Typographical concepts, part 1

First of all, a disclaimer: IANAT (I Am Not A Typographer). But I’m a typeface enthusiast and really like good-looking text, so in this series of articles I’ll try to introduce you, my dear reader, to the fascinating world of F(L)OSS typography.

So let’s start all this by talking about what is typography on the first place.

Classifying fonts

The most basic classification is the distinction between serif and sans serif.

The word serif have an obscure etymology, but simply refers to the small lines that shows at the glyphs ends.

The left picture shows some serifs on three different serif typefaces, but before talking about what tell them apart we need to talk about a key typographical concept: contrast.
Each glyph have lines of different thickness: the difference between the thinner and the thickest lines is what typographers call contrast.

OK, now we can start to differentiate those typefaces: the one on top is an “old style” or “garalda”, the one on the middle is called “transitional” and the one on the bottom is now called “didone” (it used to be called “modern”… never use the name “modern” or “new generation” or something like that to name a product, sooner than later the name will turn ridiculous!)

An Old Style typefaces like EB Garamond have low contrast, a didone like Libre Bodoni have an enormous contrast, almost exaggerated, while Transitional typefaces like Baskervaldx are on a middle ground. Everything clear, right? Wrong: there are also differences on serifs’ shape. On Garaldes serifs are tiny and delicate while on a Didone typeface they are long, thin, mainly horizontal, of constant width and well differentiated.

But there is more. Look at the “lines” defined by the contrast, specially on the “closed” glyphs like the “o”, “g”, etc.:

As you can see, these lines are tilted on garaldes while on transitional and didone typefaces they are vertical.

And yes, I’m not talking about slab serifs here. Why should I talk about slab serifs?

In principle, “Sans Serif” typefaces are easy to understand: on French, “sans” means “without”. They also can be classified on several realms (grotesque, geometric, humanist…), but I’ll skip that discussion for now (see links below).

Next article we’ll introduce more key concepts about typography. Read you later!

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