Letter Anatomy

Letter Anatomy
There is a standard set of terms to describe the parts of a character. These terms, and the parts of the letter they represent, are often referred to as "letter anatomy" or "typeface anatomy." By breaking down letters into parts, a designer can better understand how type is created and altered and how to use it effectively.

  • Baseline
    The baseline is the invisible line on which characters sit. While the baseline may differ from typeface to typeface, it is consistent within a typeface. Rounded letters such as "e" may extend slightly below the baseline.
  • Cap heightCap height
    The cap height is the distance from the baseline to the top of uppercase letters like "H" and "J."
  • SerifsSerifs
    Fonts are often divided into serif and sans serif. Serif fonts are distinguishable by the extra stroke at the ends of the character, known as a serif.
  • MeanlineMeanline
    The meanline falls at the top of many lowercase letters such as "e," "g" and "y." It is also at the curve of letters like "h."
  • x-heightX-height
    The x-height is the distance between the meanline and the baseline. It is referred to as the x-height because it is the height of a lowercase "x." This height can vary greatly between typefaces.
  • AscenderAscender
    The part of a character that extends above the meanline is known as an ascender. Note that this is the same as extending above the x-height.
  • DescenderDescender
    The part of a character that extends below the baseline is known as a descender, such as the bottom stroke of a "y."
  • StemStem
    The vertical line of a "B" and the primary diagonal line of a "V" are known as the stem. The stem is often the main "body" of a letter.
  • BarBar
    The horizontal lines of an "E" are known as bars. Bars are horizontal or diagonal lines of a letter, also known as arms, and are open on at least one side.
  • BowlBowl
    An open or closed circular line that creates an interior space, such as in "e" and "b."
  • CounterCounter
    The inside of a bowl.
  • LegLeg
    The bottom stroke of a letter, such as the base of an "L" or diagonal stroke of a "K."
  • ShoulderShoulder
    The curve at the beginning of a leg of a character, such as in an "m."

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