Character design standards

The purpose of our character Design Standards is to state the general rules for character shapes in Latin based languages in digital fonts. Primarily defining the guidelines designers use for character alignments, both vertical and horizontal and how these relate to other similar characters or character groups.

These guidelines should be thought of as a roadway to the goal of a well made typeface. This roadway is not a heavily patrolled, narrow one lane street but a well marked multi-lane path that takes you where you want to go.

Making digital type is not the same as drawing a typeface

The art and process of designing letterforms is a very creative task but it is not void of the rules and guidelines that govern good design. Any form of design is a solution to a problem or need. A good design is one that is appropriate for its use without any inappropriate features.

As an example, a well designed house is one large enough for its inhabitants, stylistically equivalent to its culture and strong enough for its environment. A well designed typeface is appropriate for its use and its final usable form appropriate for that use or device.

This document is about the final usable font. It is not a definition of how to use or design a typeface. This document also is less concerned with the artistic decisions in creating letterforms than it is with creating a usable, functional solution for written communication.

Type is a tool for communication

Type is the single most used method of communication. Most people are not aware of this fact because type is usually doing its job by delivering and not distracting from the message. To continue to do that job digitally we must consider that the solution for a printed document is very different than the solution for a low resolution screen. These images may be derived from the same source but the final images seen are NOT the same thing. The rules and design decisions made for the printed high resolution images need to be keep separate from those of low resolution devices. A new set of rules needs to be adopted for these new devices.

Visual equality is not mathematical equality

The most important concept in type design is visual equality. It is the most used technique in designing letterforms. Type designers make very subtle changes to different letterforms to make them appear equal. They lighten vertical strokes when there are multiple strokes and make serifs different lengths to make them visually the same. Sidebearings, advance widths and stem weights are all examples of this balancing technique. The technique is to be used at the right time and should not be confused with poorly marked or aligned stems, badly spaced glyphs or inconsistent vertical and horizontal distances.

In the following chapters we will discuss the guidelines and rules that apply to making the highest quality TrueType and OpenType fonts for low resolution and high resolution devices.

This document contains only technical information that is helpful in explaining the design standards. For additional technical information that pertains to the specific font formats TrueType, OpenType, AAT fonts, PostScript font files or Unicode see the specific technical specification.

In finalizing this specification it would be incomplete without acknowledging the input and support I've received from friends and colleagues around the world. All though I have spent my entire professional career in type production and training at and for type and software corporations, I could not have correctly explained all the standards and design requirements of these letterforms without their input and help. Susan Lightfoot of Monotype Typography provided valuable input into the correctness of the text and production processes. Geraldine Wade of Monotype was very helpful with her expertise and extensive research into character origins and language specific requirements. I collaborated constantly with Simon Daniels on the layout, design and planning, and he is responsible for finalizing these documents for the web. Jean-François Porchez and Jacques André provided valuable proofing support and input into French typographic practices. Mário Feliciano provided insight into the use of ordinals in Portuguese. Adam Twardoch and his web site are a good resource for designing diacritics in the Polish language. Bill Kienzel explained the proper design for the uppercase Eng and the lowercase kra and Matthew Carter finally cleared up why occasionally some letters are different heights than others. Many thanks to Thomas Phinney and David Lemon of Adobe Systems who provided naming information and character design input. George Ryan of Galapagos Design Group for sharing his experiences at Mergenthaler Linotype and John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks for his ideas and his linguistic expertise. Arno Schmitt, Prof. Erik Spiekermann and David Berlow helped sort out some information on ligatures.


The Chicago manual of style, 14th ed. The University of Chicago. (Chicago, IL USA: The University of Chicago Press, 1969, 1982, 1993) ISBN: 0-226-10389-7 (cloth)
An invaluable resource for writers and typographers.

