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Understanding the Parts of a Letter

by Margaret Penney | August 19, 2016

When it comes to typography it’s easy to take for granted what letters look like since they are everywhere in our visual environment, however, if one looks closely, there is a lot of detail and artistry that goes into the crafting of a letter. Discovering this detail can be an enjoyable thing, a way of appreciating what’s around us more, or simply providing us something to do during a morning commute.

Letters can look quite different but they all have the same basic parts. Type designers can create distinct type designs through the careful crafting of these type elements. Type designs gain their visual personality through the differences in these small details. To get an idea of how distinct fonts are made, let’s look at five letters from Google fonts and see how their unique letter parts inform their visual character.


Inconsolata (Bracket)

Inconsolata is a monospaced Humanist font designed for source code listing and terminal emulators. The design has a tech look because of the bracketed serifs at 90-degree. The font is devoid of curves for the most part, so the font does not require anti-aliasing. These sharp angled lines are crisp and easy to read on screen and this style of bracket is immediately recognizable as a computer style font, like the precursor to this font, Consolas.


Cormorant Garamond (Ligature, Hairline)

Cormorant Garamond is a derivative of the original serif Garamond. The design has an elegant and formal look because of the combined ligatures of some letters, which adds decorative embellishment. The fine and thin hairline of the type also gives it a distinctly refined and delicate look too.


Poppins (Counter)

Poppins has an open, clean and modern look in part due to its perfectly circular counter spaces on letters like the lowercase o. The design is very similar to early modern geometric typefaces like Futura, which also has balanced and even geometric shape forms.


josefin sans

Josefin Sans (Terminal, Ascender)

Josefin Sans is inspired by modernist font Kabel, yet it has unusual elements like an upturned terminal on the lowercase z and elongated ascenders that adds some elegance and edge to its visual character.



Alegreya (Serif, Tail)

Alegreya appears as a stately Renaissance style type with classic serifs however some letters are sans instead which mixes it up a bit and lends the design a contemporary and progressive look. The font also has unusual tails adding a playful and whimsical quality to the design.


Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.


If you are interested in learning to use typography, Sessions College offers Basic Typography and Advanced Typography courses as well as a course in Web Typography.  Contact Admissions for more information.

This blog is powered by Sessions College, the leading online school of visual arts.

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