AskDefine | Define typography

Dictionary Definition



1 the craft of composing type and printing from it
2 art and technique of printing with movable type [syn: composition]

User Contributed Dictionary



From typographie.


  1. The art and technique of type design, and arranging and formatting text.


art and technique

Extensive Definition

Typography is the art, craft and techniques of type design, modifying type glyphs, and arranging type. Type glyphs (characters) are created and modified using a variety of illustration techniques. The arrangement of type is the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading (line spacing) and letter spacing.
Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic artists, art directors, and clerical workers. Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation. Digitization opened up typography to new generations of visual designers and lay users.


For the origins and evolution of typography, see the main articles History of western typography, History of typography in East Asia, and Moveable type.
Etymology: Typography (from the Greek words type = "to strike" "That by which something is symbolized or figured…" and graphia = to write).
Typography traces its origins to the first punches and dies used to make seals and currency in ancient times. The first known movable type printing artifact is probably the Phaistos Disc, though its real purpose remains disputed. The item dates between 1850 BC and 1600 BC, back to Minoan age and is now on display at the archaeological museum of Herakleion in Crete, Greece.
Typography with moveable type was separately invented in 11th-century China, and modular moveable metal type began in 13th-century China and Korea, was developed again in mid-15th century Europe with the development of specialized techniques for casting and combining cheap copies of letterpunches in the vast quantities required to print multiple copies of texts.


In contemporary use, the practice and study of typography is very broad, covering all aspects of letter design and application. These include:
Since digitization, typography has spread to a wider ranger of applications, appearing on web pages, LCD mobile phone screens, and hand-held video games. The ubiquity of type has led typographers to coin the phrase "Type is everywhere".
Traditional typography follows four principles: repetition, contrast, proximity, and alignment.

Text typography

In traditional typography, text is composed to create a readable, coherent, and visually satisfying whole that works invisibly, without the awareness of the reader. Even distribution with a minimum of distractions and anomalies are aimed at producing clarity and transparency.
Choice of font(s) is perhaps the primary aspect of text typography—prose fiction, non-fiction, editorial, educational, religious, scientific, spiritual and commercial writing all have differing characteristics and requirements. For historic material, established text typefaces are frequently chosen according to a scheme of historical genre acquired by a long process of accretion, with considerable overlap between historical periods.
Contemporary books are more likely to be set with state-of-the-art seriffed "text romans" or "book romans" with design values echoing present-day design arts, which are closely based on traditional models such as those of Nicolas Jenson, Francesco Griffo (a punchcutter who created the model for Aldine typefaces), and Claude Garamond. With their more specialized requirements, newspapers and magazines rely on compact, tightly-fitted text romans specially designed for the task, which offer maximum flexibility, readability and efficient use of page space. Sans serif text fonts are often used for introductory paragraphs, incidental text and whole short articles. A current fashion is to pair sans serif type for headings with a high-performance seriffed font of matching style for the text of an article.
The text layout, tone or color of set matter, and the interplay of text with white space of the page and other graphic elements combine to impart a "feel" or "resonance" to the subject matter. With printed media typographers are also concerned with binding margins, paper selection and printing methods.
Typography is modulated by orthography and linguistics, word structures, word frequencies, morphology, phonetic constructs and linguistic syntax. Typography also is subject to specific cultural conventions. For example, in French it is customary to insert a non-breaking space before a colon (:) or semicolon (;) in a sentence, while in English it is not.

