Counter (typography)

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The counter of the letter "p" shown in red

In typography, a counter is the area of a letter that is entirely or partially enclosed by a letter form or a symbol (the counter-space/the hole of).[1][2] Letters containing closed counters include A, B, D, O, P, Q, R, a, b, d, e, g, o, p, and q. Letters containing open counters include c, f, h, i, s etc. The digits 0, 4, 6, 8, and 9 also possess a counter. An aperture is the opening between the counter and the outside of the letter.

The lowercase 'g' has two typographic variants: the single-story 'Opentail g.svg' has one counter; the double-story 'Looptail g.svg' has two counters.

Open and closed apertures[edit]

Different typeface styles have different tendencies to use open or more closed apertures. This design decision is particularly important for sans-serif typefaces, which can have very wide strokes making the apertures very narrow indeed.

Images of the typefaces Corbel, Helvetica and Haettenschweiler.
Three sans-serif fonts: Corbel with open apertures, Helvetica with closed apertures and Haettenschweiler which is also condensed. Notice how 8 and 9 in Haettenschweiler are barely distinguishable.

Fonts designed for legibility at small sizes often have very open apertures, keeping the strokes widely separated from one another to reduce ambiguity; this may be especially important for printing on poor-quality paper on which the ink may spread out.[3] Fonts with open apertures include Lucida Grande, Trebuchet MS, Corbel and Droid Sans, all designed for use on low-resolution displays, and Frutiger, FF Meta and others designed for print use.[4] This design trend has become increasingly common with the spread of humanist sans-serif designs since the 1980s and the 1990s and the use of computers requiring new fonts which are legible on-screen.

Helvetica can’t do can be really weak in small sizes. Shapes like ‘C’ and ‘S’ curl back into themselves, leaving tight "apertures"—the channels of white between a letter’s interior and exterior... The lowercase ‘e,' the most common letter in English and many other languages, takes an especially unobliging form. These and other letters can be a pixel away from being some other letter.

Tobias Frere-Jones[5]

Realist or neo-grotesque sans-serif fonts like Helvetica use very closed apertures, folding up stroke ends to make them closer together. This gives these designs a distinctive, compact appearance, but may make similar letterforms hard to distinguish. Closed letterforms on highly condensed realist designs such as Impact and Haettenschweiler make characters such as 8 and 9 almost indistinguishable at small print sizes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maxymuk, John (1997). Using desktop publishing to create newsletters, handouts, and Web pages (GOOGLE BOOKS (SNIPPET VIEW)). Neal-Schuman. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-55570-265-6. Retrieved July 19, 2009. Counter is the white space center of enclosed letters like Bb, Dd, Pp. 
  2. ^ Narang, Sumita (2006). Designing Websites: According to the Ancient Science of Directions (GOOGLE BOOKS (LIMITED PRVIEW)). Smita Jain Narang. p. 74. ISBN 978-81-207-3071-7. Retrieved July 19, 2009. Open space in a letter is called the counter or the aperture. 
  3. ^ "Mercury Text: Features". Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  4. ^ Whited, Billy. "Three Exemplary Typefaces for User Interfaces". The Typekit Blog. Adobe. Retrieved 28 November 2014. 
  5. ^ Covert, Adrian. "Why Apple's New Font Won't Work On Your Desktop". FastCoDesign. Retrieved 28 November 2014.