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.



It’s been a few weeks since my last post, but I want to get back on top of it, so here we go! Today we are diving right into counters. In typography, counters are the partially or fully enclosed space in a letter. Counters come in all shapes and sizes and, because of that reason, play an important part in legibility.


Due to the large, open counters that give a typeface a portion of it’s legibility a direct byproduct is usually a taller x-height to accommodate the larger counters. Taller x-heights (usually) result in an overall increase in legibility, thus causing a direct correlation between counters and x-height. Finally because the majority of the letters we read are lowercase, the overall effect is a positive step in gaining better legibility.

Below is an example of a typeface with small counters and a typeface with large counters. When set in body copy, it is easy to see how typefaces with larger counters (therefore larger x-heights) are more legible.



What’s the Point?

Counters have a direct impact on x-height and because of that, impact the overall legibility of the typeface.

Counter:  the partially or fully enclosed space in a letter. Examples include a,b,c,d,g,o,p,q.s,A,B,C,D,G,O,P,Q,R, and S.


Points, Picas, and Inches

Awwww, snap. Here we go. What we will be discussing today is the relationship between points, picas, and inches. What are points and picas and how do they relate to inches you ask? Well here we go…

pica-and-pointsTo the left is a 1 inch line. Dividing that line are 72 smaller lines. These are called points. Points are the smallest unit in typography and many people are familiar with them sense they usually select a point size in their word processor (Think 12 point Times New Roman). There are also 6 larger hash marks hanging ragged left. these 6 hash marks are pica marks. Picas (pronounced pie-ka) are also a typographical unit of measurement composed of 12 points. A pica is equal to 12 points and ⅙ of an inch. Thus, 6 picas is equal to 1 inch (and now you know why the site is called 6picas)

So now does that mean if someone sets a title in 72 point type the letters will be 1 inch high? No. As counterintuitive as it sounds, 72 point letters will not be an inch tall. Looking back at the post Typography 101, letters reside in an em square. If the type size is set to 72 points the em square will be 72 points high. Meaning, from the descender to the ascender roughly 72 points or 1 inch. I say roughly because although the type designer lays out the type in the square, it doesn’t necessarily mean he/she used all the space within for their ascender and descender (including the overshoots). 95% of the time; however, the line height of a 72 point typeface will be an inch high. For example, highlighting the em square in the background, one can see where the baseline , cap-height and the descender are in relation to the overall square.em-square-realtion-to-point-size

 So What’s the Point?

Although 72pt is equal to an inch, 72 point letters are not an inch tall, but the line height usually is.

point: The smallest unit of measurement in typography (12 points to a pica or 72 points to an inch) Bonus: The point was invented by Pierre Simon Fournier

pica: (pronounced pie-ka) A unit of measurement corresponding to 12 points or 1/6 of an inch.