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What is an ascender?

Ascenders are the vertical, upwards strokes that rise above the x-height.


In typography, an ascender occurs on lowercase letters. You see them all the time but probably didn’t know it even had a name. Why? Because they make our words WAY easier to read and are included in most fonts.

The history of ascenders

Ascenders might seem universal now but that wasn’t always the case. Ascenders and descenders were first introduced during the 3rd century AD on half-uncial characters.

ascender history

These were capital letters with smaller bodies that featured upwards or downwards reaching strokes. While they aren’t the ascenders and descenders we know today, it’s clear to see how they could progress into today’s iteration.

As we mentioned, the primary purpose of today’s ascenders is font legibility. This use goes all the way back to the introduction of high-speed motorways.

The British government tasked designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert to improve legibility of the British signs. After many tests and studies, both in the UK and the United States, it turned out that the learned fonts with ascenders were more easily read than those without.

british ascender

Beware of crashing ascenders

Okay, so the section title is a bit dramatic. Ascenders are ubiquitous. There’s no real drama to be had -- unless, of course, your ascenders reach a bit too high.

crashing ascenders

Crashing occurs when the descender of a letter on one line touches an ascender on the line below it. This can cause the text to look awkward and cramped. It’s not a huge deal, but something to keep in mind.

To fix the problem, all you need to do is adjust the leading, kerning or tracking.

with high ascenders

1. Pompiere

Pompiere is a condensed sans serif font. It has very tall ascenders and a small x height, which is unlike most sans fonts. Due to its small x height, this font is perfect for medium to large sizes!

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2. Amatic SC

This small caps (SC) font is simple yet effective. It’s hand-drawn, perfect for titling and other small runs of text. It was originally designed to be used across the internet by web browsers on various platforms.

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3. Josefin Sans

This elegant, geometric font is most beautiful at larger sizes (perfect for headers!) with an x height that’s halfway from the baseline to cap height.

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with low ascenders

1. Uncial Antiqua

This hybrid font is a combination of Uncial and Half Uncial letterforms, blended to create a signature letterform that has seamlessly maintained its readability.

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2. Teko

Teko was created with the intent to be used in headlines and other display-sized text with its light, regular, medium, semi-bold, and bold options. This font features letters with square proportions and a low stroke contrast.

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3. Francois One

Francois One is a reinvention of sans serif gothic display fonts with reshaping done for ease of use on the internet. The letter stems have been optimized for bold display, and slanted stem terminals add a bit of playfulness.

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4. Anton

This reinvention of traditional advertising sans serif fonts features letters that have been digitized and reshaped for use on the internet. As with Francois One, the letter stems have been optimized for bold display in web browsers.

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with no ascenders

1. Permanent Marker

This font gives you the look and feel of a beautiful writing instrument. The thick strokes mimic that of a marker, making this a perfectly whimsical font for headers, titles, and text of a larger size.

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2. Monoton

This font is a contemporary rendition of older metalpress fonts like Prisma, ideal for use at sizes about 30 points. Monoton is a pure display font that can be used freely across the internet.

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3. Bangers

This comic book style font was designed based on the mid-20th century superhero comics cover lettering. It’s perfect for artist websites, with thicker strokes that emphasize headers and titles.

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We enjoyed exploring this topic with you. Want to keep going? Pick one of these related terms to read next:

A. Descender [dih-sen-der], noun:

Ascenders are ascending. Likewise, descenders descend. In this definition, we dive into more details and offer further typography resources for ambitious learners… Read the full definition »

B. X-height [eks-hahyt], noun:

The x-height refers to the height of the lowercase x in a specific font, often referring to the distance between the baseline and the mean. But that’s not all you need to know… Read the full definition »

C. Baseline [beys-lahyn], noun:

The baseline describes the invisible line that all your letters and words sit on when you type. We take an in-depth look at this basic concept and discuss the impact it has on modern design… Read the full definition »