A quick dive into typography Pt.1

Couple of articles about typography was already written on this blog. Today, I want to tell you what typography is about and to explain some basic terms for expanding your knowledge. Typography is one of the most important parts of any design (maybe the most important). It can bring your work to next level or take you down.

First let’s have a smalltalk about history. Typography first appeared in ancient times. It was used on coins and seals. More focus on type began in medieval times with start of print with individual letter punches. The revolution of type came with Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of mechanical printing press. With this technology, using cheap letter punches in huge amount to print multiple copies of text, first book was created – Gutenberg Bible. Next revolution came in 20th century with computers. First personal computer that gave more space and choices to designers was Apple’s Macintosh with first design software. As time went, designers started to create more experimental typefaces. The price of typefaces was also lowered so they became more available for masses. This is called “democratization of type”.

Typeface or font?

Those two are indeed not same. Typeface is simply set of typographical characters, numbers and symbols (also type families). Font is a complete character set within typeface. Fonts are also specific computer files that contain all characters of typeface.

Different styles of typefaces


Serif typefaces or “serifs” are created by small lines that are attached to the main strokes of characters within the face. They are most often used for body copy in print documents and for body text or headlines online. Some designers prefer not to use them for bigger blocks of text because their readability online is often questioned.

Serifs contain many sub-types. Old Style serifs (also called humanist) are the oldest ones. Some were created in 15th century. Their main characteristic is diagonal stress (the thinnest parts of the letters appear on the angled strokes, rather than the vertical or horizontal ones). Examples: Adobe Jenson, Centaur and Goudy Old Style.

Transitional serifs first appeared in the mid of 1700s. They are the most common serif typefaces. The differences between thick and thin strokes in transitional typefaces are more pronounced than they are in old style serifs, but less so than in modern serifs.

Examples: Times New Roman, Baskerville, Caslon, Georgia and Bookman

Modern serifs have more contrast between thin and thick lines, also have a vertical stress.

Examples: Didot and Bodoni.

The last type of serif typeface is slab serif. Slab’s have little or no contrast between thick and thin lines plus thick, rectangular serifs and sometimes fixed widths.


Sans-Serifs lack serif details on characters. These typefaces are often more modern in appearance than serifs. They were created in the late 18th century.

There are four basic classifications of sans-serif typefaces: Grotesque, Neo-grotesque, Humanist, and Geometric. Grotesques are the earliest. These typefaces often have letterforms very similar to serif typefaces, minus the serifs.

Examples: Franklin Gothic and Akzidenze Grotesk.

Neo-grotesque typefaces have a relatively plain appearance when compared to the grotesques.

Examples: MS Sans Serif, Arial, Helvetica and Univers.

Humanist typefaces are more calligraphic and also the most legible than other sans-serif typefaces – they have a greater variation in line widths.

Examples: Gill Sans, Frutiger, Tahoma, Verdana, Optima and Lucide Grande.

Geometric sans-serifs are based on geometric shapes. Generally, the “O”s will appear circular and the letter “a” is often just a circle with a tail. They’re the least commonly-used for body copy and also the most modern sans-serifs.


Scripts are based on handwriting and has very fluid letterforms. They are divided into two basic classifications – formal and casual.

Formal are reminiscent of the handwritten letterforms which you can find in the 17th and 18th century. They are modern creations, too, for example Kuenstler Script. They’re common for elegant typographical designs and are unsuitable for body copy.

Casual more closely resemble modern handwriting. Their roots are back in the mid-twentieth century. They’re much less formal, often with stronger strokes and a more brush-like appearance.

Examples: Mistral and Brush Script.


Display typefaces are, I guess, the broadest category which also include the most variation. Their are unsuitable for body copy. The best is to use them for headlines or other short copy that needs attention. These typefaces can be formal, or informal and evoke any kind of mood. They’re more common in print design, but are used more and more online with the use of web fonts.

Dingbats and other Specialty Typefaces

The last ones are dingbats and specialty typefaces. These consist of symbols and ornaments instead of letters.

Example: Wingdings




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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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