Type Lingo

by | Design tips

I’m all about doing things in as few steps as possible. One way to keep revisions down and a job moving smoothly is speaking the same language. While I’m pretty good at deciphering requests, I thought some common type terms might be useful.

I’ve had several people ask about tracking when they really meant leading. Similarly, tracking and kerning get confused.

Kerning is an adjustment of the horizontal space between characters, including the space between words, within a line of text. Kerning is particularly important for headlines and larger typeset text. It will harmoniously pair two letters so that the space between all the letters of a word feel equal.

Tracking is an adjustment of the whole line of text, spacing all the characters evenly.

Leading is the amount of space added between lines of text to make a document more legible.

Kern, Track, and Leading Sample

Another point of uncertainty I find people have is talking about alignment.

Alignment refers to the positioning of text within the page margins. A block of text can be flush left, flush right, justified or centered. A paragraph with justified text has no white space at the end of the line, it is forced to track or spread to fill out the margin width. Unjustified text or flush left rag right has an uneven look. This is where hyphenating some words to make a ‘nice rag’ versus having very jarring line breaks makes a difference in over all appearance.

Alignment Sample

Lastly, I’d like to discuss the difference between hyphens, en and em dashes. 

en and em dashes are a common unit of measurement in typography and are usually used to indicate a break in a sentence. Often I’ll find two hyphens used in copy when really you want to use en or em dash there. En is traditionally the width of a capital N and em the width of a capital M. I find that the use of en or em is interchangeable, so choose the one you prefer. It also varies depending on the font you choose, some em’s feel too wide in a sentence and then I’ll use a en dash instead. Use a hyphen for compound words and dates and times like this: 8:00am-10:00am. Should you add a space before and after? Grammatically no, but I find it is more a visual thing than a hard rule. Best practice is to find the style you like and stick with it throughout all your branding and correspondence.


This is by no means a comprehensive list, just several I find need explaining. Hope this is helpful.


Hi, I’m Jeanine, I produce attention-grabbing designs for non-profits that resonate with your donors. Whether you need a direct mail appeal package or collateral materials for a virtual event or gala, my personalized service helps solve your design challenges. Contact me to discuss your next design project.

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