What Is Typography Stress?

Stress can be seen where strokes change from thick to thin. | Type & Fonts Glossary | Alpha Index to Full Glossary:. # | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | XYZ

The diagonal, vertical, or horizontal thick-to-thin transition in the stroke of a letter is the stress. Draw a line through the thinnest points of the letter "o" and you can easily see the angle of stress.  A typeface with uniform strokes has no obvious stress.

In calligraphy, how the pen is held when drawing individual strokes creates this thick-thin transition which was carried over into printing and the creation of wood, lead, and digital typefaces.

"To give the ‘printed’ books the same authentic look as the hand-written volumes, the metal cast ‘letters’ used by the printing press were styled after the hand-written letters seen in volumes written with calligraphy pens. Thus, the thick-thin transition of stress is really just a throw-back to the days when books were written by hand." -- Brian Coale "A Brief Anatomy of Type I: Stress"


Within certain typeface classifications, fonts share a common angle or degree of stress. For example, Old Style fonts like Garamond and Centaur typically exhibit strong diagonal stress (to the left) while Transitional (such as Times New Roman and Perpetua) typefaces have much less pronounced diagonal stress. Modern or Didone faces (such as Bodoni) have strong vertical stress.

In addition to the stress found in the design of a typeface, other types of obvious or subtle stress exist or can be created when working with type.

The tilt of italic or oblique fonts creates stress. Even among type with mostly uniform strokes, stress can be seen in the elongated bowls and counters which can give a typeface an obvious vertical (such as in condensed fonts), horizontal (often seen in wide or expanded fonts), or diagonal stress.

These and other forms of stress, including reversed stress, are described in the article Is My Type Stressed? A Primer on Stressed Typography.