The Anatomy of a Type: In Simple Words

While you may use type every day to communicate with others, are you familiar with the basic typeface elements? Unless you studied this topic in college or have a passion for typography, you likely couldn’t pass a test on these elements.

However, if you’re a designer, it’s essential for you to at least know the basic anatomy of type to begin using typography more effectively or at least to heighten your appreciation for the typography profession. The following are a few basic type anatomy elements you should be familiar with to advance your design career.


KAST bookcase


Before diving into the various anatomy elements of type, you should be familiar with the definition of a character. A character is an individual typographic element such as a letter or a numeral. Now that you understand this basic element, we can move onto the various character anatomy elements.


The arm or leg of a character is its stroke that is attached on one end but isn’t attached on another. An arm or a leg can be horizontal such as the middle stroke extending from a lowercase “t” or diagonal such as the strokes coming from a lowercase “k.”

Cap line

A cap line is an imaginary line spanning the top of a capital character. The cap size is the distance between a character’s baseline and the cap line.


An ascender is the upwards stem of a lower-case character that rises above the x-height. Characters with typical ascenders are h and b.


The baseline is an imaginary line upon which all of your type characters rest. In most designs, the aim is to have all type characters in line along a baseline. However, many designers choose to break this rule with non-symmetric designs.


A descender is the portion of a lower-case character extending below the baseline. Common characters with descenders include “g” and “y.”

Sans Serif

Sans Serif fonts are characterized by their non-varying stroke widths. They are often considered more modern type options and are optimal for most online environments.


Serif fonts are characterized by their varying stroke widths and decorative elements on the end of each character. These fonts are viewed are more classic type options and are traditionally used in novels and other print reading materials.


The x-height is the middle portion of a character minus any ascenders and descenders. An easier way to determine the x-height in a string of text is to set it at the height of a lowercase “x.”

Anatomy of type

The post image is via PixelLogo

These basics type elements should help advance your appreciation for typography and the typographer’s profession. Most commonly, you can expect to use this terminology when working with a typographer on the development of a unique type for your design projects.

While learning about the anatomy of type can cause your brain to glaze over, the process doesn’t need to be so painful. By at least learning the basics of type anatomy, you’ll be a stronger designer and will sound much more knowledgeable the next time you’re conversing with a typographer.

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