Which font is which? With so many fonts at our disposal, it’s hard to pick. They all might seem similar but if you look closer you’ll find some distinguishing differences. Each font has its own characteristics. Small details which make it unique. In this post, I’ll explain the most significant font characteristics for you.
Some font characteristics are easy to make out. You can see that one font has thicker lines than another. One font might have flowing curves while another has straight, geometric lines. For other characteristics, you have to zoom in on the details. But it’s not difficult. It’s more a matter of what to look for.
The first thing you have to know about a font is its classification or category. We can simply distinguish fonts by their main attributes. There are several category categories. The most used being serif and sans serif.
The difference between these two are the tiny little thingies which are added to the stem of a serif font. It’s like an ornament at the end of the stroke in each letter. A serif font which you already know is Times New Roman.
A sans serif font doesn’t have this characteristic. It’s based on geometrical lines and shapes and thus look more modern. The most famous sans serif font is Arial.
There are, of course, more classifications. Script fonts imitate handwriting with their cursive and flowing style. Display fonts have bold and poster-like letters. To find out more about the different classifications and how they add meaning to your brand design read this post.
Related post: What your typeface says about your brand
Something you already know and work with is font styles. These are significant font characteristics which help you to discern fonts.
Italic | cursive letters
Bold | thick lines
Black | even thicker lines
Hairline | very thin lines
Condensed | narrow letters
Extended | wide letters
Each style is different. Not only in the form of the letters but also in what this form symbolizes.
Related post: Font styles and their meaning in branding
Font styles and classifications are a more general way to tell one font apart from another. Now, let’s move on to the more specific ones.
You’ve already seen that line thickness varies. Not only from one font to another but also inside each letter. If you look closer you can see that especially serif fonts don’t have regular strokes. Some strokes are thick, some are thin. The difference between these strokes is called contrast. There are fonts with very high contrast like Didot and fonts with low contrast like Garamond.
You’ll also want to look at the stress. The stress can be found in rounded letters like “o”. The contrast in the letter “o” puts the focus on two points. Connect the points where the stroke is the thinnest by drawing a line. This line can be vertical if the thinnest point is in the middle of the letter. But it can also be diagonal which gives the letter a whole different look.
Ascenders and descenders
Some letters want to stand out from the crowd. They all have the same starting point. Every letter poses on this invisible, horizontal line which is called baseline. If you draw a line beneath a sentence you can see it more clearly. You can do the same if you draw a line above the minuscule letters. This line is called meanline. Once you do this you’ll see that some letters cross the lines. Typical ascenders are “b” and “d”. Typical descenders are “g” and “p”. Now the length of how much these letters go above or below the line is different for each font and a good way to distinguish fonts.
Ligatures are connectors. They connect one letter to another. The point of connection is usually a serif or other extension of a letter. That’s why sans serif fonts rarely have ligatures. For script fonts, they are very important though.
The way how those letters connect is different for each font. It can also vary which letters of a font connect and which don’t.
As the last step, you can tell font apart by the space inside letters. If you look at “a”, “o”, or “g” you can make out differences in the rounding. Sometimes this rounding is circular, other times it’s oval. The so-called “counter”. Counters can be open or closed.
With these font characteristics, you can now distinguish all the different fonts before you choose one. If you’re interested in finding even more characteristics go to typedia.com.