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.

In the images below, the part of the character being discussed is in red, or circled in red. A few extra terms, such as baseline and x-height, are included to help understand and describe the letter anatomy.

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Baseline

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.

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Meanline

Meanline
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."

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X-height

X-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.

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Cap height

Cap height
The cap height is the distance from the baseline to the top of uppercase letters like "H" and "J."

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Ascender

Ascender
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.

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Descender

Descender
The part of a character that extends below the baseline is known as a descender, such as the bottom stroke of a "y."

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Serifs

Serifs

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.

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Stem

Stem
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.

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Bar

Bar

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.

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Bowl

Bowl
An open or closed circular line that creates an interior space, such as in "e" and "b."

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Counter

Counter
The inside of a bowl.

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Leg

Leg
The bottom stroke of a letter, such as the base of an "L" or diagonal stroke of a "K."

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Shoulder

Shoulder
The curve at the beginning of a leg of a character, such as in an "m."

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Sources:

"The Little Know-It All: Common Sense for Designers." Die Gestalten Verlag GmbH & Co. KG (dgv), Berlin 2007.

Gavin Ambrose, Paul Harris. "The Fundamentals of Typography." AVA Publishing SA. 2006.