Typography is the art and techniques of arranging type, type design, and modifying type glyphs. Type glyphs are created and modified using a variety of illustration techniques. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading (line spacing), letter-spacing (tracking) and kerning.
Typography is performed by typesetters, compositors, typographers, graphic artists, art directors, and clerical workers. Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation. Digitization opened up typography to new generations of visual designers and lay users.
Typography traces its origins to the first punches and dies used to make seals and currency in ancient times. The first known movable type printing artifact is probably the Phaistos Disc, though its real purpose remains disputed. The item dates between 1850 BC and 1600 BC, back to Minoan age and is now on display at the archaeological museum of Herakleion in Crete, Greece.
Typography with movable type was separately invented in 11th-century China, and modular movable metal type began in 13th-century China, was developed again in mid-15th century Europe with the development of specialised techniques for casting and combining cheap copies of letterpunches in the vast quantities required to print multiple copies of texts.
In contemporary use, the practice and study of typography is very broad, covering all aspects of letter design and application. These include:
Since digitization, typography has spread to a wider ranger of applications, appearing on web pages, LCD mobile phone screens, and hand-held video games. The ubiquity of type has led typographers to coin the phrase "Type is everywhere".
In traditional typography, text is composed to create a readable, coherent, and visually satisfying whole that works invisibly, without the awareness of the reader. Even distribution with a minimum of distractions and anomalies are aimed at producing clarity and transparency.
Choice of font(s) is perhaps the primary aspect of text typography—prose fiction, non-fiction, editorial, educational, religious, scientific, spiritual and commercial writing all have differing characteristics and requirements. For historic material, established text typefaces are frequently chosen according to a scheme of historical genre acquired by a long process of accretion, with considerable overlap between historical periods.
Contemporary books are more likely to be set with state-of-the-art seriffed "text romans" or "book romans" with design values echoing present-day design arts, which are closely based on traditional models such as those of Nicolas Jenson, Francesco Griffo (a punchcutter who created the model for Aldine typefaces), and Claude Garamond. With their more specialized requirements, newspapers and magazines rely on compact, tightly-fitted text romans specially designed for the task, which offer maximum flexibility, readability and efficient use of page space. Sans serif text fonts are often used for introductory paragraphs, incidental text and whole short articles. A current fashion is to pair sans serif type for headings with a high-performance seriffed font of matching style for the text of an article.
The text layout, tone or color of set matter, and the interplay of text with white space of the page and other graphic elements combine to impart a "feel" or "resonance" to the subject matter. With printed media typographers are also concerned with binding margins, paper selection and printing methods.
Typography is modulated by orthography and linguistics, word structures, word frequencies, morphology, phonetic constructs and linguistic syntax. Typography also is subject to specific cultural conventions. For example, in French it is customary to insert a non-breaking space before a colon (:) or semicolon (;) in a sentence, while in English it is not.
Readability and legibility are often confused. Readability is most often and more properly used to describe the ease with which written language is read and understood–it concerns the difficulty of the language itself, not its appearance. Factors that affect readability include sentence and word length, and the frequency of uncommon words.
In contrast, legibility describes how easily or comfortably a typeset text can be read. It is not connected with content or language, but rather with the size and appearance of the printed or displayed text.
Studies of legibility have examined a wide range of factors including type size and type design. For example, comparing serif vs. sans serif type, italic type vs. roman type, line length, line spacing, color contrast, the design of right-hand edge (for example, justification, straight right hand edge) vs. ranged left, and whether text is hyphenated.
Legibility research was published from the late nineteenth century on, but the overall finding has been that the reading process is remarkably robust, and that significant differences are hard to find. So comparative studies of seriffed vs. sans serif type, or justified vs. unjustified type, have failed to settle the argument over which is best.
Legibility is usually measured through speed of reading, with comprehension scores used to check for effectiveness (that is, not a rushed or careless read). For example, Miles Tinker, who published numerous studies from the 1930s to the 1960s, used a speed of reading test that required participants to spot incongruous words as an effectiveness filter.
