Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (2023)

Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (1)

Although you probably know the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts, typography is actually so much more interesting than that. Did you know that letters can be dissected into parts as if they were a puzzle? Like people, fonts have personalities, moods, styles—and even anatomical features!

In this article, we will look at the different parts that make up letters and their real-life counterparts, visualized in the guide below with some fun analogies.

And last but not least, we will look at how type is manipulated to better fit in a space so that it looks balanced and easy on the eye.

Next time you download a set of fonts with “extra swashes,” you will know exactly what that means.

You can view the visual summary of this post below orskip aheadto read a detailed explanation of the differentparts that make up letters.

Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (2)

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Type Anatomy


Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (3)

A portion of a letter that extends downwards, attached at one end and free at the other.


Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (4)

A straight or curved portion of a letter that extends upwards or outwards, attached at one end and free at the other


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The small stroke that extends outwards from a lowercase g in some typeface styles.


Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (6)

(Video) Typography: Anatomy of a Letter

The stroke that curves downwards and to the right of the lowercase h, m and n.


Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (7)

The spine is the main curved stroke inside the upper and lower case S.


Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (8)

The decorative curved descender of a capital Q, R and K. The descenders of the lower case g, j, p, q, and y are also sometimes called tails.

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Other Kinds of Internal Letter Parts


Type Anatomy: A Visual Guide to the Parts of Letters (9)

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The x-height isn’t exactly a part but rather a measurement. It measures the height of all lowercase letters that are part of the same typeface. It’s called x-height because the letter x of each typeface is what determines the measurement.

Cap Height

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The cap height is a measurement of all capital letters in the same typeface. The most accurate measurement is found in flat bottomed characters like the letter E.


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An ascender is a vertical stroke that extends upwards over the x-height.


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A descender is a vertical stroke that extends downwards below the x-height.

(Video) 23 Design Principles - Typography, Letter form anatomy


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The stem is the main vertical stroke in upright characters. When a letter has no verticals like a capital A or V, the first diagonal stroke is considered the stem.


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A stroke is the main vertical diagonal line in a letter.


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A bar is a horizontal stroke in letters like A, H, e and f.


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A serif is a short line at the beginning and the end of strokes. Serifs are what make a typeface a serif or a sans serif. Serifs can have different shapes: hairline, square/slab, wedge. They can all be bracketed or unbracketed, meaning that their connection to the stroke is rounded or perpendicular.


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When a letter doesn’t have a serif, the end of the stroke is called a terminal.


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A bowl is a stroke that creates an enclosed curved space, as in the letters d, b, o, D and B.


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The counter is the enclosed space in letters like o, b, d, and a. Counters are also created by bowls.


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(Video) Typography: Type Anatomy

A link is a stroke connecting the bowl and loop of a two-story lowercase g.


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A swash is a fancy or decorative replacement to a terminal or serif in any capital letter used at the beginning of a sentence. Swashes are also used at the end of letters to decorate the composition. Calligraphy is full of swashes of all kinds; at the beginning, at the end and even in the middle, extending from ascenders.


A spur is a small projection that veers off the main stroke on many capital G’s

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How Type is Styled to Better Suit a Purpose

Bold and Italic

There are ways to style typography to more effectively get your message across. The most common typography styles are italic and bold. Regular typefaces can be turned into bold or italic in any graphic design editor. Bold styles are great for headlines and highlighting important parts of text. Using bold styles for links makes them more prominent and easy to see. Italics are used mainly for words in a different language or reference links.

RELATED:A Non-Designer’s Guide to Pairing Fonts

Typeface Families

Some typefaces have more options. A typeface family can have as many as 20 styles or more. Futura, a very versatile typeface family, has 22 styles. Some of the most memorable Futura styles are light, condensed, semi-bold, extra bold, bold condensed and book italic.

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Novelty Styles

Apart from the styles covered above that work for all sorts of text and designs, there are also hundreds of other styles! Novelty fonts have all sorts of different styles, from whimsical and hand drawn, to culturally inspired. These novelty fonts cannot be turned into bold or italics because they only exist in the style they were designed in.

For example, inline is a style in which there is a white line inside each letter:

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Ink is a style that resembles letters written with an Asian brush and black ink:

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Script (or cursive) is a style of font that resembles letters written by hand; script fonts vary from classic calligraphy to freestyle handwriting.

(Video) The Anatomy of Type

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Novelty styles are great for designs that need a special je ne sais quois, but should still be used with caution since they can become overwhelming quite easily.

Cultural Styles

There are other fonts that are purely cultural in fashion. For example, the fonts that look like Japanese characters but aren’t. The ones that look Chinese but are not Chinese characters. Other cultural styles are ones like the Disney font or the Coca-Cola font. Cultural styles are even more limited than novelty styles. They carry so many messages that using them will instantly give your design a preconceived meaning, so be mindful when using these types of fonts.

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How Type is Manipulated to Fit in a Space

Sometimes letters need to be adjusted to fit in a certain space. There are three different ways in which type can be moved around in a space so that it looks better. These three measurements are called kerning, tracking and leading.


