Tips for self-publishers: Typography 101

We’re going to be talking about fonts in the next few posts. Before we do, it makes sense to introduce a few basic terms and concepts in typography: the science and art of lettering.

Let’s look at a letter


Don’t worry, I’m not going all Sesame Street on you. ‘A’ is the only letter we need. We’re interested in typography here, so let me describe that specific letter ‘A’ as it appears in the paperback version of this book.

That character is an upper case letter ‘A’ which is part of a font called Times New Roman. Instead of a ‘character’ I might also refer to it as a glyph, which means one entry in the list of characters and other shapes defined in the font. We’ll see more about glyphs in a moment.

Now let’s look at another glyph.


It’s still an ‘A’ and if I’m running Microsoft Word under Windows, then my Font menu in the Ribbon still says it is Times New Roman. However, the definition of the glyph actually comes from a different font file. This time it comes from the Times New Roman Italic font file, a font where the glyph for every letter slants to the right.

The fact that Windows does all this in the background for you is usually a good thing. All you need to know is that the ‘I’ button makes text italic and ‘B’ makes it bold. Not only that, but with most fonts – certainly almost all those that come with Windows and Microsoft Office, the result will be a true italic or bold glyph and not a glyph that has been created on the fly and can look ugly (what’s called a faux glyph). If you’re very unlucky though, this can go wrong as I explain in  Typography 909, a chapter later in my book.

Mac OS works differently from Windows: all the font variants in the font family are presented in font dialogs. You get to see Times New Roman Italic listed as a separate font from Times New Roman, and you get to see Times New Roman Bold, and Bold Italic too.

Under the hood, Macs work the same way as Windows in that if you select some text in Times New Roman font and press the ‘I’ button to make it italic – then this will automatically change the font for that text to Times New Roman Italic. Macs allow the additional option of selecting text and then changing the font of that text to be an italic or bold font, or whatever.

Some handy definitions

People often mix up terms such as ‘typeface’ and ‘fonts’. It can get confusing so I’ve set out below the definitions that I use.

Font — a set of characters (called glyphs). For example, Times New Roman Bold, Times New Roman, and Times New Roman Italic are all separate fonts.

Typeface — a set of related fonts. For example, Times New Roman is a typeface that consists for a normally weighted font, a bold font, an italic font, and a bold-italic font.

‘Typeface family’ — Some typefaces have ‘sibling’ fonts. For example, Deja Vu family has monotype, sans-serif, and serif typefaces. In practice, the difference between typeface and typeface family isn’t always so clear cut. When picking fonts to use, selecting fonts from the same typeface family is one good approach because the fonts will not ‘fight’ each other. Typeface family is not a widely or consistently used term, but the concept is worth knowing.

Faux glyphs — where Microsoft Word (or another app) knows you want a character to be bold, small cap or whatever, but builds the glyph for you by altering the regular glyph rather than picking a font that is designed to be bold, or small cap etc. For almost all general-purpose fonts you will come across, the only faux glyphs you will see in Word will be for small caps. Faux glyphs are much more common with fancy and display fonts.

Next time, we’ll look at OpenType special effects such as ligatures and stylistic sets.

Follow this link to my other writing and publishing tips

This article was adapted from ‘Format Your Print Book for Createspace: 2nd Edition‘ available now as a Kindle eBook, and as a 296 page paperback:

eBook: |

Paperback |



About Tim C. Taylor

Science fiction publisher and author of the bestselling Human Legion series. I live with my wife and young family in an English village. I am currently writing full time, when I'm not roped into building Lego.
This entry was posted in Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Tips for self-publishers: Typography 101

  1. timctaylor says:

    My pleasure. I think it must be Gabriola or Impact. I’ve just published a book that uses Gabriola for the chapter titles. Very nice.

  2. Pat West says:

    Very helpful, as usual, Tim. I also discovered another font I liked in the process!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s