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Type is the Bee's Knees A Beginner's Guide to Typography

By Aira Pimping Published by Blurb

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COPYRIGHT Š 2015 Aira Pimping All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusions of brief quotations in review, without permission in writing from the author/publisher. Cover illustration by Aira Pimping Designed by Aira Pimping Printed in Australia by

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A special thanks to my family for always being there when I come home and making my endeavours as a student much less stressful than they could be.

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Type is the Bee’s Knees is an entry-level book designed to help you ease your way into the world of typography. It introduces the bare bone basics of typography along with some nifty tips and techniques to using type properly. Sounds like a lot? Don’t worry; all that jarring information is divided into easy to digest chunks. So, sit back, grab a cuppa and before you know it, you’ll know type like the back of your hand.

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Part One

Letter History

Anatomy of Typography

Type Classification 8 //

12 14 18

Type Families

Alternate Figures

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Part Two

Text Kerning

Tracking and Leading

Widows and Orphans

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Part one:

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History You mean there's more to typography than computers and printers?

Sure is! Books, posters, letters, and every other form of printed type was inscribed or written by hand until typography and printing were revolutionised by the invention of movable type. The earliest known movable type system was created in China in the early eleventh century, followed by the first metal movable type system in Korea in the early thirteenth century. Unfortunately, due to the ridiculous amount of money and labor it took to create and manipulate the thousands of characters in Asian alphabets, it never really took off.

Photo by Emily Stamm

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Somewhere around the mid-fifteenth century, a man by the name of Johannes Gutenberg broke typographical ground with his invention of the printing press. He created a practical method of mechanical printing using movable type, kicking off the printing revolution. The Gutenberg press allowed the operator to turn little lead blocks of single letters into pages of text. Best of all? You could print a couple hundred pages in an hour. While arranging type letter by letter may seem tedious nowadays, it still sounds a lot better than writing two hundred copies by hand.

Setting type on letterpresses was the primary printing method for hundreds of years until the digital era, and is still used today in a world dominated by computers. Learning how to use a letterpress is a great way to see what printing was like up to the mid to late twentieth century. Nothing makes you want to hug your computer more than painstakingly digging through drawers of metal rectangles trying to find a lowercase “t�.

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06 10

14 12



03 07




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You’re saying type has different parts?

Yep! Lots of 'em. When talking about type, it's important to know the name of the part you're describing. Plus, you will sound like you really know what you're talking about. Instead of saying "That part sticking up is too long," you can say, "That ascender is too long."

01. Aperture

10. Descender

02. Apex

11. Ear

03. Arm

12. Hairline

04. Ascender

13. Link

05. Axis

14. Serif

06. Bar

15. Shoulder

07. Bowl

16. Stem

08. Counter

17. Terminal

09. Cross Stroke

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How letters sit on a line.

Ascender height Some elements may extend slightly above the cap height.

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Descender height


The length of the character's descenders contribute to its overall style and attitude.

The baseline is where all the letters sit. This is the most stable axis along a line of text, and it is a crucial edge for aligning text with images or with other text.

Cap height


The distance from the baseline to the top of the capital letter determines the letter's point size.

It is the height of lowercase letters (or the height of a lowercase x), excluding its ascenders and descenders.

Quiche Overhang The curves at the bottom of the letters hang slightly below the baseline. Commas and semicolons also cross the baseline. Without overhang, rounded letters would look smaller than their flat-flooted companions.

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Type Classification But there’s so many kinds of typefaces! How can I tell them apart?

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With a little bit of practice you'll be able to spot typefaces like a hawk. You might be thinking, "Why do you keep saying typeface? Don't you mean font?" Sort of. Nowadays the two terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference. Think of it this way: a typeface is what you see, and a font is what you use to see it. When talking about the Jonas Brothers' hot new jam, you don't say, "I love that .MP3," you say, "I love that song." Typeface is to font as song is to digital audio file. Easy, right?

Once you learn the general differences between styles, you'll start noticing small details that distinguish one typeface from another.

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Humanist or Old Style The roman typefaces of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries emulated classical calligraphy. Sabon was designed by Jan Tschichold in 1966, based on the sixteenth century typefaces by Claude Garamond.