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Kerning is the space between two individual letters. It’s used when you need to move only one letter because it is too far or too close to its companions. Some typefaces have a strange spacing between the capital letter and the rest of the word. Kerning helps create a better balance between letters.

When designers create wordmark logos, they usually control the kerning from letter to letter, making sure the the entire word is perfectly balanced and polished.


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Tracking is the proportional space between all the letters in a body of text. Being able to change the tracking helps fit more letters in a small space or spread out letters if they are too tight. Script fonts cannot undergo too much tracking due to how the ligatures separate and create unbalanced spaces.

Designers manipulate the tracking when they want to accomplish a look that has even edges for all the words. By spreading out the tracking or making it tighter, they can make all the text look unified and justified.


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Leading is the space between baselines. This means that when we manipulate the leading, we are changing the way a paragraph looks.

Leading and x-height have a direct effect on how text will look in a paragraph. There is another measurement we should mention called the baseline, which is the line on which letters sit horizontally. The bottom of the x-height of each letter sits on a baseline.

The lower the x-height compared to the cap height, the more white space there will be between lines. When letters have a higher x-height in comparison to the cap height, the leading looks more balanced and ordered.

(Video) The Anatomy of Letters - Fundamentals of Graphic Design

Your Turn

Visme has recently launched a brand kit and now you can upload fonts to use in your designs. Not all fonts are the same and not all fonts work well in the body of a document. Knowing the anatomy of a typeface and its possible styles can help you understand why some fonts work and others don’t.

Designer lingo might not be something you need to know in order to create infographics and presentations. In spite of that, we believe that knowing these terms will help you make better decisions when choosing a font for your graphics or even your entire brand.


What is the anatomy of type letterform? ›

The anatomy of type describes the visual elements that make up the letterforms within a typeface. Each letterform is made up of individual components (e.g., spine, stem, stroke). Type designers create typefaces using components — crucial parts that contribute to the overall appearance and legibility of a typeface.

What is the anatomy of type counter? ›

In typography, a counter is the area of a letter that is entirely or partially enclosed by a letter form or a symbol (the counter-space/the hole of). The stroke that creates such a space is known as a "bowl". Latin letters containing closed counters include A, B, D, O, P, Q, R, a, b, d, e, g, o, p, and q.

What is a type body in typography? ›

Body type or a body face is the typeface used for body copy. Above most body copy, especially in a magazine or newspaper articles is the HEADLINE. Typography in Graphic Design, is the headline for the following paragraphs of information.

What are five types of typography guidelines associated with letterforms? ›

Typography Basics

There are five basic classifications of typefaces: serif, sans serif, script, monospaced, and display.

What shape is the letter A? ›

Its name in English is a (pronounced /ˈeɪ/), plural aes. It is similar in shape to the Ancient Greek letter alpha, from which it derives. The uppercase version consists of the two slanting sides of a triangle, crossed in the middle by a horizontal bar.
Other letters commonly used witha(x), ae, eau
17 more rows

What are the 4 types of fonts? ›

Font Types
  • Serif.
  • Sans Serif.
  • Script.
  • Decorative.
Jan 5, 2022

What are the 3 common types of fonts? ›

Some of the most popular types of fonts include serif, sans serif, slab serif, script and decorative.

What are the 7 major parts of a letter? ›

Experts generally agree that there are seven parts of a business letter:
  • Sender's address. Optimally, you'll want to have a printed company letterhead. ...
  • Date. Whoever receives the letter needs to know when the letter was written. ...
  • Recipient's address. ...
  • Salutation. ...
  • Body. ...
  • Closing/signature. ...
  • Enclosures.
Jul 30, 2018

What are the 5 parts of a letter? ›

English Plus outlines five parts of a personal letter, not used in a business setting.
  • The heading. This includes the address, line by line, with the last line being the date. ...
  • The greeting. The greeting always ends with a comma. ...
  • The body. Also known as the main text. ...
  • The complimentary close. ...
  • The signature line.
Dec 7, 2020

What are the 12 parts of a letter? ›

There are 12 Parts of Business Letter
  • The Heading or Letterhead.
  • Date.
  • Reference.
  • The Inside Address.
  • Subject.
  • Greeting.
  • Body Paragraphs.
  • Complimentary Close.

What is the round part of a letter called? ›

The fully closed, rounded part of a letter. Definition: In typography, the curved part of the character that encloses the circular or curved parts (counter) of some letters such as d, b, o, D, and B is the bowl.

What is the gap in a letter called? ›

Kerning refers to the amount of space between two letters (or other characters: Numbers, punctuation, etc.) and the process of adjusting that space to avoid awkward-looking gaps between your letters and improve legibility.

What is baseline in lettering? ›

The baseline is the invisible line upon which letters rest. It's used as a point from which other elements are measured, such as line-height and x-height.

What are type styles? ›

Type style is an additional format performed on characters. For example, bold, italic, shadow, and strike through are all examples of type styles. Type, Typeface, Typography terms.

