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Understanding Typography Basics - Glambeau Design Understanding Typography Basics - Glambeau Design

Understanding Typography Basics

Working with Fonts

Having a grasp on typography is key to design – the fonts you choose and how you use them can help communicate your message more clearly, make certain things stand out or blend in, and evoke certain feelings and emotions and thoughts from your audience.

One of the biggest struggles people have with achieve visual harmony with their designs is with text and fonts. It’s already a huge feat on it’s own to write and develop copy for your marketing, but when it comes to placing your info in a document, whether that’s a simple worksheet in Word, a social graphic in Canva, or a magazine spread in InDesign, you quickly find that you have to go a step further to organize your information, make it all fit in the proper places, and make different parts of your text stand out.


Typography Fundamentals & Terminology

Remember that you can seriously change the way a font, word, or phrase appears by:


Serif & Sans Serif

Serif (sometimes called roman) letterforms have extending features, small lines or embellishments called “serifs” at the end strokes; Sans serif (gothic) letterforms do not have the extending features called serifs.



Tracking is the overall spacing between a group of letters. Increasing or reducing the horizontal space between letters can add elegance or simplification, help words blend into the background, stand out. This can also be used to save or take up space as needed.


Leading is the vertical spacing between the baselines of two lines of text. This can add readability, create a sense of urgency, and save space, all depending on your needs.

Size hierarchy

Title font, Headline font, subtitle font, paragraph font, or with web H1 H2 H3 Paragraph, etc.

Place more emphasis on different text by playing with the balance of size. Whether you’re creating on a logo of only a few words, a sell sheet with a single product, or a cover-to-cover multi-page publication, you’ll need to work through the hierarchy of your text to arrive at a price that clearly communicates your message in a way that is both aligned with your brand and attracts your ideal audience.

Short or common words that the mind can fill in the blank, assume, industry standard, articles and prepositions like the, for can be made smaller, thinner, less noticeably.

You’ll likely want to have a dramatic difference in size – you want to make the difference look intentional and not accidental. And as always, think logically about what word or words are more important to be legible.


You may (and should) be working in black text now, but you can also think ahead about what your text will look like in the real world, whether that is printed or on the screen. You can balance the hierarchy of text by using branded or bold colors for important words that you want to stand out, and neutral colors like black and gray for words that can be assumed

*Side note: if you’re working on a logo, your font pairing should definitely work as a balanced composition in all black.

Bold & Italic

Adding a stroke/line thickness around letters. Be very careful about this!


Separation with Punctuation Marks & Icons

Separating words with horizontal lines, vertical lines (pipes), bullets, relevant brand icons


Words to describe fonts

I’ve put together an enhanced list of words that can be used to more clearly describe the look, style, or sensibility of a font or many visuals. Having an improved vocabulary will help improve your research skills, give and receive better feedback, and get better results on your projects.


Words to describe the look:

  • Narrow
  • Wide
  • Compact
  • Bloated
  • Tall
  • Thick
  • Thin
  • Delicate
  • Airy

  • Decorative
  • Ornamental
  • Chunky
  • Blocky
  • Square
  • Round
  • Oblique
  • Cursive
  • Scripted

  • Simple
  • Complex
  • Angular
  • Jutting
  • Historic
  • Organic
  • Ancient

Words to describe the technique:

  • Handwritten
  • Typewritten
  • Digital
  • Inked
  • Stenciled
  • Stamped
  • Brushstroke

Words to describe the feeling, sensibility, or intention:

  • Classic
  • Modern
  • Delicate
  • Child-like
  • Youthful
  • Playful
  • Dignified
  • Spirited

  • Tame
  • Elegant
  • Rough
  • Native
  • Exotic
  • Novelty
  • Natural
  • Organic

  • Soft
  • Harsh
  • Historic
  • Ancient
  • Serious
  • Lighthearted

Words that are project-specific:

  • Time periods
  • Time of year
  • Genre- or Industry-specific
  • Culture
  • Location – neighborhood, city, state, nation
  • Holiday


Good Font Combinations

Font combinations are just like all of design – it requires finding that visual harmony called balanced composition. It’s something that you have to assess on a case-by-case basis, but there are some fonts types that usually work well together or are a good starting point.

There is a lot of trial and error, but some pairings you can try are:

Ornamental serif + Classic serif 

Delicately ornamental, this specialized display font paired with a square, classic with increased tracking gives an neat, formal, timeless look


Blocky sans serif + Handwritten script

A blocky sans serif in all caps with a handwritten, angled script is a playful combination that lends a friendly and familiar feel.




Resources for finding new fonts

Here are some of my favorite resources for downloading new fonts.





Identifying fonts

Have you ever seen a font that you wanted to use, needed to match exactly, or find something similar to? Two invaluable resources are WhatTheFont by My Fonts and Identifont.com.

WhatTheFont allows you to upload an image of a font, identify each letter, and its system will analyze and do its best to provide the closest possible matches to the font. It’s often right on the money, or may help lead you down the right path. It’s especially helpful if you don’t have a digital copy of the text.

Identifont.com is sort of like a game of 20 questions; the system asks you a series of clear questions about your font, making complex calculations every step of the way, eliminating fonts that don’t meet the criteria and showing you fonts that still do meet the criteria. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the font you are seeking rises to the top of the list of possibilities.