Our Complete Guide to Typography Basics

 In Design

If you’re interested in learning more about how to talk about typography, we’ve got you covered. Check out some typography basics shared from our design team below!

Typeface vs. Font

Despite popular belief, the word ‘font’ is not interchangeable with the word ’typeface.’ A typeface is a varied collection of fonts; a font is a specific point size and style. An example of a typeface is Times New Roman while an example of a font is Times New Roman pt. size 12, italic.

Some Key Terms to Know

If you didn’t already know, you’re about to find out that designers always obsess over the details. Typesetting is a term for arranging type, originally referring to how typographers used to have to manually set type using a letterpress. Leading describes the space between lines of text. Kerning involves adjusting the space between letters, and tracking entails changing the space between letters in a word equally. Designers adjust both leading and kerning to achieve optimal results, usually striving for a balance between readability and aesthetics.


Designers use typography to establish hierarchy within a set of information, attempting to emphasize what is most important in different ways, perhaps by using larger type, or type that stands out.

Rag is a term for the shape created by the ragged edge of a text. Although automatically generated based on the chosen text alignment and margins, this is another piece of the puzzle that designers take into account. Typically, it’s best to avoid having small words at the end of lines. Designers aim for an aesthetically pleasing (hopefully not jagged!) rag.

Faux Pas to Avoid

Rivers are created when there are big gaps in a block of text (occurring with justified alignment) that coincidentally line up vertically. Rivers are something that designers typically try to avoid since they break up the text and are visually distracting.

Hanging punctuation involves setting hyphens or quotations outside the text margins. It’s best to follow this practice when possible so as to not disrupt the flow of text.


A widow describes a line of text at the bottom of a page that is starting a new paragraph/section. It’s better just to start this new paragraph on the next page, rather than have a line on its own. This can also occur with a line on its own at the top of a page. An orphan is a word or two on a line of text on its own at the end of a paragraph, which is another faux pas to avoid since it adds extra space in between paragraphs and just looks awkward.



Keep in mind when choosing your type that it should be readable. This means taking line length, in addition to leading, kerning, contrast and size into consideration. You don’t want your line length to be too long, but you don’t want it too short, either. 50 to 60 characters in a line, or up to 12 words is ideal, but obviously the context and amount of text matters.

Type Pairings

cWhenever you are choosing type to pair together, you should probably have an idea of what type classifications are (see below). It’s usually a good idea to pair together type that has some contrast but isn’t too different. For example, pairing a thin sans serif with a bold one usually works well, or a condensed typeface with a tracked out one. When you’re pairing type, usually simplicity is the way to go; sticking with no more than three typefaces usually works well.




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