Clueless when your cool designer friends allow you to hang with them as they communicate in their jargon? Do you find yourself nodding along nervously, feeling your palms sweat as you attempt to decode their typography slang? With our guide, you’ll get the lowdown on the type anatomy and be able to differentiate a counter from a bowl for example – and nope, we don’t mean the kind you’d find in a kitchen. 😉

Type Anatomy And Its Terms

The first thing you need to know about type anatomy is the difference in terms between uppercase and lowercase letters. In the two images below, you can spot the differences and read a small caption about each of them.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

The uppercase is a letter that’s generally used to begin sentences. It’s also known as capital letters or majuscule.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

The lowercase is the smaller form of letters in the typefaces. It’s also known as minuscule letters.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Before we dive into the specific terms of type anatomy, we’re going to show you how the letters can remain consistent through a word or phrase because of the use of some guidelines that are invisible to the eyes.

The baseline is the invisible line where the letters sit. The x-height is the height of the lowercase letters that are based on the letter x. The cap height is the height of the capital letters. The descender line is the invisible line that marks the end of the descender stroke of some letters. The ascender line is the invisible line that marks the top end of the ascender stroke of some letters. In some typefaces, the ascender line and the cap height are the same. In the example above, they are different. You can see that the ascender line goes above the cap height.

More Type Anatomy Terms

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Stem is the primary vertical stroke of a letter.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

The beak is a stroke that goes at the end of the arm of a letter, as seen in the T above.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

The bracket is the curved connection between the stem and the serif of a letter.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

The tail is a descending stroke of a letter. It appears on letters like g, j, p, q, y, R, and Q.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

A serif is the stroke added at the end of the main vertical and horizontal strokes of the letters. In this case, it’s also called a bracket serif because it is curved.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Crotch is the part of the letter where two strokes meet.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

A bowl is a curved part of the letter that encloses the counter (see below). It appears in some letters such as d, b, o, D, and B.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

The counter is the negative (or white) space within a letter. It appears in letters such as o, a and d.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

The descender is the part of some lowercase letters that extends below the baseline. Letters such as p and q have descenders.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Ear is a small stroke that extends from the upper-right bowl of some lowercase g’s.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Loop is the enclosed or partially enclosed (also called open loop) counter below the baseline of a g.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Ascender is the vertical stroke that extends above the x-height.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Shoulder is the curved stroke that originates from a steam in letters such as h, n, m.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Aperture is the partially enclosed negative (or white) space of some letters.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Terminal is the end of a stroke that doesn’t have a serif.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Crossbar is the horizontal stroke seen in letters such as A and H.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Hairline is the thin stroke of serif typefaces.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Arm is a horizontal stroke that doesn’t connect to a stroke or stem on one or both ends.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Diagonal stroke is the angled stroke of letters such as Z or X.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

In the letter S for example, the main curved stroke is called the spine.

On Typography: A Crash Course on Type Anatomy

Cross stroke, for instance, is the horizontal strokes that will intersect the stem of a lowercase t or f.

That’s all! Everything you just read in this article covers the basics terms of type anatomy. Hopefully, this will serve as a handy guide to you if you’re in doubt about which terms to use or what a specific term means. You can finally talk about type anatomy without any hesitation!

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