Written content has traversed a long path from writing on a scroll to what everyone now does on a computer. Once a very valued art, calligraphy is reduced to a click of button using typeface from a list in some word processor. However, typefaces exist for a reason. The multiple typefaces were not created just because some artist could. They were created to give the printed word certain character and to fulfill a rhetorical purpose. Brumberger [1] argues that typefaces have a persona of their own and people ascribe a specific sentiment to the typeface.

Typography Terminology

Let us discuss some important variables that affect the legibility of the text and how writers can and must adjust these variables when using different typefaces. The image below shows different terms used to describe a typeface:

While these terms are informative and good to know, you may not want to spend a lot of time on understanding all of these, unless you aim to create and design new typefaces. What are really of concern to writers are the aspects of typeface that support the communication objective and enhance text legibility in the environment where the artifact is going to be used. Environmental factors such as distance, light, print material, and colors can affect the legibility of the text. To counter these factors, writers can use letter spacing and line spacing apart from the typeface itself.

Letter Spacing: It is the distance between two letters. This spacing should not be so less that we have a letter fight on our hands.

I have used the zoom out effect to simulate distance in the real-world scenario.

Line Spacing: Line spacing is the distance between two lines measured from baseline to baseline. Usually typefaces with long Ascenders and Descenders need more leading than typefaces that have smaller Ascenders and Descenders. For example in the paragraphs below, the second paragraph (Tahoma) looks much cleaner than the first paragraph:

However, if you increase the line spacing in the first paragraph, the text now appears much cleaner.

Although these variables affect the legibility of the text, they hardly contribute toward the persona or character of the document. Now that we understand the basic terms associated with a typeface, we will look more closely at the factors that contribute to the typeface persona and how people perceive and assign meaning to a typeface. Stay tuned for our upcoming posts on this topic. Or you might subscribe to our blog so that you don’t miss any interesting stuff!


[1]E. Brumberger, “The Persona of Typeface and Text,” TC, vol. 50, pp. 206-31, 1999.