Sans Serif

From the Latin sans serif without serifs. Sans serif & slab seriftype forms made their first appearances around 1815–1817. Both are marked by simpler letterforms with (usually) relatively uniform strokeweight, lacking significant contrast, often geometric in underlying design. The earliest forms of sans and slab typefaces tended to be heavy, often monolithic, display faces, but there quickly evolved a wide range of styles. Although the earliest designs are not much used today, their descendants are common enough. Sans serif letters have no serifs, as the name suggests. The low contrast and absence of serifs makes most sans typefaces harder to follow for general reading. They are fine for a sentence, passable for a paragraph, but are difficult to use well in, say, the text of a book. The terminology of sans serif types can be confusing: essentially, gothic or grotesque are both generic names for sans serif. In sans serif faces, the italics are often, although not always, simply a sloped (mechanically obliqued) version of the roman letters, making them totally subordinate to the roman. By far the most common sans is Helvetica (1951, Miedinger), despite being abhorred by many typographers. Helvetica does have the advantage of coming in a huge range of weights and widths, which makes it versatile, and its ubiquitous character makes it easy to match. Other general-purpose sans serifs include Univers (Frutiger, 1952+), Arial (Monotype), Franklin Gothic (M.F. Benton, 1903) and Frutiger (Frutiger, 1975). Sprouting from the Art Deco movement in the 1920s and '30s (see Art Deco), radical geometrical shapes began to be used as the basis for sans serif designs. There are a few other common sans faces which do not fall cleanly into the above categories. Eric Gill's 1928 Gill Sans has an almost architectural quality, and its greater contrast and humanistic design makes it better-suited than most sans serif typefaces to setting bodies of text. The same can perhaps be said of a number of late 20th Century humanistic sans faces.


A class of blackletter types. The German name for Bastarda.

Scotch Modern

Screen fonts

Bitmap fonts used for screen display.


Script typefaces are based on handwriting; but often this is handwriting with either a flexible steel nib pen, or a broad-edged pen, and is thus unlike modern handwriting. Some common scripts based on steel nib styles include Shelley (Carter,1972), Coronet (Middleton, 1937–38), and Snell Roundhand (Carter, 1965, based on Snell ca. 1694). Script faces based more on the broad-edged tradition include the contemporary Park Avenue (Smith, 1933).There are also monoline scripts, which lack significant contrast in the letter strokes. One such is Freestyle Script. Brush typefaces look as if they were drawn with that instrument, which most of them were, at least in the original design from which the metal/film/digital face was created. Some of them resemble sign-painting lettering, such as Balloon (Kaufmann, 1939), Brush Script (Smith, 1942), and Dom Casual (Dom, 1952). Brushwork can also be the basis for script, as with Present Script (Sallaway, 1974) and Mistral (Excoffon, 1953) Although modern typography typically relegates the italic to a second- class citizenship subordinate to the roman, there are still some italic typefaces designed as such in their own right. The best known is doubtless Zapf Chancery (Zapf, 1979). Others include Medici Script (Zapf, 1974) and Poetica (Slimbach, 1992).

Section mark

A scribal form of double ‘s’, now used mainly for official documents like legal codes and statutes if the text is divided into sections.


A grammatical marker, combination of colon and comma, derived from European scribal practice. In classical Greek texts, semicolon is used as a question mark.


(1) A stroke added to the beginning or the end of one of the main strokes of a letter. In the roman alphabet, serifs are usually reflexive finishing strokes, forming unilateral or bilateral stops. (They are unilateral if they project only to one side of the main stroke, like the serifs at the head of T and the foot of L, and bilateral if they project to both sides, like the serifs at the foot of T and the head of L.) Transitive serifs — smooth entry or exit strokes — are the norm in italic. There are many descriptive terms for serifs, especially as they have developed in roman faces. They may be not only unilateral or bilateral, but also long or short, thick or thin, pointed or blunt, abrupt or adnate, horizontal or vertical or oblique, tapered, triangular and so on. In blackletters they are frequently scutulate (diamond shaped), and in some script faces, such as Tekton, the serifs are virtually round. (Not all type historians agree that the word serif should be used in the relation to italic letters. But some term is is necessary to denote the difference between, for example, Bembo italic and Gil Sans italic. The former is described as a serified italic, the latter as unserified).
(2) The name of typefaces with serifs.

Serif typefaces


The width of a letter and its surrounding space; the space needed to set a line of text in a specific typeface. Some programs have tracking to adjust the typeface to make it set looser or tighter. Also known as “advance width”.


