase and n. If too tight, the combination will read as an mrn.

Leaders—Repeated characters, usually periods, are used to fill space, often in tabular material.

Leading—Leading originally meant pieces of lead inserted between lines of metal type. Some computer programs use the term line spacing in its place. There are three types: proportional, baseline to baseline, and top of caps. If possible, avoid setting type solid (8/8, 10/10, etc.) because it is hard to read unless the type is Oldstyle with long descenders, described as “light color” by typographers. Otherwise, lead one point. Ideally, line leading should exceed word spacing, so that the type reads in horizontal bands. Consecutive lines of caps should be line-spaced sufficiently to avoid a “stacked caps” look, or word spacing that is greater than line spacing. This often produces irregular “rivers” of white space. With flush-left copy and no paragraph indention, use more line spacing between paragraphs. A rule of thumb is 150 percent (or more) line leading. 

With small heads, either in bold face or same-size text caps, lead more than text, and more still than preceding text. Wide measures of type are tiresome to read. If you must, increase the leading for greater readability. Use average letterspacing, and average word spacing for text matter. Ideally there should be a slightly greater amount of space within letters than between the letters, yet the two should appear to be equal. In small sizes (7, 6, 5, and 4 points): increase the space between letters for legibility. Depending on the font, some small point sizes of type are more legible with a slight increase of letter- and word-spacing.

Legibility—Type should be legible. Avoid tricky, complicated settings if you want the type to be read.

Letterspacing—Except for special projects, avoid trendy letterspaced lowercase letters. Romans fare better than the italics, and the legibility of sans serifs is sometimes enhanced by letterspacing, but only in a limited number of words. 

If the next to last line of a paragraph is letterspaced, the last line should be spaced half as much to avoid an abrupt visual change of line color.

Ligatures—Ligatures, two or more joined letters, such as fi and fl, give words more even color. Using them assures a more professional result. Some italic fonts have many ligatures, for example, Arrighi.

Line spacing—See Leading.

Margin notes—The style varies, flush or centered. Traditionally, notes are set in italic, smaller than the text. They may be dramatic in size, weight, or style.

Measure—In book work, text is most readable when set from 40 to 60 characters wide, including spaces between words. Advertising copy usually runs 40 or more characters, or an alphabet and a half. Avoid short measures of justified copy, which force hyphenation and are difficult to read.

Mixing fonts—Don’t mix Old-style fonts, nor Oldstyle and Moderns, unless there is a generous change of size and/or a change of weight. 

Script and italic are not an ideal combination, either in one or two lines, because the sloping angles seldom match. 

Negative space—The space around the letters essentially defines the positive space of type on the page. Learn to see negative space between and around letters, words, lines of type, and on the overall page at the same time as the positive space.

Paragraph—Avoid opening a paragraph on the last line of a column or ending a paragraph on the first line of a column. 

Avoid excessive paragraph indention in general running text. It leaves unsightly slots in columns of text.

Parentheses—Whether your text is italic or roman, Robert Bringhurst1 suggests roman parentheses. He does not consider the characters to be letters, and thus excludes the italic style. There are examples of roman parentheses mixed with italic text as far back as the sixteenth century. Some purists object. 

Period—In the U.S., quote marks go outside periods at the end of a quotation, colons and semi-colons follow the close quote. Use only one space after a period.

Proofreader’s marks—For more precise communication with typographers, learn the most commonly used proofreader’s marks. 

Punctuation (hung)—For an optical vertical alignment, when possible, hang punctuation outside the edge of a justified column.

Quotation marks—Reduce the word space before and after quotation marks.

Ragged right—Flush left copy (ragged right) will produce consistent word spacing and even color, though the method is difficult to “rag” smoothly. The avoidance of hyphenation produces extreme, and often undesirable, “rags.”

Reversed type —Type below 8-point should not be reversed out of 4-color process, unless the type is sans serif of normal weight, or the line screen is 175 lines-per-inch, or finer. 

Increase the letter and word- spacing if the type is reversed. Negative images visually close and weight up.

Rivers—Hold a page of type at an angle and squint your eyes. A pattern of negative or white space running between words, which looks like rivers, is un-desirable, an indication of poor typography. Eliminate them by editing or respacing the copy.

Running paragraphs—Paragraphs can be separated by ornaments, bullets, or quads in special cases. Do not set large amounts of type this way.

Set width—Some programs permit fonts to change proportion, often with disastrous results. Don’t use set width to squeeze type to fit. It destroys the color of the text. In dire circumstances, 1 or 2 percent wider or more narrow is virtually undetectable. With thousands of types to choose from, you can find one of the right proportion.

Script caps—Do not set a word in all script caps. There are exceptions: if the word is short and easily read, or if quick reading is not of prime importance.

Small caps—Capital letters that are approximately the same height as the body of the lowercase letter are nice to use for lead-ins to text where you want emphasis without the exaggeration of all caps.

Stacked type—Avoid setting type vertically (one letter below the next). It is difficult to read. A better solution—if you have a limited horizontal space—is to turn the word sideways.

Subheads—Typesetting often requires levels of subheads. These should be set to reflect their relative importance; for example, with small heads that are not run-in, either in bold face or caps of text size. Usually the subheads are set with more space above than below.

Symmetrical format (formal)—A layout that is generally centered on the page and flush on both sides, or type that is centered one line over the other. The margins have a minimal effect on the composition of the page. If you move the margins, the integrity of the type basically remains the same. 

Tangent spacing—If you must space letters tangently, or touching, do so only with alternating straight-to-curve, curve-to-curve letters, and rarely more than one or two words (bunches of vertical stems become hard-to-read black blobs). However, some layouts demand dramatic statements, possible only with letterspacing that breaks the rules.

Textured backgrounds— Despite technology that permits you to do so, do not radically change values in the background of type. The type becomes illegible and no longer serves to communicate.

Type size—Pity your grandmother. Unless the copy is strictly for legal purposes, or on a CD album, don’t use 4-point type.

Type weight—If you change type styles, change either the size or the weight of the type.

Typography—There are many styles of typography: literary, advertising, packaging, product, billboard advertising, and web type. While these may be considered applications, each style seems almost a different discipline, be-cause of their special restraints and needs.

Value—There should be enough difference in value between the background and the type to facilitate legibility. Value problems may occur when colored type is used against a colored background and there is not enough differentiation in value for the type to be legible. Counter close values by using type large enough to read. 

Wordbreaks—Ungainly word- breaks may be avoided by letter-spacing previous lines.

Word spacing—Normal word spacing is one third of an em.