Words into Type, 3rd ed. Marjorie E. Skillin, Robert Malcolm Gay. (Englewood Cliffs, NJ USA: Prentice Hall, 1974) ISBN: 0-13-964262-5.
A nice companion to The Chicago manual of style. This book explains both setting text as well as mathematics.

Lexique des règles typographiques. Imprimerie nationale (France: Imprimerie nationale. 1990) ISBN: 2-11-081075-0 (pbk.)
Internet :
A French language book. This is the book of typographic rules that the national printing office of France publishes and uses in its publications and books.

Calligraphy: The art of written forms: Donald M. Anderson. (New York, NY USA: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1969) ISBN: 0-486-27212-5 (pbk.)
This is more a book about the history of written communication than a book on calligraphy. Includes Latin and non-Latin scripts.

The elements of typographic style, Robert Bringhurst (Vancouver BC Canada: Hartley & Marks, Publishers, 1992, 1996, 1997) ISBN: 0-88179-133-4 (bound) ISBN: 0-88179-132-6 (pbk.)
Popularly voted 'the typographer's bible' with in-depth character definitions and descriptions.

American metal typefaces of the twentieth century. Mac McGrew (Delaware, USA: Oak Knoll Books, 1986, 1993) ISBN: 0-938768-34-4 (bound) ISBN: 0-938768-39-5 (pbk.)
Nicely printed hard cover book with almost every American metal typeface released in the twentieth century. Includes a few display types and a few imports in the back. Also has nice tidbits on the bottom of some pages.

Memoire des metiers du livre, à l'usage de la publication, assitée par ordiateur. Roger Dédame avec le concours d'André Delord (France: Éditions Cercle d'Art & Association pour la formation permanente des personnels d'imprimerie. 1998) ISBN: 2-7022-0495-3 (pbk.)
French language book on typography and mechanical and computer writing systems in France.

Ligatures & caractères contextuels. Jacques André, Jean-Louis Estève. (Rennes, France: Association GUTenberg. 1995) ISSN: 1140-9304.
French language book. An excellent compilation of research papers on ligatures in Latin languages with some non-Latin ligature examples.

Branding with Type, How type sells. Stefan Rögener, Albert-Jan Pool, Ursula Packhäuser, E.M. Ginger. (Mountain View, CA USA: Adobe Press, Adobe Systems Inc. 1995) ISBN: 1-56830-248-7 (pbk.)
One of the books in the series of Adobe Press books on typography, originally published in German. This book concentrates on typography and its use in European Advertising.

The Unicode Standard, Version 2.0. The Unicode Consortium. (Reading, MA USA: Addison-Wesley Developers Press, 1991-1996) ISBN: 0-201-48345-9 (pbk.)
Technical specification for Unicode character encoding. The place to find Unicode numbers for characters in Latin and non-Latin scripts.

The Microsoft OpenType Specification. Microsoft Corporation. (Redmond, Washington. Microsoft Corporation. 1990-1998)
The technical specification for Microsoft OpenType fonts.

The Hewlett-Packard Book of Characters. Hewlett-Packard Company. (Boise, ID: Hewlett-Packard Company, 1990)
The description of characters for Hewlett-Packard printers and code pages.

The Art & Technology of Typography. Compugraphic Corporation. (Wilmington MA USA: Compugraphic Corporation. 1988)
A pamphlet released by Compugraphic for its typesetting customers. It has common descriptions and examples of typographic terms, characters and uses.

Guide to Macintosh Software Localization. Apple Computer, Inc. (Reading, MA USA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992) ISBN: 0-201-60856-1 (pbk.)
Part of the Inside Macintosh series technical specifications. Specifically relates to user interfaces and text on worldwide Macintosh Systems. Shows examples of user interface guidelines, keyboard layouts, localised character sets, language descriptions, country and writing systems.

HTML 4.0. World Wide Web Consortium. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institut National de Recherche en Informatique et en Automatique, Keio University, 1997).
Internet: Technical specification for HTML.

What's next

Uppercase characters