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Aa Aa Baskerville




These typefaces have sharper serifs and more vertical axis compared to humanist letters. When the typefaces of John Baskerville were introduced in the mid-eighteenth century, their sharp and high contrast form were considered shocking.

The typefaces designed by Giambattista Bodoni between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries are seen as radically abstract. This typeface is characterised by thin, straight serifs, vertical axis, and sharp contract from thick to thin strokes.

Sans Serif

Aa Aa Aa Gill Sans



Humanist Sans Serif

Transitional Sans Serif

Geometric Sans Serif

Sans serif typefaces became common in the twentieth century. Eric Gill designed the typeface Gill Sans in 1928 which features humanist characteristics. Note the small lilting counter in the letter a, and the calligraphic variations in line weight.

Helvetica, which was designed by Max Miedinger in 1957, is one of the world's most widely used typefaces. It’s uniform and upright character makes it similar to transitional serif letters. Fonts such as these are also referred to as anonymous san serifs.

Some sans serif typefaces are built around geometric forms. In 1927, Paul Renner designed the typeface Futura. In this typeface, letters such as the Os are perfect circles, and the peaks of the A and M are sharp triangles.

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But wait, there’s more!

Aa Aa Aa Adelle



Slab Serif



Numerous bold and decorative typefaces were introduced in the nineteenth century for use in advertising. Slab serif (sometimes called "Egyptian") is a type of serif typeface characterised by having thick, block-like serifs.

Display typefaces are intended to be viewed at large sizes, like in headers or logos. They often feature intricate details, so if they’re applied as body text or the font size is too small, they tend to look messy and illegible.

Script typefaces are based upon the fluid strokes of calligraphy. While they are hard to read as body text, script typefaces are commonly used in logos and can be effectively applied in headers as well.

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Type Families The more, the merrier. The different options available within a typeface, such as roman, bold and italic, make up a type family. Minion Pro and Helvetica are examples of type families. These are extremely useful because a designer can use just one or two within a project, but still have a wide variety of styles to choose from. Type families help to achieve a consistent design.

With a serif font, use italic for gentle emphasis, or bold for heavier emphasis.

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Small Caps

Bold Condensed



periodical publication

MAGAZINE variety of topical news INTERVIEW supreme beings of leisure

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Alternate Figures Consider them in context. Have you noticed how some fonts have a 3 or a 9 that hangs below the baseline, thus making them appear larger than the 1 or 2 while the 8 rises above them all? Other fonts have numbers that all line up neatly top to bottom. What you're seeing are Non-Lining and Lining Figures.

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It’s never wrong to use the de­fault fig­ures in your font—namely, the ones you get when typ­ing the keys 0–9.

Lining Figures Many fonts come with different types of numbers. The kind you’re probably most used to seeing is lining figures. Lining figures are numbers that sit on the baseline and have the same height as uppercase letters.

Non-Lining Figures The other kind of numerals are old style figures (also called non-lining). Non-lining figures have varied heights and often dip below the baseline to mimic lowercase letters.

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Part two:

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I think I get it. Am I a typographer now? Easy there, Speedy Gonzales! First we have to look at all the little intricacies that go into setting type, from the different ways text is aligned to the spaces between letters. It all contributes to the overall look and legibility of the type, so pay attention!

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Kerning It matters. Kerning is the adjustment of space between two letters. Manual kerning is often necessary for pesky letter pairs (eg. AV, TA, To, Ty, Wa) that would otherwise appear to have an unsightly gap between them. Working in a page layout program, a designer can choose to use metric kerning or optical kerning as well as adjusting the space between letters manually where desired. A well-designed typeface requires little or no additional kerning, especially at text sizes.

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Turning the typeface upside down is a good way to examine the letter shapes without the distraction of meaning.



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Tracking The space between. Tracking (or letterspacing) is the adjusting of space between a group of letters. It is often used to tighten or loosen a block of text to take up less or more space, respectively.

Adjusting line spacing with the baseline shift tool helps create an even appearance.

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Leading Pump 'em full of lead. Leading which is pronounced as 'ledding' is the measurement of vertical space between baselines in a block of text. The term originates from when type was set by hand and strips of lead were placed between lines of type.



