Some typefaces with serifs, have on some ends round blobs, to simulate the little blob a pen would leave, if written with one. For example, in IBM Plex Serif:

enter image description here

The pink dots are the parts I mean. They usually appear instead of a serif, either the upper one, or the one that isn't a slab serif, as is the case with the f, r, and y. The dot on the ear of the g seems to be slightly different than all others, but that might be just a coincidence.

What are these called, and is there a typographical significance to them, other than just stylistic? In typefaces like Garamond, the serifs are slightly thicker, but not circular blobs like these.

Here's for reference, the same letters as above, without the pink highlights:

enter image description here

  • Those might be the terminals. – usr2564301 Nov 25 at 0:02
up vote 9 down vote accepted

I know those as:

  • ball terminals (references: 1, 2),

  • teardrops or teardrop terminals (reference),

  • The one on the top right of a binocular g is usually called ear, irrespective of its shape (references: 1, 2). You could describe your example g as having a teardrop ear, I suppose.

Note that terminal is usually used in a much wider sense, including several kinds of ends of strokes, e.g., the bottom right end of the letter c in your example does not feature a circular structure, but it would usually still be referred to as a terminal. By contrast, the ear of a binocular g is not a terminal.

is there a typographical significance to them, other than just stylistic?

Well, first of all, using ball terminals very likely originate from calligraphic artifacts and using them in a typeface is a stylistic choice.

However, they do have effects like balancing the black area of the glyph, in particular when there is a strong contrast of stroke widths. In a related manner, they also avoid the impression that letters will topple or are tilted (mostly relevant at large sizes). This is easy to see with a binocular g which usually is off balance without its ear, for example:

binocular g with and without ear

Also, ball terminals can emphasise distinguishing features of different characters, thus aiding readability. For example, in the following, the letters v and y from the same typeface are superimposed:

v any y with teardrop superimposed

As you can see, the ball terminal makes up most of the red and green area (the difference). If it wasn’t there, readers may more easily mistake a y for a v.

So, you cannot just remove ball terminals from a typeface without compensating for it, e.g., by changing the stroke widths.

  • The lowercase g is one of the most distinctive glyphs to use for identifying a typeface. The "ear" of the glyph is a strong stylistic touch. As a matter of trivia, a synonym for an identifying characteristic is referred to as an "ear mark." – Stan Nov 25 at 14:28
  • Thanks man, you rock! – polemon Nov 27 at 1:43

In Spanish we have several words for it, the most common is lóbulo (lobe like in earlobe), but also tear, drop or button. If I have to describe it I will normally say "el lóbulo de la letra c" (the letter c lobe) and this is understandable for everybody.

Knowing the evolution of Roman letters is closely linked to the handwritten calligraphy of the Middle Ages amanuensis, it's very likely that the terminals of lower case characters respond to the effect produced by the writing object on the support.

The terminals are areas where the stroke begins or ends before or after a long path, is where the pen is retained releasing more ink and creating those points of ink accumulation. Hence, these terminal lobes can be a rough representation of those points.

LETTER a

  • Hmm, alright. I've never seen referred to them as "lobes", thought that would make sense. – polemon Nov 25 at 4:23

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.