Typography Basics

Typography is not simply about choosing the best typeface for a particularly application. Although that is an important first step, the details and attention paid to the final text easily distinguish an experienced designer from a novice. Here are a few tips to get you started on the path of good typography.

Small Caps

Small caps are the uppercase characters at the size of a font’s x-height. An important distinction, however, small caps are not simply  smaller versions of the same capital letterforms. True small caps are crafted differently to be readable at smaller sizes and to flow within the text. I Love Typography has a great visual representation of the difference between the caps and small caps letterforms.

Usage: for acronyms like lol and abbreviations such as am or pm.

Hyphens & Dashes

Three different types of hyphens and dashes should exist in every designers toolbox: the hyphen (-), en dash (–), and em dash (—).


Hyphens are short dashes used to link hyphenated words and connect word breaks at the end of lines. A good way to remember their use is to remember that they connect, like joining numerals in a phone number or a word across two lines.

Usage: Typographic rules can be a real eye-opener.

Em Dash

The em dash is based upon a unit of measurement and used to indicate a break in thought. An em is the length in points of a font. So, for a 12pt font the em would be 12pts long. You can use an em dash in place of parentheses.

Usage: You are the dash—the best dash—to create drama.

En Dash

The en dash half the length of an em dash and is used to indicate a range of values.

Usage: indicating a span in dates such as March 3–7, 2012.

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