If you’re new to designing with type, or just want to brush up with some helpful tips to elevate your aesthetic, we’ve got you covered.
When it comes to questions on type, who better to ask than graphic designers? We sat down with MOO’s creative team to demystify the jargon and get some helpful tips on making your designs look their best.
The terminology around fonts is complex, with the words font and typeface often being used interchangeably. In a nutshell, here’s what the main typography terms mean:
The typeface is also known as a “font family”. This is the term for the unique design of individual type – e.g Helvetica.
The font is the weight and size of a typeface. For example, Helvetica Light Oblique and Helvetica Bold all belong to the Helvetica typeface as they carry the same inherent design.
Type is the encompassing typography term for all fonts and typefaces.
So, now we’ve covered the basics, what about designing?
“Your brand’s words can appear in any number of places, from the top of a billboard to the back of a business card,” explains Millie, our Head of Design, “so, the size of the canvas that your letters will sit on will have a big influence on how tall they stand. The type of font you use will also dictate how easily it can be read. Lightweight fonts, like Helvetica Neue UltraLight, would need to be printed larger than a heavier font, such as Franklin Gothic to be legible.”
The typeface and font you choose can also have a big impact on how large it should be printed. For example, if you’re designing a wedding invitation, you might choose to use an elaborate, script typeface for the names to create an impact. In this case, you would need to print in a much larger size to make sure it’s legible. Smaller details that need to be easily read, like the venue location and time, could be printed in a cleaner font which can afford to be smaller.
The invisible line that your type sits on is called the baseline. Descending letters are any letters that drop below that baseline – ‘g’, ’y’, ’j’ and ‘p’, for example. Ascending letters, on the other hand, are typefaces that extend above what is known as the ‘x height’, like ‘k’, ’l’, and ‘b’. The ‘x-height’ is the height of lowercase letters without any extensions, such as ‘a’, ’c’, and ‘x’.
“Descending letters are important to watch out for,” explains graphic designer Em Stokes. “If you’re designing a Flyer, for example, you’ll be including lots of text, so you need to make sure that the ascenders and descenders on each line don’t touch. Otherwise, it can look really untidy and illegible.” To give your lines more personal space, you need to adjust the leading.
Leading is the gap between two baselines in lines of text. When the type leading between baselines is too narrow, the descender (the ‘tail’ of a ‘j’ or a ‘g’) overlaps the letters below.
There’s no standard spacing when it comes to typography. Each typeface has a unique design, with some having longer ascenders and descenders than others. More elongated types will naturally need more breathing room.
Tracking is the term for the space between letters in a word. If you adjust the font tracking in your design or illustration program, it will adjust, or, “track” the whole word evenly. The problem with this is that with certain types, some letters can appear too close to one neighbor and distant from the other. This is where kerning comes in.
Tracking spaces the letters evenly in a word, whereas font kerning is the technique of manually altering the spacing of individual letters. This is helpful for sometimes tricky letters like ‘r’.
“Tracking isn’t necessarily just a practical technique,” says Phil, MOO’s senior graphic designer. “It can also be used for stylistic effect. If you were designing the headline for a Flyer, you could use tracking to space out the letters for impact, make it easier to read, and attract attention.” If you have a more modern, clean aesthetic to your branding, naturally narrower typefaces can be spaced out to reflect that.