Typography: Full Guide

Structures of a type
29 de Junho, 2019
28 amazing and free fonts to download
29 de Junho, 2019

What is typography

Typography: from the Greek typos = form and graphein = writing.

It is the mechanization of writing made by technology for the reproduction of texts in series.

Typography is also the term used to define the study of types (although some people also use the term typology a lot).

But first… Let’s go back a little bit in history…

Beginning of writing

From the beginning, man has always sought ways to communicate and express himself in relation to the world and his peers. Thus, long before the beginning of writing, man communicated through sounds, songs, gestures, drawings, paintings, dances, sculptures…

After the development of speech, and of course of oral communication, there was a need to create files, preserve and transmit memory, etc.

And the consequence of this need was the invention of writing.

“The emergence of writing is an important step in world history because it marks the separation between history and prehistory, initiating the recording of events.”

Writing is the system that uses signs to graphically express human thought in a medium.

“The assimilation and internalization of the technology of the phonetic alphabet translates man from the magical world of hearing to the neutral world of vision. Marshall McLuhan, The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1972.”

Writing, this system of recording through these signs, exists at about 3,000 ac and has gone through various phases and evolutions. I will not go into history, because this article would be very long, but it is very valuable for doing research on the history of writing.
The emergence of typography

The Chinese (it had to be the Asians hehe) were the first to create a typography system, long before Gutenberg (we will see later). The inventor was Pi Shêng around the year 1040. The types were made of baked clay, wood and even bronze, and were laid out on a panel, the huóban (board to live).

“Shên Kua, contemporary of the inventor, reported the production of thousands of copies, but it is not specified whether they were in the form of rolls or books. These printed works were what he called The Five Classics.”

But the great inventor of typography, made by the press with metal types was Johann Gutenberg in the year 1450.

“Born in Mangucia, now Mainz, Germany, he worked in coinage with the technique of metal smelting and minting coins, which fostered the creation of the lead alloy with which he began to prepare letters to assemble moving types of metal. Gutenberg and the press the history of the book and the publishing house”.

Gutenberg’s invention made it possible to reproduce the texts in series. In the 15th century, in 1456, he printed the “42-line Bible”, the first printed book and the first proof of the effectiveness of typography. Composed of 642 pages, it had a print run of about 200 copies. Thanks to this, Gutenberg also made books and culture more accessible, with the exception of the monasteries and abbeys responsible for manuscripts (handwritten books).

So, now that we know the origins, let’s understand how things work…. Come with me !

What is a Font, a letter and a typographical family ?

Glyphs (letters, characters):

These are alphabetic signs for mechanical reproduction.

Typographical family:

It is the set of characters that have the same design characteristics regardless of their variations (weight, inclination, body).


It is a collection of glyphs that form a typographic family. The term is also used to refer to digital source files, that is, a collection of digital glyphs in the form of files for use in computers.

Anatomy of the guys:

The types consist of a set of elements : bulge, stem, bar, bar, leg, wheelbase, hollow, tail, terminal, shoulder, top, connection, ear, hook, junction, spur, incision, opening, spine and arms. Check the following picture to see each part of the anatomy.

Unless you are a typographer, you don’t need to decorate every part of the lyrics, but it’s interesting to know especially if you’re dealing with a type of illustration in letters.


These are connections of two or more characters. In Portuguese, the most functional is FI, but there are several bandages (st, ae, ae, oe, ff, ij, etc). It can help with the readability and aesthetics of the word.

Eat or no wheelbase:

Serif is the anatomical element of the types you will hear more about. It is the most important and the one you must necessarily know.

There are types with and without wheelbase (or without wheelbase, from French) and the classification of types, in wheelbase and without wheelbase, is the main form of letter differentiation.

The wheelbases are the small traces, or extensions, that exist at the end of the stems of the glyphs.

But know first that the wheelbases are the most suitable for text boxes “running” in graphic works (in books, for example), because the wheelbase has the function to help the reading, to ensure the continuity of the text and to make it less tiring for the eyes.

While sans serif characters are better suited for titles, calls and also for texts in general in digital applications (in websites, for example), because serif eventually becomes “fuzzy” in Digital, which hinders reading and understanding. But this is not a rule, especially in the era of retinal screens, so common sense must always prevail.
Body :

The body is the size of the type that starts from the highest point (vertical or ascending) to the lowest point (descending).


This is the part of the letters b, d, f, f, k, h, l and t that exceeds the height of x.


This is the part of the letters g, j, p, q, y and sometimes the letter J (Capital letter), which extends below the height of x.


It’s the angulation of the line. Refers to the inclination axis mainly of letters b, c, e, g, g, o, p and q.

Humanist axis: is the oblique axis that corresponds to the inclination of the handwriting.

Rationalist axis: is the vertical axis. It accords with neoclassical and romantic forms

A box of guys:

The letters have three types of sizes: low case, high case and versalette.


This is the lowercase character set.

Caixa Alta (capital or Versailles):

It is the set of uppercase characters.

The high and low boxes are derived from the organization of types in wooden boxes on a trestle, in typographical workshops, where upper case letters were in the upper case (upper case) and lower case letters in the lower case (lower case), because they were more used and therefore easier to grasp.

Small capitalizations:

This is the set of upper case characters with the height of lower case characters (height of x).


The digits( or digits) are also classified in 3 groups : old style, lining and Small Capitals.

Has the old:

These are the numbers aligned by the text. Thus, they cross the line of x and, therefore, have ascendants and descendants.


They are numbers of the same size as a verse (in capital letters) and have no ascendants or descendants.

Small capitalizations:

These are numbers of the same size as a verse, and they have neither ascendants nor descendants.

Units of measurement:

Units of measurement are used to determine body size, character size, and line spacing.

Basically, the “primary” measures (I will call them that) are : the dot, the Cicero and the paica. Today, thanks to digital, we have others like: millimeters (mm), pixels (px), etc.

For the moment, and for the record, we will speak of the former: Ponto, Paica used in England and English-speaking countries, and Cicero used in continental Europe.

Point: this is the typographical measure established by the French Francisco Ambrósio Didot. One point is approximately 0.376 mm. (or 2.6 points = 1 mm).

Cicero: is also a measure of the Didot system and corresponds to 12 points.

Paica (pica): is an English-language unit of measurement used in England and English-speaking countries. It matches 1/6 of an inch.

The two measurements (Cicero and Paica) are divided into 12 parts. And there’s a small difference between sizes, and the paica is a little smaller than the Cicero. See below:

1 paica (4,22 mm) = 12 points (England).

1 cicero (4,52 mm) = 12 points (continental Europe).

Below other figures:

Before the digital age, it was necessary to know these measures well because everything was done by rule, by hand, with calculations… Today there is no longer this problem, because it is the software itself that takes care of it.

And since most of the software comes from the United States, the default system is Paica, using the thumb as reference, that is, 1/6 of an inch (4.23 mm).

Another type of measurement is the typographical space derived from the capital letter M. By dividing the width of the letter ” M ” into 18 units, this unit of measure is mainly used to determine horizontal spaces and endings.

And that was just the beginning….

Not to be too long and exhausting, I will stop here on this first part of the series of articles on typography.

In the next few articles, we will continue to break this world of typography so that we really have a good base to choose the right font for our projects, baby ?

And if you want to know more about this typography course that I’ve recorded for Web Designer PRO students.

And you like typography ? Are you working with typography ? Do you know how to use it properly ?

You might want to share your experience with the “guys”.

In the following sections, we will talk much more this differentiation.

Discover here the latest trends in free fonts for download.