Letter Anatomy Basics

Typography uses a standard set of terms to describe letter forms

In typography, a standard set of terms is used to describe the parts of a character. These terms and the parts of the letters they represent are often referred to as "letter anatomy" or "typeface anatomy." By breaking down letters into parts, a designer can better understand how type is created and altered and how to use it effectively.


The baseline is the invisible line on which characters sit. While the baseline may differ from typeface to typeface, it is consistent within a typeface. Rounded letters such as "e" may extend slightly below the baseline. Descenders of letters, such as the tail on a "y" extend below the baseline.

Mean line

The mean line, also called midline, falls at the top of many lowercase letters such as "e," "g" and "y." It is also where the curve of letters like "h" reach.


The x-height is the distance between the mean line and the baseline. It is referred to as the x-height because it is the height of a lowercase "x." This height varies greatly among typefaces.

Cap Height

The cap height is the distance from the baseline to the top of uppercase letters like "H" and "J."


The part of a character that extends above the mean line is known as an ascender. This is the same as extending above the x-height.


The part of a character that extends below the baseline is known as a descender, such as the bottom stroke of a "y."


Fonts are often divided into serif and sans serif. Serif fonts are distinguishable by the extra small strokes at the ends of the character strokes. These small strokes are called serifs.


The vertical line of an upper case "B" and the primary diagonal line of a "V" are known as stems. A stem is often the main "body" of a letter.


The horizontal lines of an upper case "E" are known as bars. Bars are horizontal or diagonal lines of a letter, also known as arms. They are open on at least one side.


An open or closed circular line that creates an interior space, such as found in the lower case "e" and "b" is called a bowl.


The counter is the empty space inside a bowl.


The bottom stroke of a letter, such as the base of an "L" or the diagonal stroke of a "K" is referred to as the leg.


The curve at the beginning of a leg of a character, such as in a lower case "m."

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