Typography: The Basics

Typography is part of every day for a graphic designer and we use type in everything from logos, brochures and websites. Anything with wording or lettering involves some type of typography. So we think its time to look at this big part of everyday just a little closer.

Sometimes we forget about the little improvements you can make to a typeface by just by changing the tracking, kerning and leading. This can even make the difference between a good and bad typeface choice. Back in the days of the letterpress, all typesetting was done by hand, so the leading was a little more time consuming. But, in this digital age it is so easy to do in just a few clicks of a button!

What is Typography?

A simple way to look at this by looking at the dictionary:

‘ The art or process of printing with type. The work of setting and arranging types and of printing from them’ (dictionary.reference.com)

However, this definition doesn’t really do this area of design justice. Type is all around us from the labels in our clothes to the social media sites we are all part of. All those typefaces where designed to look and feel a certain way. Some people notice the typography more than others, more often the bad is engrained into our memory.

We, as graphic designers, should make more time to pay attention to detail with our typography. Choosing a font is just the start of it, making sure that typeface is laid out into a readable fashion is the rest of a graphic designers job.

Here are just a few hints and tips to help you with your typography!

Type Classifications

There are many classifications but each differs in technical specification and the mood they can create. We are just going to focus on the two most common, Serif and Sans Serif.


Serif typefaces refer to the small lines that are attached to main strokes of characters within the typeface. Their most common use is for body copy due to their readability. These classify the most traditional fonts and are still mainly seen in newspapers.

Sans Serif

Sans serifs are recognized by their lack of serifs, these are considered modern due to their appearance.


Anatomy of type lists all the different characteristics a typeface can hold. To begin here we have just represented a few. For a comprehensive list visit: www.typographydeconstructed.com


Kerning describes the amount of space between two characters. When a typeface is created the space between the characters is automatically set. However, in some cases the space between the letters in too big or too small. Kerning is the art of adjusting the space between characters so that the eye can flow easily without being distracted. In the following examples you can see were kerning can be needed.


The space between the vertical lines is referred to as leading. This is measured by obtaining the distance between two baselines. This is due to the letterpress, when type was placed into the frame, strips of lead where placed in-between the lines of type to create space. This made the text readable by the viewer. Just as with kerning this is set due to readability and aesthetic style.

When leading is decreased, the block of text can appear more compacted. As an aesthetic style low amounts of leading can increase the pace of the reader and introduce the feelings of cramped conditions. This is can be very powerful if used to evoke these feelings.

Increasing leading can reduce the pace of the piece, by introducing more white space. It can also introduce a more relaxed feel to the written word.


Tracking is the name given to the space between groups of characters. This can also be known as letter spacing. Tracking is described as being either loose or tight.  Tight tracking is when the characters are closer together. Loose tracking describes a larger distance between each character. The same aesthetic styles can be created as kerning, by using the same treatment of space.

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