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Basic Typography Terms

By Barb Binder

Many of my InDesign and FrameMaker students come to class with strong computer skills, but lack basic knowledge about setting type. I frequently direct them either to a bookstore (recommending The Non-Designer’s Type Book and The Non-Designer’s Design Book, both from Robin Williams) or to a local college for classes on typography and design.

In the meantime, I still need to explain the terminology I use in class, so past and future students, this one’s for you.


  • Typeface—the design of one complete alphabet (i.e., Helvetica, Garamond, Myriad Pro)
  • Type size—the overall size of the type, measured in points  (i.e., 10pt type)
  • Type style—the appearance of the typeface (i.e., bold, italic)

A font is the same thing as a typeface, right? Wrong!  A font  is one typeface, size and style. (i.e., Helvetica 10pt bold is a font, Helvetica 10pt italic is another font.)

Anatomy of type

  • X-height—the height of a lower case x
  • X-line—the line that runs along the top of the x (and many of the other lowercase letters)
  • Ascenders—the parts of letters that ascend above the x-line
  • Baseline—the imaginary line that all letters sit on.
  • Descenders—the parts of letters that descend below the baseline

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