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Widows and Orphans Don't break the flow. Pic­ture a para­graph that starts at the bot­tom of one page and con­tin­ues at the top of the next page. When only the last line of the para­graph ap­pears at the top of the next page, that line is called a widow. An orphan is when only the first line of the paragraph ap­pears at the bot­tom of the first page.

Why does this matter? An orphaned word at the bottom of a paragraph creates an interruption in the flow which breaks the reader’s focus. This break is caused by the unintended white space that calls more attention than necessary to the single word. Similarly, a widow (line or word of text that jumps to the next page) divides the thought in the sentence.

Always work on the final copy before dealing with widows and orphans. 36 //

This is a widow For Example:

This is an orphan

The distance from the baseline of one line of type to another is called line spacing. It is also called leading, in reference to the strips of lead used to separate lines of metal type. The default setting in most layout and imaging software is 120 percent of the type size. Thus 10-pt type is set with 12 pts of line spacing. Designers play with line spacing in order to create distinctive typographic arrangements. Reducing the standard distance creates a denser typographic color, while risking collisions between ascenders and descenders. Expanding the line spacing creates a lighter, more open text block. As leading increases, lines of type become independent graphic elements rather than parts of an overall visual shape.

becahme part of typography. The simplest way to make a line of Latin text vertical is to rotate the text from horizontal to vertical. This preserves the natural affinity among letters sitting on a line while creating a vertical axis. Paragraphs do not occur in nature. Whereas sentences are grammatical units intrinsic to the spoken language, paragraphs are a literary convention designed to divide masses of content into appetizing portions. Indents have been common since the seventeenth century. Adding space between paragraphs (paragraph spacing) is another standard device.

In the beginning of a text, the reader needs an invitation to come inside. Enlarged capitals, also called versals, commonly mark the entrance to a chapter in a book or an article in a magazine. Many medieval manuscripts are illuminated with elaborately painted rubrics. This tradition continued with the rise of the printing press. At first, initials were hand-painted onto printed pages, making mass-produced books resemble manuscripts, which were more valuable than printed books. Initials soon

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Alignment When stars align. How you align your text has a huge impact on how people will read and perceive it. The decision of alignment should be made with your design theme in mind, and of course, readability and legibility.

In most uses, centered text should be broken into phrases with a variety of short and long lines. \\ 39

Flush Left Flush left is basically text that is aligned to the left. This alignment complements the natural way we read text in western culture. When done correctly, it is one of the biggest factors in improved readability.

Flush left respects the organic flow of language.

Be sure to pay attention to the right-hand side (or the rag). It is important to make sure there is a good balance with line length; make sure that they are not too similar, but also not too far apart.

Justified Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion works by adding white space between the words in each line so that all the lines are the same length. This al­ters the ideal spacing of the font, but in para­ graphs of rea­ son­ able width it’s usually not distracting. Com­ pared to left-aligned text, justification gives text a cleaner and more formal look.

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Jus­ti­fied text is spaced so the left and right sides of the text block both have a straight edge.

Center text Remember to exercise caution when using centered alignment—there is nothing worse than poorly set centered text. There is no shared point where the line begins and ends, so it can be very hard to read. Centered text looks best when there are only a few lines of text (2–3 lines). Be sure that your text area is wide enough to break the text into logical lines and that there is enough contrast between the line length to make the text inviting.

Text is aligned to the center of the text area, rather than the edges.

Flush Right Text is aligned to the right. If we read from left to right, flush right can hamper the natural flow of the text. Use it as a contrast to the main body of text to highlight complementary copy.

Flush right can be a welcome departure from the normal.

Watch out for punctuation marks on the right-hand side as they can disrupt the alignment.

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Anatomy of Typography

Bailey, Christian Design Instruct. 2011. "The Basics of Typography."

Butterick, Matthew Butterick's Practical Typography. 2014.

Howard, Jacqueline Desktop Publishing. 2014. "Typesetting Numbers."

Jones, Anthony Anthony Jones. 2009. "Typography 101-Alignment."

Lupton, Ellen Thinking With Type. 2009.

Ryan, Will Fun With Type01. 2014.

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Type is the Bee's Knees  


Type is the Bee's Knees