Readability and legibility

Readability and legibility are often confused. Readability is most often and more properly used to describe the ease with which written language is read and understood – it concerns the difficulty of the language itself, not its appearance. Factors that affect readability include sentence and word length, and the frequency of uncommon words.
In contrast, legibility describes how easily or comfortably a typeset text can be read. It is not connected with content or language, but rather with the size and appearance of the printed or displayed text.
Studies of legibility have examined a wide range of factors including type size, type design. For example, comparing serif vs sans serif type, italic type vs roman type), line length, line spacing, colour contrast, the design of right-hand edge (for example, justification, straight right hand edge) vs ranged left, and whether hyphenated.
Legibility research was published from the late nineteenth century on, but the overall finding has been that the reading process is remarkably robust, and that significant differences are hard to find. So comparative studies of seriffed vs sans serif type, or justified vs unjustified type, have failed to settle the argument over which is best.
Legibility is usually measured through speed of reading, with comprehension scores used to check for effectiveness (that is, not a rushed or careless read). For example, Miles Tinker, who published numerous studies from the 1930s to the 1960s, used a speed of reading test that required participants to spot incongruous words as an effectiveness filter.
These days, legibility research tends to be limited to critical issues, or the testing of specific design solutions (for example, when new typefaces are developed). Examples of critical issues include typefaces (also called fonts) for people with visual impairment, and typefaces for highway signs, or for other conditions where legibility may make a key difference.
Much of the legibility research literature is somewhat atheoretical — various factors were tested individually or in combination (inevitably so, as the different factors are interdependent), but many tests were carried out in the absence of a model of reading or visual perception. Some typographers believe that the overall word shape is very important in readability, and that letter by letter recognition (sometimes known as parallel letterwise recognition) is either wrong, less important, or not the entire picture. Studies that distinguish between the two models have favored parallel letterwise recognition, and the latter is widely accepted by cognitive psychologists.
Some commonly agreed findings of legibility research include:
  • text set in lower case is more legible than text set all in upper case (capitals), presumably because lower case letter structures and word shapes are more distinctive
  • having greater saliency with the presence of extenders (ascenders, descenders and other projecting parts);
  • regular upright type (roman) is found to be more legible than italics.
  • contrast, without dazzling brightness, has also been found to be important, with black on yellow/cream being most effective
  • positive images (eg, black on white) are easier to read than negative or reversed (eg, white on black);
  • the upper portions of letters play a stronger part than the lower portions in the recognition process.
Legibility is also compromised by letterspacing, word spacing and leading that are too tight or too loose. Generous vertical space separates lines of text, making it easier for the eye to distinguish one line from the next, or previous line. Poorly designed fonts and those that are too tightly or loosely fitted can also result in poor legibility.
Typography is an element of all printed material. Periodical publications, especially newspapers and magazines, use typographical elements to achieve an attractive, distinctive appearance, to aid readers in navigating the publication, and in some cases for dramatic effect. By formulating a style guide, a periodical standardizes on a relatively small collection of typefaces, each used for specific elements within the publication, and makes consistent use of type sizes, italic, boldface, large and small capital letters, colours, and other typographic features. Some publications, such as The Guardian and The Economist, go so far as to commission a type designer to create bespoke typefaces for their exclusive use.
Different periodical publications design their publications, including their typography, to achieve a particular tone or style. For example, USAToday uses a bold, colourful, and comparatively modern style through their use of a variety of typefaces and colours; type sizes vary widely, and the newspaper's name is placed on a coloured background. In contrast, the New York Times use a more traditional approach, with fewer colours, less typeface variation, and more columns.
Especially on the front page of newspapers and on magazine covers, headlines are often set in larger display typefaces to attract attention, and are placed near the masthead.

Display typography

Display typography is a potent element in graphic design, where there is less concern for readability and more potential for using type in an artistic manner. Type is combined with negative space, graphic elements and pictures, forming relationships and dialog between words and images.
Color and size of type elements are much more prevalent than in text typography. Most display typography exploits type at larger sizes, where the details of letter design are magnified. Color is used for its emotional effect in conveying the tone and nature of subject matter.
Display typography encompasses:
The wanted poster for the assassins of Abraham Lincoln was printed with lead and woodcut type, and incorporates photography.


Typography has long been a vital part of promotional material and advertising. Designers often use typography to set a theme and mood in an advertisement; for example using bold, large text to convey a particular message to the reader. Type is often used to draw attention to a particular advertisement, combined with efficient use of color, shapes and images. Today, typography in advertising often reflects a company's brand. Fonts used in advertisements convey different messages to the reader, classical fonts are for a strong personality, while more modern fonts are for a cleaner, neutral look. Bold fonts are used for making statements and attracting attention.

