Typographic Variables

typeface (also known as font family) is a set of one or more fonts each composed of glyphs that share common design features. Each font is a matched set of type, and a typeface consists of a range of fonts that share an overall design. Each font of a typeface has a specific weight, style, condensation, width, slant, italicization, ornamentation, and designer or foundry (and formerly size, in metal fonts). For example, “ITC Garamond Bold Condensed Italic” means the bold, condensed-width, italic version of ITC Garamond. It is a different font from “ITC Garamond Condensed Italic” and “ITC Garamond Bold Condensed,” but all are fonts within the same typeface, “ITC Garamond.”

In modern usage, with the advent of digital typography, “font” is frequently synonymous with “typeface”, although the two terms do not necessarily mean the same thing.


These are the major individual controls or font choices that you have to change words, sentences & paragraphs and give them more emphasis, enhance their specific meaning or improve their readability. The amount of attention (or lack of) that is paid to their use will have a direct effect on the efficiency and creativity of your design.

Use them to eliminate a generic/default look and create something either more special or sophisticated. Certainly use them to improve readability & to improve overall typographic color.

Be judicious in your use of these variables. Placing a different, or extreme, change on all words can result in a “ransom note” effect—usually not a desirable end. In can also result in “all emphasis is no emphasis” if everything is, for example, bold, capitalized, in color, etc. than no individual word or point is emphasized.

Tip: try combining two variables together that, separately, would achieve opposite results. For example, bold and capitalization typically, by themselves, make words seem more importance. Light and lowercase typically, by themselves, make words seem less important. So, to create more subtle forms of emphasis, try combining bold weights with lowercase or or capitals with lighter weights.


Major Typographic Font Variables/Choices:

  • TYPEFACE
  • SIZE
    • Display (headings and subheadings)
    • Text
  • WEIGHT
    • Light
    • Book or regular
    • Bold
    • Ultra bold
  • CASE
    • U & LC
    • All Caps
    • Small Caps
    • All LC
  • POSTURE
    • Regular
    • Italics
    • Back Slant
  • STYLE
    • Historical Period
    • Personality
  • POSITION
    • Top
    • Bottom
    • Right
    • Left
  • DIRECTION
    • Left to right
    • Top to bottom
    • Diagonal
  • COLOR (Hue)
  • VALUE (lightness/darkness)
  • SPACING
  • Word Spacing
  • Letter spacing
    • Tracking (global)
    • Kerning (letter pairs)
  • Leading
  • Overall white space (composition)
  • ALIGNMENT
    • Left
    • Right
    • Centered
    • Justified & Force Justified
    • Nested
  • HORIZONTAL SCALING
    • Extended
    • Condensed

Keep in mind these general rules of thumb:

  • As line length increases, so should leading
  • Sans-serif type usually requires more leading
  • The optimum number of characters (letters, etc.) per line is generally believed to be no more or less than 40–60 characters. The line length might also be determined as 1 1/2 to 2 times the length of the lower case alphabet of the font being used or set. The alphabet has 26 characters, M is the 13th, so 1 1/2 alphabets would A>>Z + A>>M.
  • Tight tracking (global letter spacing) is usually not helpful for type sizes less than 14 pts.

Grouping and Hierarchy

Grouping is based on the idea that things that look similar in some way will tend to look like they have the same or equal value of importance—a group. Typical examples of typographic groups within a layout might be: Headings, or all Sub-headings, or Captions or all Pull Quotes, etc. Another version of grouping on a more sophisticated level might be: proper names, company names, page numbers, etc. For each of these to be perceived as a group, they need to share some common visual characteristics. As the designer/typographer, you decide what those shared characteristics should be.

One of the keys to good typographic design is how the designer treats each of these groupings. She/he needs to be consistent in how the members (words or letters or numbers) of each group are treated. It also must be clear that there are groups in the first place. Grouping is a form of emphasis and aids in clarifying reading by allowing the reader to quickly pick out smaller chunks of text and meaning.

HEIRARCHY is a further refinement of grouping. It is the technique of creating the visual perception that certain groups are more, or less, important than other groups within the same layout. One of the true arts of good typography is the balance that the designer creates between the various groupings of text by carefully considering the relative importance that the words actually mean. There is no hard and fast rule of how the various groupings should always be treated. Therefore, it is up to the designer to carefully read and understand the text first and then apply the typographic variables appropriately to visually emphasize words, and groups of words, in the most effective order and combinations.


Mind Your En And Em Dashes: Typographic Etiquette (smashingmagazine.com)

Overview of Typographic Ligature (brighthub.com)

Measure for measure. A closer look at some neglected rules for typographic design. (eyemagazine.com)

Trend Alert: Typography (casasugar.com)

Typographic Movie Posters [Gallery] (geeksaresexy.net)

O! and Other Letters (preciouseast.wordpress.com)

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