Every font comes in a regular typeface that works as its identification in any given setting and enables it to be distinguished from other fonts. However, there are times when, while designing, it becomes imperative to use a variant of the regular typeface for the sake of complementing the design and this is where font characteristics come into play. The word ‘characteristic’ refers to a particular aspect of the font that can be altered so that its appearance takes on a difference and enhances its visual appeal.

Following are the main characteristics of fonts that are prone to alteration –

Weight – Whether the font appears to be extra-bold or thin as a hairline depends on its weight, meaning this attribute determines the thickness of the alphabets. While the basic weight of a character varies from one font to another, options might range from a few to as many as a dozen. Therefore, some fonts are meant to appear as bold in their normal form whereas for others it is possible to increase or decrease the weight by several notches.

Weights that render the font thinner than its regular form are hairline, light, ultra-light and so on while those that render it more prominent are bold, extra-bold, heavy, black and so on.

Slope – Commonly referred to as oblique or italic, this quality causes the character of the font to slat or tilt mostly towards the right. On being given an italic property, the font acquires a cursive or handwritten look and features a number of swashes along its length. The manner in which the italic style is expressed varies from one font to another and even as per the origin of the font namely Japanese, Arabic or Cyrillic.

Width – When the characters stretch or compress beyond their normal self, the characteristic which is affected is referred to as width. Therefore, a font can be made wider or extended beyond its normal realms and on the other hand it can also be condensed or made narrow than its actual size.

Not all fonts provide the option of width adjustment and as per the norm the width should be increased or decreased as per the availability of space. For example, Times New Roman comes in a narrow width so as to ensure economy of space while Bahaus and Palatino are meant to be thick so as to ensure high visibility.

Optical size – This characteristic comes into play when the font is optimized to a certain size to serve a particular purpose. In terms of its optical size, the font may range from being very small to very large with some of the in-between settings being display, subhead and small text.

Serif – On applying this property, the basic character in any font family acquires a stroke at its end which in turn completely changes its appearance. Addition of serif could be full-fledged, namely Antiqua, partial or slab serif, namely Egyptian or completely without in which case it is referred to as sans-serif.

Metrics – Numeric data pertaining to the font is referred to as its metric and its is inclusive of height, depth and glyphs.

Understanding the characteristics of a font is a must for every designer as the knowledge would enable him to present his work in a manner which is both apt as also visually appealing.