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1.2 The Anatomy of a Letter (Character)

Welcome to the first lesson of this course, where you’ll learn about the anatomy of a letter. Why might this be important? Understanding a character’s anatomy will allow you to recognise the style of a typeface much easier. Let’s begin.

1.2 The Anatomy of a Letter (Character)

Welcome to the first lesson of this course where you'll learn about the anatomy of letter. Now this is very important because it will allow you to recognize typeface styles a lot easier. You see, sometimes you'll find that two typefaces are pretty much identical. For example, these two pieces of text Look the same, right? Well, almost. They use different typefaces that belong to the same style. Now, when you look closely at the letters you'll find subtle details that make them different. Notice how much they resemble one another, but also notice how they're different. Here, I'm using Garamond and Caslon to illustrate this. And they're both old style serif typefaces. You see type designers put so much work into creating a typeface. But most of the time these tiny details that make all the difference go unnoticed by most people. Well, as designers, it's our job, it's our duty to be able to recognize these details and put them to good use. It's important to train ourselves to recognize these details. So hopefully by the end of this course you'll be able to look at a typeface and say okay that's a geometric typeface. That's good for logo design right? Or that's a Didone and I'm gonna use this for a fashion magazine. This level of knowledge that's gonna empower us to become better designers. Now, back on the topic, the anatomy of a letter, you see, each letter is constructed differently. Okay, but there are some common elements to each letter. So let's have a look at those. We'll start with number one, and this is called the X height. This basically gives us the height of the lower case x. And it's a very important measurement. At number two, highlighted in green we have ascenders, okay? So these are parts of the letter that sit above the x height line. Similarly, at number three highlighted in blue, we have descenders and this seat below the x height line. Now, ascenders and descenders are very important because they define the letters. Related to these at numbers four and five, we have the ascender and descender lines respectively. These mark the highest and lowest points of the letters. At number six, which you can see here, we have the cap height which is basically the height of the capital letter. Then, at number seven in in red, we can see the serifs and these are ornaments added to the bottom of the letters, just like we can see in the Roman capital letters. These represent the defining characteristics of serif typefaces at number 8, we can see head serifs or ascender serifs. And finally, at number nine, the highlighted element is called a cross bar. Now on top of these, there is another letter characteristic called stress. In terms of topography, stress is the angle of inwards pressure inside the letter, which makes that letter thinner in some parts. You can see that more clearly in the right example, where the letter o is thinner at the top and the bottom. Now in older type phases, we have a diagonal stress like in the left example. In more modern types, we have vertical stress like the right example. And a very easy way to determine the stress is to draw an imaginary line through the thinnest parts of the letters O, E or C. All right, and that's a quick look at the anatomy of a letter. I say quick because there are a lot more details in a letter that can be explored. I tried giving you the essentials here. So, only the bits that will help us identify typeface styles. And speaking of that, let's start doing it. In the next lesson we're gonna start with serif typefaces because these are the first ones that came out somewhere around the 15th century. So I will see you in the next lesson.

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