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Types of Type

If we are to use type, then we need to be able to identify the type of type that we are using. We need to classify it so that we can apply the rules of type selection. This, fortunately, isn't hard.

Basically, type can be described as serif or non- or sans-serif. Serifs are the little extra lines which are the remnants of the lines we use to join writing together. Serifs are shown in the diagrams below.

So we can use type more precisely, we can further divide it into:

  1. Type with serifs:
    1. Oldstyle
    2. Modern
    3. Slab Serif
  2. Sans Serif
  3. Script, and
  4. Decorative

Remember we are doing this not to provide a way of classifying type for its own sake. We are doing it so we can use type wisely.

Spend some time examining the groups below:


Oldstyle is type that developed from writing and has remnants of the little lines we use to join our writing. These lines, or serifs are usually slanted on the lower letters.

Also, oldstyle has what is called diagonal stress. Stress is the angle of the type - not its slant - but the angle of the thick and thin parts of the type.

The thick and thin transitions are called weight variations. They mirror the change in line thickness when we use a pen. Oldstyle has moderate variations in weight.

oldstyle.jpg (37246 bytes)


Modern type (which is often a few hundred years old) has serifs which are normally horizontal on the lower letters. The stress is vertical, and the transitions or weight variations are often radical! Modern style is characterised by these these thick/ thin transitions.


modern.jpg (36993 bytes)

Slab Serif

Slab serif has serifs which are like 'slabs' and are thick and chunky. Hence its name. The stress is vertical and the transitions are minimal.

slab-serif.jpg (39217 bytes)

Sans Serif

Not surprisingly, sans serif type has no serifs whatsoever! There is no stress because the transitions are minimal or non-existent. As with all these descriptions, there are exceptions. Hence, the 'g' has a serif in the example below!


sans-serif.jpg (30834 bytes)


Script is type that looks like writing!

script.jpg (7779 bytes)


Decorative type is fancy type or type does not belong in the other categories.


Remember why we are classifying type. It is so that we can use this knowledge to select type sensibly. Why not look at the list of type from my computer and try your hand at classifying it. It's much easier than you think. Compare your answers with mine. If we differ, you might be right! So let me know!

Home --> How to classify type --> Rules of Using Type --> Examples of Identifying Type --> Contrasting Type --> Other things about type (Some definitions) --> Letter Spacing (Kerning) --> Tracking

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