A kind of decorated type style. In shaded type each character has something like shadow directed usually to the north-east. That shadow may be black, white with black contour or of any other color. Because of imaginary volume characters in shaded face call 3-dimentions (3-D). The character image (the letter face itself) of such styles may be outline or inline. Useful for headlines and initials.

Shaded rule

A rule consisting of many vertical lines.



In letterpress type, the level of metal upon which the relief letter sits on a piece of type. The shoulder provides support in letterpress printing for kerns that project from adjacent pieces.


The distance between the origin and the left edge of a character (left sidebearing) and the distance between the width line and the right edge of a character (right sidebearing).



The distance between adjacent lines of type with no extra space (leading) added between them. The type design determines how much of this overall space is actually occupied by letters when printed.


Litterally it means ‘fast-writing’. Running Cyrillic handwriting developed in the 14th century and flourished in the 17th century. It was used for formal correspondence as well as for business practice and personal correspondence. There are several variations depending on designation(formal, clerical, civil) and on location (moskovskaya, vilenskaya, kiyevskaya). Best samples demonstrate high calligraphic quality. Letters are characterized by strong calligraphic features, rounded shape, smooth strokes, a number of flourishes, ligatures and abbreviations. Normally distinguished by small lowercase counters, long ascenders and descenders, large-size uppercase. It is not easily translated from script to type due to numerous flourishes and ligatures.

Slab Serif

An abrupt or adnate thick serif, sometimes of the same thickness as a main stroke. Slab serifs are a hallmark of the Egyptian and Clarendon types: two groups of Realist faces produced in substantial numbers since the early nineteenth century. Memphis, Rockwell, and Serifa are examples.


An oblique stroke used for separation in dictionaries and linguistics. Medieval scribes used it as a form of comma. Slash should not be confused with fraction bar or solidus.


The angle of inclination of stems and extenders of letters. Not to be confused with axis. Most (but not all!) italics sloped to the right at something between 2 degrees and 20 degrees.


(1) Character designed to show paragraph breaks.
(2) A solid line of casting type.

Small capitals

A set of capital letters having almost the same height as the lowercase x-height (in fact they are a little higher). Small caps are frequently used for cross references and abbreviations. They are known in Europe from the 16th century in printing books. Often abbreviated s.c.


Horizontal spacing, i.e., the spacing between words and between letters on a line, is most often measured in ems and ens. An em is a space equal to the current point size. An en is one-half the width of an em. So a 12-point font would have a 12 point em and a 6 point en, while an 8-point font would have an 8 point em and a 4 point en. A regular space between words is held to be one-third of an em.In justified type the inter-word spacing is necessarily going to vary. The more narrow a column-width, the more variation will occur in the spacing of justified type. This is one argument in favor of unjustified text where the line-length is very short. Ideally, words in regular text should not be spaced apart more than an en or less than a quarter em (one «thin space»). Thin spaces are often used to separate dashes from adjacent words, and single quotes from double quotes. Letterspacing is more easily and smoothly accomplished today than in the age of hot type, but it is often abused. When used for effect in headings, it is important to also space the words themselves widely enough apart to separate them clearly. Letter spacing in justified text should be used sparingly.


The central curved stroke of the letter S.



A mathematical curve specified by a number of points and possibly tangents. Also, a drafting tool for drawing such curves.


A projection smaller than a serif that reinforces the point at the end of a curved stroke, as in the capital letter G.

Square brackets


A main stroke that is more or less straight, not part of a bowl. The letter o has no stem; the letter I consists of stem and serifs alone.


The angle at which contrast occurs, usually ranging from vertical to a somewhat back-slanted diagonal. This can best be noted by looking at, for example, the letter «O» and noting if the bottom left is thicker than the top left, and the top right is thicker than the bottom right. If this difference exists, the letter has diagonal stress. If the two halves of the «O» are a mirror image of each other, with the sides thicker than the top/bottom, then the letter has vertical stress. If the top and bottom of the «O» are the same thickness as the sides, there is neither contrast nor stress.


A line which may be expanded in width; or the width of the linear elements that compose characters.

Style features


Letters or symbols positioned slightly below the baseline within a line of text and generally smaller in size.


Small characters above another characters. Used in mathematician and chemistry formulae, fractions, reference marks etc.


Small characters above another characters.


A decorative, flourished variant of a standard Italic letter, more frequently seen in capitals than in lowercase.



Any graphic form such as a letter, number, punctuation mark, or mathematical sign.