What is a type scale? ›

A typographic scale refers to a pre-defined set of intervals that dictate font sizes within a typographic system. Much like scales in music, it's not harmonious to play every possible note/use every available font size—it's better to limit ourselves to a few that have an explicit relationship to each other.

What are the 5 font families? ›

In CSS (and in typography in general) there are five basic types, or families, of fonts: serif, sans serif, cursive, fantasy, and monospace.

What are the 6 categories of fonts? ›

The 6 Types of Fonts
  • Serif Fonts. Serif fonts have their origins in the Latin alphabet. ...
  • Slab Serif Fonts. These are the bolder and chunkier versions of the serif fonts. ...
  • Sans serif fonts. ...
  • Script Fonts. ...
  • Decorative Fonts. ...
  • Handwritten Fonts.
Jul 28, 2020

What is the 4 elements in font setting? ›

Varying size, typeface, weight, color, and style can give your designs a big impact as well as make your ideas organized.

What is the letter A in A circle? ›

The symbol composed of the capital letter A surrounded by a circle is universally recognized as a symbol of anarchism and has been established in global youth culture since the 1970s.

What is A six letter shape called? ›

The perimeter of a hexagon is the sum of the length of all 6 sides. In regular hexagons, all sides are equal in length.

What are the 10 types of letters? ›

Types of Business Letter Formats
  • Cover letters. ...
  • Thank you letters. ...
  • Complaint letters. ...
  • Adjustment letters. ...
  • Bad news letters. ...
  • Acknowledgment letters. ...
  • Memos. ...
  • Congratulatory letters.
Jul 27, 2018

What are the 3 main styles of letter writing? ›

he three major types of letters which are commonly used:
  • Formal Letter – The formal letter follows a certain formality and pattern. ...
  • Informal Letter- Informal letters are also called personal letters. ...
  • Semi-formal Letter – The semi-formal letter follows the same pattern as the formal letter.

What are the basic types of letters? ›

Formal Letters
  • Business letters.
  • Official letters.
  • Social letters.
  • Circular letters.
  • Employment letters.
Aug 26, 2020

What are the three elements of a font? ›

The three major elements of this design are referred to as typeface, style, and size.

What font has a simple A? ›

Many educators choose Comic Sans deliberately because it is one of the few fonts available natively on both Mac and PC which has a 'true a' – that is, an 'a' which is a circle and stick (rather than the one used in my current font!).

What are the two types of font styles? ›

Typefaces can be divided into two main categories: serif and sans serif. Serifs comprise the small features at the end of strokes within letters. The printing industry refers to typeface without serifs as sans serif (from French sans, meaning without), or as grotesque (or, in German, grotesk).

How many types of text styles are there? ›

The four main types of writing styles are persuasive, narrative, expository, and descriptive.

Which are the most 3 basic font categories? ›

Although there are innumerable fonts available today, the vast majority of them can be organized into three distinct categories. These font types include serif, sans serif, and formal script.

What are base 14 fonts? ›

What are the Base 14 Fonts?
  • Courier, Courier Bold, Courier Oblique, Courier Bold-Oblique.
  • Helvetica, Helvetica Bold, Helvetica Oblique, Helvetica Bold-Oblique.
  • Times Roman, Times Bold, Times Italic, Times Bold-Italic.
  • Symbol.
  • Zapf Dingbats.
Jan 25, 2013

What is the line across the letter a called? ›

A macron (/ˈmækrɒn, ˈmeɪ-/) is a diacritical mark: it is a straight bar ¯ placed above a letter, usually a vowel.

What is the line on an A called? ›


A stroke that connects two lines in the capital letterforms of “A” and “H” is called a crossbar.

What are the 7 principles of typography? ›

In this article, I will share seven simple principles of proper typography to help avoid frequent mistakes and make your text more readable.
  • Proximity Rule. ...
  • Logical hierarchy for headings. ...
  • Sufficient Leading. ...
  • Hanging Punctuation. ...
  • Capital Letters. ...
  • Proper center text alignment. ...
  • Equal Length Text Columns.
Mar 12, 2019

What are the four types of typography? ›

Font Types
  • Serif.
  • Sans Serif.
  • Script.
  • Decorative.
Jan 5, 2022

What is the little line on top of a letter called? ›

Diacritics, often loosely called `accents', are the various little dots and squiggles which, in many languages, are written above, below or on top of certain letters of the alphabet to indicate something about their pronunciation.

What is the edge of a letter called? ›

Terminals. The terminal (end) of an instroke or outstroke is often a serif or a stroke ending. A seriffed terminal may be described as a wedge, bulbous, teardrop, slab, etc., depending on the design of the type.

What is the straight line on top of a letter called? ›

Diacritical marks can be squiggles, lines, or dots, and they can hover above a letter or be attached to it. They're also known as diacritics or accents. No matter what you call them or what they look like, diacritical marks are there to show you how a letter sounds when you say it out loud.


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