Type Anatomy

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Letter Anatomy

The anatomy of letters can be broken down into general parts similar to those of the human body (legs, arms, toes, ears, etc). Their shapes may vary greatly from one typeface design to another but the parts themselves all have specific names.

The Bodoni typeface, an example of a modern serif

The Bodoni typeface, an example of a modern serif (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Adobe Garamond typeface, an example of an ...

The Adobe Garamond typeface, an example of an old-style serif (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, those anatomical parts may also be a means to group several different typefaces into one category if they share the same shape treatment. For example, Roman typefaces all have serifs. But, the serifs on Oldstyle Roman typefaces are all heavily bracketed and are slightly rounded compared to Modern Roman typefaces, where their serifs have no brackets and are straight lines. This idea might be compared to humans of Asian ancestry whose eyes are angled differently than those humans of northern European or African ancestry. In each case, typeface or human being, the specific shape becomes an identifying characteristic.

This analogy can go even further. We all share particular features with our parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, etc. We can tell by the specific shapes of our noses, chins, or eyes that we are related to one another. The same is true of the characters within a typeface design. Some of those characters are numerals, some are punctuation marks and some are capital (majuscule) or lower case (miniscule) letters. All, however share some shape characteristic as a part of their “DNA” that identifies them as belonging to the same typeface family. The various combinations of specific point size, weight and posture are even more specific versions of typeface anatomy and make up the various fonts within the typeface design.