In the world of graphic design, there are tons of terms that look so similar they become interchangeable. There are also words that don’t look similar, but are related; so they also get used interchangeably. In order to be a great graphic designer, you have to know all the jargon and lingo of the craft, right? Well… this may not be completely true.

There are a variety of words that get misused constantly; even by the greatest designers. How is this possible? Simply put, language is adaptable. If enough people use a word incorrectly, eventually it conforms to the new definition.

Graphic design however, is very non-conformist. So, I’m here to explain the differences between these commonly misused terms; and hopefully make it easier for you to be an even greater designer.

Typography Terminology

Typography terms can definitely be tricky. The terms don’t sound audibly similar, but they’re all related, and somewhat ambiguous.

Fonts Versus Typefaces

  • Font A font is a particular styling of a typeface such as bold, italic or underlined. Think of Ariel Bold, Ariel Black or Ariel Italic. Fonts are very specific, so Ariel by itself isn’t a font.
  • Typeface A typeface is family or group of fonts. For example, Helvetica is a family of fonts. Within the family of fonts you can have Helvetica Bold or Helvetica Italic.


Leading Versus Tracking Versus Kerning

  • Leading Leading is the space between each line of text. The leading is the space above and below the text in a document. In most word processors, this would be selecting single spacing or double spacing for your document.
  • Tracking Tracking is the amount of space between all the letters in a word. Tracking adjusts the spacing of characters in words and groups of words uniformly.
  • Kerning Kerning adjusts the space between two individual characters. Kerning only applies to a set of individual characters, not all of the characters in a word. This is mostly used when working with drop caps and other layout specific elements.

Line Height Versus X-Height

  • Line Height Line Height is the height of any line of text in a document.
  • X-Height X-Height is the height of the letter “x” in any given typeface.

Design Terminology

Like typography terms, design centric terms really confuse people. Some of these terms do sound similar, and they all seem like they really should be used interchangeably. In most cases, there’s only one small detail that makes these terms different, but that small detail is very important.

Hues Versus Colors

  • Hue A hue is a primary color (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet) that has no tint or tone added to it. It is a color in its purest form.
  • Color A color is any hue; no matter if it has a tint or tone applied to it. While hue refers to the purest forms of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, a color can be any variation of those hues including tints and tones.


Tints Versus Tones

  • Tint A tint is a primary color that has been modified by adding white. Tinting colors will make them brighter.
  • Tone A tone is a primary color that has been modified by adding the color gray. Toning a color will make it darker and muddier.

White Space Versus Negative Space

  • White Space White Space is the area of any document that is left unmarked. It’s important to note that white space will not always be represented by the color white.
  • Negative Space Negative Space is the intentional use of space within a shape or design to present an artistically meaningful illusion.

As you can see, there aren’t a lot of differences in the groups of graphic design terminology. The primary difference between a font and typeface is simply the styling, but that small thing can make a huge difference when you’re working on a very detailed design. It’s also important to know the differences when you’re working with a team of people. Using the incorrect word can drastically change your design. Any hue can be a color, but not any color can be a hue. Hues are only the primary colors. If you wanted a specific type of blue that isn’t pure blue, you need a color. Plain and simple.

I hope this helped all of you new and experienced designers! Be sure to share this with all of your graphic design peers and test their knowledge of these commonly misused graphic design terms.

About Eryn Stubblefield

Eryn Stubblefield is a visually impaired freelance graphic designer and writer. She achieved her goal of obtaining her Bachelor’s of Art in English, and motivates and encourages other blind and visually impaired individuals to follow their dreams.

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