Inscriptional and architectural lettering

See also Epigraphy.
The history of inscriptional lettering is intimately tied to the history of writing, the evolution of letterforms, and the craft of the hand. The widespread use of the computer and various etching and sandblasting techniques today has made the hand carved monument a rarity, and the number of lettercarvers left in the States continues to dwindle. For monumental lettering to be effective it must be considered carefully in its context. Proportions of letters need to be altered as their size and distance from the viewer increases. An expert letterer gains understanding of these nuances through much practice and observation of their craft. Letters drawn by hand and for a specific project have the possibility of being richly specific and profoundly beautiful in the hand of a master. Each can also take up to an hour to carve, so it is no wonder that the automated sandblasting process has become the industry standard.
To create a sandblasted letter, a rubber mat is laser cut from a computer file and glued to the stone. The sand then bites a coarse groove or channel into the exposed surface. Unfortunately, many of the computer applications which create these files and interface with the laser cutter do not have many typefaces available, and often have inferior versions of typefaces that are available. What can now be done in minutes, however, lacks the striking architecture and geometry of the chisel-cut letter which allows light to play across its distinct interior planes.

See also

For a comprehensive list of related Wikipedia articles, see :Category:Typography.


  • Bringhurst, Robert (2002). The Elements of Typographic Style (version 2.5). Vancouver: Hartley & Marks. ISBN 0-88179-133-4. Often referred to simply as "Bringhurst", Elements is widely respected as the current authority on typographic style for Latin typography. (excerpts). Well-paired with Tschichold's The Form of the Book, below, from the same publisher.
  • Tschichold, Jan (1991). The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks. ISBN 978-0881790344. A comprehensive collection of essays on the typographic art. A more classic companion to Bringhust, above.
  • Heller, Steven and Meggs, Philip B. Texts on Type: Critical Writings on Typography (c) 2001, Allworth Press, Allworth Communications, New York. ISBN 1-58115-082-2. A compilation of over fifty texts on the history, practice, and aesthetics of type design and typography.
  • , , 2002, ISBN 2-7433-0482-0, for French typography.
  • Swanson, Gunnar Graphic Design and Reading: explorations of an uneasy relationship (c) 2000, Allworth Press, Allworth Communications, New York. ISBN 1-58115-063-6. The Crystal Goblet, or Printing Should Be Invisible Beatrice Warde; Improving the Tool Hrant H. Papazian.
  • Alexander Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface , first published in 1990, devotes entire chapters to the development and uses of individual or small groupings of typefaces. ISBN 978-0879233334
  • White, Alex W. (1999). Type in Use — Effective typography for electronic publishing (version 2.0). W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York. ISBN 0-393-73034-4 (pbk).
  • — Reprint of a 1931 classic by the designer of Gill Sans and several other fonts. Eric Gill was an English sculptor and typographer who stressed integrity and practicality in his designs.

Supporting organizations

External links

typography in Bosnian: Tipografija
typography in Bulgarian: Типография
typography in Catalan: Tipografia
typography in Czech: Typografie
typography in Danish: Typografi
typography in German: Typografie
typography in Spanish: Tipografía
typography in Esperanto: Tipografio
typography in Basque: Tipografia
typography in French: Typographie
typography in Galician: Tipografía
typography in Indonesian: Tipografi
typography in Icelandic: Týpógrafía
typography in Italian: Tipografia
typography in Hebrew: טיפוגרפיה
typography in Hungarian: Tipográfia
typography in Malay (macrolanguage): Tipografi
typography in Dutch: Typografie
typography in Japanese: タイポグラフィ
typography in Norwegian: Typografi
typography in Polish: Typografia
typography in Portuguese: Tipografia
typography in Russian: Типографика
typography in Slovak: Typografia (umenie)
typography in Slovenian: Tipografija
typography in Serbian: Tipografija
typography in Finnish: Typografia
typography in Swedish: Typografi
typography in Turkish: Tipografi
typography in Ukrainian: Типографія
typography in Urdu: خطی تخطیط
typography in Chinese: 字体排印学

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

albertype, book printing, chromotypography, chromotypy, chromoxylography, collotype, color printing, electronography, electrostatic printing, graphic arts, gravure, halftone engraving, history of printing, job printing, letterpress, letterpress photoengraving, line engraving, lithography, lithogravure, lithophotogravure, mimeograph, offset, offset lithography, onset, palaeotypography, photo-offset, photochemical process, photoengraving, photogelatin process, photographic reproduction, photography, photolithography, phototypography, phototypy, photozincography, planographic printing, planography, printing, printmaking, publication, publishing, relief printing, rotary photogravure, rotogravure, sheetwork, stencil, three-color printing, two-color printing, typolithography, wood-block printing, xerography, xeroprinting, xylotypography, zincography
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1