These days, legibility research tends to be limited to critical issues, or the testing of specific design solutions (for example, when new typefaces are developed). Examples of critical issues include typefaces (also called fonts) for people with visual impairment, and typefaces for highway signs, or for other conditions where legibility may make a key difference.
Much of the legibility research literature is somewhat atheoretical — various factors were tested individually or in combination (inevitably so, as the different factors are interdependent), but many tests were carried out in the absence of a model of reading or visual perception. Some typographers believe that the overall word shape (Bouma) is very important in readability, and that the theory of parallel letterwise recognition is either wrong, less important, or not the entire picture.
Studies distinguishing between Bouma recognition and parallel letterwise recognition with regard to how people actually recognize words when they read, have favored parallel letterwise recognition, which is widely accepted by cognitive psychologists.
Some commonly agreed findings of legibility research include:
Legibility can also be compromised by letterspacing, word spacing, or leading that is too tight or too loose. It can be improved when generous vertical space separates lines of text, making it easier for the eye to distinguish one line from the next, or previous line. Poorly designed fonts and those that are too tightly or loosely fitted can also result in poor legibility.
Typography is an element of all printed material. Periodical publications, especially newspapers and magazines, use typographical elements to achieve an attractive, distinctive appearance, to aid readers in navigating the publication, and in some cases for dramatic effect. By formulating a style guide, a periodical standardizes on a relatively small collection of typefaces, each used for specific elements within the publication, and makes consistent use of type sizes, italic, boldface, large and small capital letters, colors, and other typographic features. Some publications, such as The Guardian and The Economist, go so far as to commission a type designer to create bespoke (custom tailored) typefaces for their exclusive use.
Different periodical publications design their publications, including their typography, to achieve a particular tone or style. For example, USAToday uses a bold, colorful, and comparatively modern style through their use of a variety of typefaces and colors; type sizes vary widely, and the newspaper's name is placed on a colored background. In contrast, the New York Times use a more traditional approach, with fewer colors, less typeface variation, and more columns.
Display typography is a potent element in graphic design, where there is less concern for readability and more potential for using type in an artistic manner. Type is combined with negative space, graphic elements and pictures, forming relationships and dialog between words and images.
Color and size of type elements are much more prevalent than in text typography. Most display typography exploits type at larger sizes, where the details of letter design are magnified. Color is used for its emotional effect in conveying the tone and nature of subject matter.
Display typography encompasses:
The wanted poster for the assassins of Abraham Lincoln was printed with lead and woodcut type, and incorporates photography.
Typography has long been a vital part of promotional material and advertising. Designers often use typography to set a theme and mood in an advertisement; for example using bold, large text to convey a particular message to the reader. Type is often used to draw attention to a particular advertisement, combined with efficient use of color, shapes and images. Today, typography in advertising often reflects a company's brand. Fonts used in advertisements convey different messages to the reader, classical fonts are for a strong personality, while more modern fonts are for a cleaner, neutral look. Bold fonts are used for making statements and attracting attention.
The history of inscriptional lettering is intimately tied to the history of writing, the evolution of letterforms, and the craft of the hand. The widespread use of the computer and various etching and sandblasting techniques today has made the hand carved monument a rarity, and the number of lettercarvers left in the USA continues to dwindle. For monumental lettering to be effective it must be considered carefully in its context. Proportions of letters need to be altered as their size and distance from the viewer increases. An expert letterer gains understanding of these nuances through much practice and observation of their craft. Letters drawn by hand and for a specific project have the possibility of being richly specific and profoundly beautiful in the hand of a master. Each can also take up to an hour to carve, so it is no wonder that the automated sandblasting process has become the industry standard.
To create a sandblasted letter, a rubber mat is laser cut from a computer file and glued to the stone. The sand then bites a coarse groove or channel into the exposed surface. Unfortunately, many of the computer applications, which create these files and interface with the laser cutter, do not have many typefaces available, and often have inferior versions of typefaces that are available. What can now be done in minutes, however, lacks the striking architecture and geometry of the chisel-cut letter which allows light to play across its distinct interior planes.