Glossary of Font & Type Terminology

This page contains a collection of useful type and font related terms.

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ascender ascender – The portion of lowercase letters which ascends above the x-height, as found in the letters b, d, f, h, k, l.

ascent – The vertical space above the baseline within which glyphs can be rendered without clipping.

baseline – The vertical origin upon which capital and non-descending lowercase letters sit.

Big 5 – A de facto, Taiwanese character set used for Traditional Chinese.

bitmap – An array of pixels which describe the shape of a glyph.

bowl – The round or elliptical portion of letters such as C, D, O, a, b, e, o and p.

cap height – The height of capital letters such as H, O and X.

CFF – OpenType (.OTF) font compression / storage technology - used to store the font data within a .otf font file.

character – The smallest component of written language which has semantic value.

character set – A list of characters, typically expressed as Unicode values, which defines the required character support for a font in a particular environment.

CID format – A Postscript-based font format which can support a large number (max 65,536) of characters.

CJK – A collective term referring to the common features of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean writing systems.

clipping – The truncation of a glyph on one or more sides because its shape exceeds some font-wide metric.

code page – A defined set of characters typically associated with an operating system, and its locale. For example, CP1252 is the Windows Latin code page.

counter and descender counter – The negative space within a letter, surrounded by positive elements such as stems, bowls and serifs.

descender – The portion of lowercase letters which descends below the baseline, as found in the letters g, j, p, q, y.

descent – The vertical space below the baseline within which glyphs can be rendered without clipping.

dingbat – A decorative pi character which is not a letter or mathematical symbol, but more likely a pictogram or icon. Common dingbats include decorative arrows, pointing hands, vehicles, etc,.

display fonts – Display fonts are generally bolder or more 'extravagant' font designs for use in headlines or at larger point sizes. Generally speaking, Display fonts are those not suitable for large blocks of text (body text).

em – A measurement which is equal to the point size of a font. In the days of lead type this was typically a square within which the uppercase “M” of a text face was designed to fit. The ‘em square’ is thus the theoretical design space within which a typeface is typically drawn.

embedding rights:

  • Not allowed: May not be embedded within documents.
  • Print and Preview: May only be embedded within documents for the purpose of previewing and printing the document. No editing or adding of text within that font is allowed.
  • Editable: The font may be embedded within a document and the document text can then be edited in that same font.
  • Installable: Fonts with an installable embedding permission may be embedded in electronic documents for viewing, printing and editing - these fonts can also, however, be permanently installed on the computer that receives document containing the embedded font.

en – Half the size of an em.

encoding – A method of organizing a character set or glyph repertoire. See also code page.

ePub (electronic publication) / eBooks – ePub is a free and open e-book standard. ePub files have the extension '.epub'. There are many revisions of the ePub standard, the most recent (as of May 2013) of which is 3.0. 3.0 is important to Monotype as it added the ability for ePub documents to contain custom embedded fonts using CSS @font-face (.woff and .otf). Previous to this, ePub documents were reliant on a set of pre-installed fonts on whatever device the book was being read.

flueron fleuron – A pi character which is typically based upon or suggestive of flowers or leaves.

font – A collection of glyphs and other data which render a given typeface.

Gaiji characters – In general, the term can be used for any symbols not supported by a particular Japanese character set. However, most often the term is used in reference to kanji characters.

glyph – The graphical representation of one or more characters.

Han characters – The characters of the Chinese writing system whose origin is directly traceable to pictographic symbols. Also known as ideographs.

Hangul – The Korean alphabet.

Hanja – The Korean name for Chinese characters.

Hanzi – The Mandarin Chinese name for Chinese characters.

Hei – The common Chinese name for Gothic style.

hint – Any code or data which when interpreted by a font rasterizer will improve the resulting bitmap.

hinting – The process by which hints are developed for a font. Hints can be developed manually, automatically or a combination of the two. Automatically generated hints generally only provide modest improvements, whereas manual editing can allow for significant improvements at small sizes.

Hiragana – One of the syllabic alphabets used in writing Japanese. Hiragana is most commonly used for the variable grammatical elements in Japanese sentences, as well as for words which have no kanji symbols. See also katakana and kana.

ideograph – A character which can symbolize whole words or concepts rather than just a sound. Ideographs are used in the Chinese, Japanese and Korean script systems.

Kana – The collective name for the two syllabic alphabets (hiragana & katakana) used in writing Japanese.

Kanji – The Japanese name for Chinese characters. Also written as 'kanzi'.

Katakana – One of the syllabic alphabets used in writing Japanese. Katakana is most commonly used for foreign words and names. See also hiragana and kana.

kern – The adjustment of horizontal space between two glyphs. In metal type, the portion of a letter which hangs over the edge of the type body.

leading – The vertical distance between lines of text. Historically this was expressed as points of lead (white space) inserted bewteen lines of text, such as 12 point type with 2 points leading, or "12 on 14". In digital type, the default leading of a font is determined by one of several different sets of values known as "vertical metrics".

ligature ligature – Two or more characters represented on a single glyph. Common ligatures include “fi” and “fl”.

linegap – A vertical metric which adds white space between the bottom of the descent and the top of the following ascent.

lining figures – Numerals which have a common height, and thus align vertically with one another.

metrics – The generic term for any font or glyph measurements used in the setting of text. Horizontal metrics include advance widths, side bearings and kerning. Vertical metrics include ascent, descent and line gap dimensions.

metric compatibility – The concept of creating a font whose metrics may match an existing typeface for the purposes of preventing document reflow when changing fonts.

mincho – Category of typefaces used to display Chinese characters that are used in the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean languages.

ming – A distinctive printed style of Chinese script that was developed during the Ming Dynasty.

monospace – Monospace fonts are fonts where all letters and characters are the same width (see below). These are commonly used for programming interfaces and so on.

