What are the most important letters key to Identifying a Typeface?

gregruffa's picture

I find certain letters help me identify a type face,
I generally look to the lowercase g, k, w those are my quick guide.
Is there a better key to identification? Got any thoughts?

Mark Simonson's picture

It's definitely possible to look to key letters or specific earmarks to help identify typefaces. This method is probably the most common. It's the basis for Rookledge's International Typefinder (1983). For me it's almost always an overall impression or "gestalt" that I look for. It's like recognizing a face of or a voice, the way you can recognize someone you know even if they are in disguise. The drawback of my method is I can't identify any typefaces I don't know. One thing I can say is "I" and "O" are almost no help at all. :-)

thranduil's picture

I agree with Mark. When you attain that kind of perception, sometimes you can identify a face just by its color. Like knowing exactly if Times New Roman is on the page. I don't know if anyone could identify a typeface mainly due to its proportion – that'd be amazing.

You can go with a, c, n, o, g, r, k, f. But mostly it's the italic that gives away the answer.

Stephen Coles's picture

a, g, e

Quincunx's picture

I think it differs per typeface. It depends on what letters characterise that specific typeface. But generally these will be letters like a, g, e, k, f, R, G, etc.

cuttlefish's picture

The lowercase g is certainly the most variable form from one typeface to another and probably gives the most clue to identification, but apart from stroke weight it can have very little relation to the rest of a typeface.

One lowercase h can look much like any other, but it has the detailed features of serifs and straight and arcing strokes that are replicated throughout much of the rest of the alphabet, and thus one can make a well reasoned guess at what the rest of a typeface might look like based on the h much more than you could with a g.

So, if one were to compare this to evidence gathering on a person, a g would be equivalent to a typeface's fingerprint, while the h would be like finding its skull.

eliason's picture

One lowercase h can look much like any other, but it has the detailed features of serifs and straight and arcing strokes that are replicated throughout much of the rest of the alphabet, and thus one can make a well reasoned guess at what the rest of a typeface might look like based on the h much more than you could with a g.

I've heard the same case made for 'R'. (stem, bowl, and diagonal)

Edward Long's picture

I find lowercase y is the first letter I look at. Very distinctive in Minion, Centaur, Bembo Italic, Bliss and Perpetua. After that I probably go to lowercase t, which is distinctive in Arial, Gill Sans, Helvetica, Palatino, Scala, Georgia and, again, Minion. Lowercase g gives away Goudy Old Style, Meta, Baskerville and Perpetua Italic. Capital R is quite good for distinguishing sans and also sticks out a long way in Bembo and Trajan.

While Times New Roman is "obvious", I struggle to find letters which give it away. Maybe the weird stress on the lowercase e or the not-very-italic-ness of the italic z.

sim's picture

If I had to choose only one letter, I'd say the a.

quadibloc's picture

@Edward Long:
While Times New Roman is "obvious", I struggle to find letters which give it away. Maybe the weird stress on the lowercase e or the not-very-italic-ness of the italic z.

The italic z is what's needed to distinguish the Monotype and Linotype versions of the typeface. I find that the uppercase L differentiates Times from many serif typefaces. Given what makes it "obvious", lowercase letters like b, that give away its x-height and its oblique stress, are perhaps the best bet; except for the capital Q, which it shares with some sizes of Caslon and several other typefaces, it indeed has no eccentric letter forms.

Stephen Coles's picture

I guess you two are only talking about serif typefaces?

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