What is a Pylon?


Interesting concept by the folks at FWIS. The purpose of their initiative is to establish a new typographic term that defines the missing areas of a stencil typeface. They call it a “pylon”. I do appreciate the effort but I have to agree with Steve who commented:

The named typographic parts or details (serifs, crossbars, etc.) refer to the actual form of the letter and not the white space around it with the only exception being a counter. If white space were considered a physical thing then a pylon, which also is a physical object, could be an appropriate term.

He’s right. There is no reason to name this area because it’s just part of the white space surrounding the letter form. It already has a name, it’s “white space” or “negative space”. Counters are different because they’re completely surrounded by the letter form.

What does everyone think about this? I’d love to read your comments.

Via Jason Alejandro        

35 thoughts on “What is a Pylon?

  1. I don’t know much about terminology and stuff, so from a uneducated point of view, I think that white space is more significant than the white space around it (although that’s still important, of course), and if it wasn’t for that it wouldn’t be a stencil. So I think it’s cool.

    Also you wrote write instead of right, I think.

  2. I’d have to disagree with Steve’s comment. I think “pylon” has a very viable niche in typographic terminology. “Negative space” (which is more explicit than “white space”) refers to neutral space or the space around and between the subject(s) of an image. In typography, the subject of an image is the typeface itself, and I would therefore argue that the missing spaces of a stencil typeface should be distinguished both in consideration and terminology from the “negative space” that surrounds the type.

  3. I think this could be helpful not even concerning stencil type but when art directing someone as to how to modify non-stencil font. Like ” through a pylon in that crossbar.” I could get behind that.

  4. I think that a name for this space would be useful, but that “pylon” is the wrong term. Pylong implies something physical, something solid. The whitespace in a stencil, while blocked and vertical, doesn’t feel like a pylon to me. It feels more like a “trench.”

  5. I’ve always called them bridges.
    They bridge counters to white space.
    They’re straight and rectangular like bridges.

    But it doesn’t really sound like a typographical term.
    Much like Pylon it sounds really architectural. But Pylon sounds like a tower which can stand alone. A Bridge connects one thing to another.

  6. Me thinks that the pylon is closer to a counter, than to negative space in that it acts upon the letter’s aesthetic regardless of that letter’s proximity to anything else. (anyone buying this?) I guess that you could argue that one could create two unique fonts with identical negative space but modifying the shape of the pylons. (…same is true of counters)

    And i think that “pylon” works just fine if you assume that it refers to the strip of material that supports the counters on an actual stencil, creating the void between forms.

  7. The only exception would be when discussing the stencil itself! Then the letterform is white space and the pylon is well and truely physical.

  8. Even if it is technically white space, I don’t see any problem with naming it.

    Also, I think the name works perfectly. A pylon is a something used for support, and remember that’s exactly what this space is there for on an actual stencil! It provides the stencil with strength and integrity so you can use it multiple times.

    Does anyone else see it this way? Maybe it’s because I’ve been spraving stencils for years.

  9. Cody, I see what you’re saying. It does make sense in a certain way, but I can’t help but feel like they’re making something out of nothing.

  10. As a typographic term, there does not appear a need for it. However, since that particular negative space form is important for physical application, be it in some variety of shape or form, it indicates that the term has a particular value in its physical presence. Since the physical need for it is important, the term must then exist for explanation in its creation, be it by hand or digitial, therefore, before it has physical qualities, the term is established for its design and typographical values. So yes, it should be a typographical term.

  11. Pylons hold things up. If this were used as a cutting file, the negative space would become the fill…. Which is what stencils were invented for. So really, the pylons in that example are what holds the type together. In printed form the pylon is negative space, but used as a stencil, it would be positive.

  12. Not sure if “Pylon” is the best possible name for the terminology, but I do think it is valuable.

    The reason white space or negative space isn’t sufficient is because it’s so broad and vague. It’s not specific and would always require further elaboration for people to try and articulate it. Having a name, solves this problem. When designer A says to designer B, “serifs”, there’s an instant interchange of information and understanding.

    Everyone has their own ideas. I think first prize would be calling them “joins” or “splits”. Pylon is far too abstract, even when it’s explained. Which I think would be counter-productive to what they are trying to achieve.

    So yay for the cause, nay for the name.

  13. A pylon is a physical object, the word being used to describe negative space doesn’t work one bit, no matter how much you try and bring typographic terminology into it.

    Surely the word ‘void’ would work much better as this is describing a hole/space with nothing in it.

  14. I’d agree with pylon for an actual physical stencil but in the context of typography on a printed page, which I’d presume FWIS are referring to, I’d be having a re-think.

  15. I am sure we can come up with even more words for things nobody cares about, it’s good to know FWIS is on the case.

  16. I do think that it can get too finicky if we start naming all the little nuances that some styles impose (is there a name for the dot in the center of a counter or for the diagonal bar in a zero in computer-geeky fonts?). But I don’t agree with the idea that just because it’s negative space it shouldn’t be named. I do think it equates to a counter, in that it is a structural form inherent to the letterform and it is what defines the stencil style. Still, it is too specific to be given a formal name.

  17. In the Helvetica documentary, Wim Crouwel mentioned a trait about helvetica that he deemed to be a swiss typography trait in that it was designed with the white or negative space in mind. It was designed as if there was no other possible orientation of the letterforms because it was as if the white space had “locked” them into place… that the letterforms were, essentially, the physical representation of the molded whitespace. I believe that this description is valid for most if not all typefaces, not just helvetica so a term like “pylon” is a perfectly valid term. I’m not sure if it is the right word for it since a pylon, in reality, has nothing to do with empty space but describes a physical structure contributing to structural stability.

    Interesting debate here.

  18. I’ve always heard bridges myself, so I agree with Ryan #7 and Daniel #17.

    I remember coming across this through the fwis site and I thought it was cute, but somewhat without purpose.

    I suppose it could be used as a digital term for that white space but bridges still seems appropriate for the same reasons we still use uppercase and lowercase, it’s a repurposed term.

    m welch


  19. Great discussion going on here. Love it!

    Here is how I see it. If you’re going to name this space, then you must name the space in an “e” that’s between the upper area and terminal.

  20. Hm, this one is tricky.

    I’m not sure if Pylon is the correct word, then again, Counter doesn’t really reflect what the actual word counter means.

    I agree with comment number ten. Stencil based typography should be thought of in reverse. the letterforms you see are in fact the white space. whatever it is you’re using to make the stencil would be the form.

    I like that word, form. Maybe the perceived white space for stencil typography should be called the Form.

  21. I don’t know any correct word for it, but I could name it a gutter.
    Like the space between 2 column this gap allow ink or paint to run inside the letter shape and not outside.

  22. I suppose it’s a specific piece of a typeface not just like the general ‘white space’ around a letterform. So in that regard it might require a description.

    But i don’t think bridge is right, and i really don’t think pylon is right. did someone say trench? that sounds more appropriate to me, but is still wrong.

    I think we need to hire an old man, a typeface guru with a beard, to fix this problem.

  23. Where I come from (Leeds, Yorkshire, UK), we call a narrow footpath between houses a “ginnel”. That space looks like a ginnel to me.

  24. It seems like a “bridge” would be the part of the physical stencil that connects the stencil together. It doesn’t seem like that term applies to the negative space created by using a physical stencil to create letterforms.

    How do you describe other negative spaces in typefaces? You don’t. So why would you need to do it for a stencil-like font? You don’t need to.

    It’s rubbish.

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