Myeongjo – A common style in Korean fonts which is considered stylistically similar to serif fonts such as Times New Roman.

oldstyle oldstyle figures – Numerals which vary in height such that 6, 8 and 9 ascend above the x-height and 3, 4, 5, 7 descend below the baseline.

OpenType – A scalable font format (ISO/IEC 14496-22) developed by Microsoft and Adobe, which brings together TrueType and Adobe’s CFF PostScript into a single standard, capable of rich and complex typography.

OpenType Pro – The OpenType Pro category has an extended Latin character set. It contains all the language support found in the OpenType Std format plus additions for major Central European, Turkish and Baltic languages and some languages from elsewhere that use Latin characters. This information is specifically related to our Intellectual Property (Monotype, Linotype, ITC).

outline – One or more contours which describe the resolution-independent, idealized shape of a glyph.

pica – A typographical measurement equal to 12 points. There are 6 picas per inch.

pi character – Any generic or decorative glyph or symbol which is not properly associated with a specific typeface, but rather could be used with most any typeface.

pixel – A picture element. Previously thought to be the smallest controllable element on a screen or printer, this is no longer the case when considering ClearType™ or other sub-pixel rendering techniques.

point – A typographic unit of measure. 72 points = 1 inch.

point size – The size of a font measured in points.

PostScript – A page description language. The term “PostScript font” is commonly used to describe Adobe’s Type 1 font format, or CFF (Compressed Font Format).

ppem (Pixels Per Em) – The standard resolution-independent measure of type size.

sans serif sans serif – A classification of typefaces which have no serifs.

script – A set of graphical symbols and their rules for use to represent one or more languages.

serif – A flare or spur at the end of a stroke. A category of typefaces which exhibit serifs.

Simplified Chinese – The standardized set of characters and shape of characters in use within mainland China. See also “traditional Chinese.”

song – A distinctive printed style of Chinese script that was developed during the Song Dynasty.

sub-pixel – The smallest controllable element on a screen or printer. A typical RGB screen has each pixel made of 3 sub-pixels: red, blue & green.

subsetting / dynamic subsetting– In the context of fonts, Subsetting is the process of removing characters from a font file to leave only the characters required. Dynamic Subsetting refers to this process being performed 'on the fly' using our webfont service. When a webpage with our font is loaded, our code analyses the page and receives a list of all unique characters used on the page - a font file is then generated which contains only these characters and is delivered to the browser. This can only be used for CJK (Chinese / Japanese / Korean) fonts where the file size can be up to 30MB. The typical file size after subsetting is usually around 30KB, resulting in a massive reduction in font download time.

Sung – A common style in Chinese fonts which is considered stylistically similar to serif fonts such as Times New Roman.

swash – A decorative terminus on a glyph, generally applied to make the shape more elegant or florid.

symbol font – A pi font which typically uses a symbol encoding rather than a Unicode encoding.

tabular figures – Numerals which are all designed to the same width to facilitate setting of tabular matter, or columns of figures.

terminal – The name given to the end of strokes which have no serifs. Terminals generally fall into one of the following categories: ball, beak and teardrop.

tracking – The amount of distance between characters on a line of text (a.k.a letter spacing). Not to be confused with 'Kerning', which deals with the spacing between individual characters (not the line of text as a whole).

Traditional Chinese – The standardized set of characters and shape of characters in use within Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. See also “simplified Chinese.”

TrueType – A common font format invented by Apple Computer for their System 7.0 and adopted by Microsoft in Windows 3.1. TrueType is now a part of OpenType.

x-height typeface – A collection of typographic characters (letters, numerals, punctuation, symbols) designed to be used together, and produced as one or more fonts.

Unicode – The Unicode standard is an encoding scheme (ISO/IEC 10646) used to uniquely identify characters, independent of language, region or code page.

W1G / WGL (WGL4) / Paneuropean Fonts (WGL4) – WGL and W1G have more or less the same language coverage but not the same character set. Significantly both WGL and W1G include Greek and Cyrillic which are not normally included in OT-Pro and OT-Com. Greek coverage is modern Greek but not Polytonic. Cyrillic coverage is Russian, Byelorussian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bulgarian and Macedonian plus a number of minor dialects but not other major Cyrillic languages such as Kazak, Uzbek etc. W1G is also referred to as Paneuropean in some font listings.

webfont formats:

  • WOFF (Web Open Font Format): This is the most widely used and supported webfont format at present. It is essentially a container for the font data which means that it cannot be installed on a desktop PC and is only useable inside the web browser.
  • EOT (Embedded OpenType): This is a Microsoft font format used in Internet Explorer web browsers. This format is not supported by any other major web browser.
  • TTF (TrueType Font): This is a standard TrueType font, however, when providing these as webfonts, our webfonts service removes certain elements from within the font to ensure that the font cannot be installed on a desktop machine and only works within a web browser.
  • SVG (Scaleable Vector Graphic): This is not technically a font format, however, it is often used to store font outlines and is supplied with our webfonts service to support some older mobile web browsers.

x-height – The height of lowercase letters which do not ascend, such as n, o and x.