Strokes and Stems

Strokes and stems, strokes and stems, gotta have me some strokes and stems. In my type that is… And that is what we will be talking about today. Let us start off talking about stems.



In typography, a stem is a vertical, full-length stroke in upright characters (ie. L, H, f, l , h,P, etc.) As long as the vertical stroke reaches it’s appropriate x-height, cap-height, or ascender height, it is considered a stem. When attempting to identify the stem on a particular character, it will help associating the character with a plant. Just as a plant has a stem which the leaves, branches and flowers originate, so does the parts of the letter. For example, the lower case h. The strong vertical line acts as a base in which the shoulder of the h connects to.


StrokeStrokes, although oft used as a term to describe a single, uninterrupted line in painting or drawing,in typography a stroke is the main diagonal line in a character. Letters such as: N,M, Z, W, etc all have at least one stroke. The stroke, when present, is always secondary to the main stem. In some stemless letterforms, the stoke is the main structure (ie. A, V, W, Z.)


What’s The Point?

A stroke is the main diagonal line in letters and the stem is the main vertical line.

  • Letters such as: h, n, k, l, L, H, K, R, etc have stems.
  • Letters such as: W,Z, N, M, z, x, v, etc have strokes.