Ascender vs Descender – what is ascender and descender in typography? This is a common question for many creative professionals. As a graphic designer or branding expert, you’ll come across a number of unusual terms throughout your career, including a number of typography-related words.
Typography is the art of arranging text on a page, using design elements such as typefaces and stylistic fonts to generate a specific response. Parents and descendants are typography elements that can influence the overall look of your design.
An ascender and a descender are the points in a character or letter that rise above or fall below the center baseline of a type.
Here’s what you need to know about ascenders and descenders…
What is an ascender in typography?
So what is the definition of an ascender in typography? Simply put, an ascender is anything that extends above x-height in a lowercase letter. Think of the letter “h”, “d” or “b” for example, the lines that go up are the ascenders.
Each typeface and typeface has a specific “x-height”, the central height of all major type components. This x-height is what makes a piece of text uniform. However, it is possible to deviate from the x-height in some logo design cases.
The x-height or baseline of a typography is the consistent line you should be looking at to create a sense of consistency in your design.
The concept of ascenders in typography actually goes back much further than most people think, to Greek scripts and fonts. The length and style of an ascender can make a significant difference in the readability and aesthetics of a typeface.
In many cases, the higher the ascendant, the easier it is to define a specific character in a word. For example, when high-speed roads were introduced in the UK, Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir designed high-rising typography to make traffic signs easier to read.
Ascender in typography definition: Low and high ascenders
In any font, it is possible to have high ascendants, low ascenders, or none at all. For branding experts and creative professionals, experimenting with ascenders is a great way to make a typeface unique.
With high ascenders, one often obtains a more decorative, very legible, even sophisticated image. For example, the “Charming” typeface uses extremely high ascenders, which makes it excellent for titles and subtitles.
The Josefine sans serif font also uses tall ascenders, but in a less decorative way, focusing instead on readability and making each word as easy to recognize as possible.
Alternatively, a lower ascender can create a more bubbly, playful, and modern font. Lower ascenders can make fonts appear chunky and large, while also making them easier to adapt to certain environments.
If you have limited space to lead a page, you can use a low ascender.
Litera uses low risers and descenders to create a clean, minimalist design.
The low risers and short risers used for the Teko allow for a very compact image, while helping the font feel bold and powerful.
In the Monoton font, we can hardly see an ascender or a descender at all. This, however, makes the font a bit less readable at smaller sizes.
What is a descendant in typography?
So if an ascender is the part of the character that rises above the x line, what is the definition of a descender in typography? Essentially, it’s just the part of the letter or character that sits below the center x line.
Think of the lines below the center line on letters like y, g, or q.
The descender works similarly to an ascender, adding legibility to a font and making it easier to recognize letters from a distance. Again, the majority of the letter sits on the baseline or x-line for your type, while anything that extends below is the “descendant.”
Some brand professionals take advantage of descenders to add flourishes and more eye-catching elements to a font. For example, if you have a lot of room to steer on your page, you can experiment with swirls and various elements below the x line.
Typically, descenders are only present on lowercase letters, but some typefaces will also add flowery elements to descenders on uppercase characters as well, such as with the letter “Q”.
Descender in typography definition: low and high ascenders
In particular, not all descenders are the same. Descendants of letters like “y” and “j” have a more curved shape, while the descender of a letter “g” will usually have a loop. Many designers also use straight lines for descenders on specific letters, like “p” or “q”.
Similar to ascenders, designers can use descenders in different ways to convey a certain emotion or concept with a typeface.
Typefaces like Brotherhood Script have long descenders and high ascenders, to make room for extra flourishes that make the font more creative.
Long descenders are great for handwritten, script, and decorative fonts because they allow designers to go beyond the basics of the x-line.
Fonts like Princess Sofia Regular use the long descenders and ascenders in the design to make the type look more playful and youthful.
However, fonts can also use much shorter descendants to make text look more compact or modern. It is often a popular choice when space is limited. Typefaces like Lobster Two Regular offer a great preview of how low descender fonts look.
Another example of a shorter descender comes from Fredoka One Regular. This typeface is bold, modern and compact, ideal for a headline.
In rare cases, it is possible to find fonts without any descendants. Often when companies want to avoid descenders and ascenders altogether, they use capital letters. Here is an example in the Unica One typeface, where a lower capital letter is used instead of a lowercase font.
Using ascending and descending elements in design
There is no real battle between bottom-up and top-down elements in the world of branding and design. Experts should consider both ancestors and descendants, and their relationship to the x line in any typeface, to ensure that the font is readable and attractive.
When you’re not careful, it’s possible to end up with a problem in both your ascenders and descenders, called “smashing” ascenders, or descenders. This happens when the rising or falling part of a letter touches another letter in the previous line.
When letters start to smash together and overlap, it makes words much harder to understand.
This is why anyone working with fonts and typefaces should ensure that they choose their ancestors and descendants carefully. This is also why you’ll need to make sure you understand how to use kerning, leading, and tracking to provide the right amount of wiggle room for each character.
Ultimately, whether you’re designing a web page or a logo, good typography design means creating something that not only looks good, but also conveys a message in an easy-to-read way.
Descendants and ancestors can vary greatly between typefaces, so knowing how to position each character together in an environment is crucial.
Mastering the bottom-up versus bottom-up debate
Ascendants and descendants may seem complex at first glance, but they are actually much simpler than they appear. The answer to the question “what is an ascender and a descender in typography”, is simply the components of a character rising above or extending below the x line of a police.
Learning how to use an ascender and descender in your own typographic designs will help you create a range of unique aesthetics for different brands, hoping to send unique messages.
Be sure to hone your kerning and leading skills before diving into this part of type design, however, to avoid the risk of a crash.
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