Illustrated Typeface Anatomy Terminology

Typeface Anatomy poster detail

The illustrated Typeface Anatomy Terminology poster published here was submitted and published on the last edition of the Portuguese conference on Typography, held in Aveiro: (here’s the direct link to the poster:

It can be summarized as a comprehensive illustrated glossary of typeface anatomy terms in current use.

Created to serve as a learning resource to help students develop their type design skills progressively, it proposes a classification of the terms into six different categories: C1 Measurements (and Proportions), C2 Shapes; C3 Strokes; C4 Details; C5 Properties; C6 Terminals.

Although mainly in Portuguese (the aim of the original work was to present a comprehensive glossary in Portuguese), it provides an illustration and the English version of the terms in the poster (in order to help clarify). It will also include (in a future version) a short summary of each definition.

Some entries need to be removed, others added...

It’s part of a series of posters that are being developed and, as a result of the feedback already obtained, we’re further synthesizing this one – some entries are to be removed (like 62 and 63 above, the direction of shading), others still need to be added (like italic, oblique, condensed, expanded). We’re also expanding the language translations. We’ve identified a basic set of important French and Spanish references, and we’re currently translating it into these languages. But we need help in obtaining seminal references and translating the terms into German, Dutch and Italian.

III Encontro de Tipografia International Type Conference website2012 - Amado Silva - Anatomia Tipográfica - ENT2011

We expect to present and draft paper proposal of this terminology in the forthcoming Portuguese International Typography Conference – III Encontro de Tipografia – to be held in Porto, next October 2012:

Here’s a rough translation and slight upgrade of the poster’s dissertation into English. If you can or want to help, please send me an e-mail, or write a comment!


This paper presents a typeface anatomy terminology, aimed specifically to cover the current digital typeface production universe. It is still a work in progress, which involves the analysis, collection, and synthesis of the definitions found in current literature references. It aims to contribute to the definition, stabilization and to the update of the terms used today, trying to fulfil the need for a comprehensive student’s Typeface Design (TD) manual.


On the first hand, it aims to identify all the possible terms relating to the anatomy of digital type, so they can be understood and used by the different stakeholders in the current technological design and production environment. On the second hand, it aims to reduce the ambiguity of the existing terminology, which results from the legacy of the movable type technology. This terminology is part of an on-going project consisting of four anatomical glossaries: Typeface, Text Shape, Page Layout , and Book.

Methodology and preliminary analysis

Up until now, we’ve analysed a sample of 26 references in two languages (Portuguese and English) chosen for different criteria:

  • Historical relevance (Bringhurst, 2001; Lawson, Agner, 1990; Loxley, 2005; Mclean, 1996);
  • Technical explanations (Cheng, 2006; Fontshop, 2010; Santos, 2007; Sousa, 2002; Tracy, 1986);
  • Academic guidance (Ambrose, Harris, 2006; Craig, 2006; Earls, 2002; Kane, 2002; Kunz, 2002; Lupton, 2010; Pflughaupt, 2007; Willen, Strals, 2009);
  • [Portuguese] Language context (Cunha, 2009; Ferrand, Bicker, 2000; Heitlinger, 2010; Lessa, 2004; Meurer, 2009; Vilela, 1998)
  • Comprehensiveness (38pages, 2010; Naseem, 2011; Rosendorf, 2009).

Figure 1 Comparison of entries found in references

To date, we’ve identified a total of 710 term entries in the above-mentioned literature. The definitions and illustrations of the entries were checked in order to compare and synthesize a list of 90 unique terms (T). Representing two thirds of analysis (66.7%), the English references have an average number of terms (25.3) similar to the average number of terms in the Portuguese references (25.1). However, references with more than 25 unique entries are higher in English (33%) than in Portuguese (25%). Regarding the average frequency of each reference found in the references (N), we observed the predominance of English (75.9%) compared to the Portuguese (24.1%). As can be seen in Figure 1, some terms such as Taper (47), or Ink Trap (54), have no Portuguese version. We suspect this is the same in other languages, as digital type has evolved predominantly in English. Others, such as Aperture (15), or Stem (42) have different versions, or use, given the ambiguous relationship between the movable metal type and digital technologies. This terminology was first developed in both languages to avoid misunderstandings and to identify the gaps existing in specific languages. The English language was used as a template slate because current font production technology is mainly available in English, and because the most comprehensive references are more easily accessible (see the Conclusion and Future Work section).

For the more ambiguous anatomy parts (such as overshoot and overhang), this terminology proposes new terms, or the consolidation of the current digital ones (specially in the Portuguese language), based on literature review and technical translations. It is intended to contribute to the definition of simple, unique and accurate terms, easy to relate to the current font production technology and type design. Ultimately, this terminology aims to contribute to a terminology simple to understand and that can maintain its relationship with the history of typeface development.

Conclusion and Future Work

Despite being a work in progress, this analysis allowed us to identify some inaccuracies and add new entries to the terminology in Portuguese. This fact seems to confirm the absence of a widespread practice, or of an out-of-date education in Portugal. Although Type Designers and Teachers like Dino dos Santos, Ricardo dos Santos and Joana Correia da Silva are providing a solid base of education, good Portuguese education manuals are still lacking in our country. We owe much to the translations and to the neologisms incorporated into the current Design practice. On the one hand, this is not a bad thing by itself, much by the contrary – it helps us broaden our education horizons. But, on the other hand, it undervalues the old and existing terms used in the last decades of movable metal technology. And it potentially severs the links to our cultural heritage and national identity values. So it’s urgent to rescue and build a design practice lexicon.

Nevertheless, this work is still under development:

  • The illustrations will be complemented with their textual definitions in order to avoid misinterpretations. And enhanced with complementary examples to better illustrate the terminology;
  • More Portuguese references will have to be identified, especially from authors of historical importance as Joaquim dos Anjos, or Manuel Pedro;
  • Entries in languages such as Spanish and French will be added and cross-referenced as well as English ones. We have already identified a sample of important references in Spanish such as De Buen, Scaglione, Meseguer, Henestrosa and Sesma, and in French, such as Porchez and Munch. Further references will be identified and added. These are mandatory to include in this study as they are closer to our Portuguese roots and might share a common root or influence each other.
  • German and Dutch references are also mandatory to include in this glossary, but we will need the help from native speaker designers and researchers to identify references and authors like Unger, Spiekermann, Kupferschmid, Middendorp, Pohlen, Blokland and other of professional and academic relevance.

As many of the peer assessments have noticed, it is also necessary to cross reference important international education references as Haslam or Noordzij, check further technical references as Felici, Adobe, or Microsoft and FontLab.

Finally, it is necessary to validate the terms list with a community of national and international experts, such as ATypI and SoTA members, and international Type Designers. As a list, or a glossary of current Typeface Design practice, this work is expected to be under constant update and evaluation.


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