The development of Cyrillic typography passed directly from the medieval stage to the late Baroque, without a Renaissance phase as in Western Europe. Late Medieval Cyrillic letters (still found on many icon inscriptions even today) show a marked tendency to be very tall and narrow; strokes are often shared between adjacent letters.

Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, mandated the use of westernized letter forms in the early 18th century. Over time, these were largely adopted in the other languages that use the alphabet. Thus, unlike the majority of modern Greek fonts that retained their own set of design principles for their lower case letters (such as the placement of serifs, the shapes of stroke ends, and stroke-thickness rules, although Greek capital letters do use Latin design principles), modern Cyrillic fonts are much the same as modern Latin fonts of the same font family. The development of some Cyrillic computer typefaces from Latin ones has also contributed to the visual Latinization of Cyrillic type.

Cyrillic uppercase and lowercase letterforms are not as differentiated as in Latin typography. Upright Cyrillic lowercase letters are essentially small capitals (with exceptions: Cyrillic ‹а, е, р, and у› adopted Western lowercase shapes, lowercase ‹ф› is typically designed under the influence of Latin ‹p›, lowercase ‹б› is a traditional handwritten form), although a good-quality Cyrillic typeface will still include separate small-caps glyphs.

Cyrillic fonts, as well as Latin ones, have roman and italic type (practically all popular modern fonts include parallel sets of Latin and Cyrillic letters, where many glyphs, uppercase as well as lowercase, are simply shared by both). However, the native font terminology in Slavic languages (for example, in Russian) does not use the words "roman" and "italic" in this sense. Instead, the nomenclature follows German naming patterns:

  • A roman type is called pryamoy shrift ('upright type')—compare with Normalschrift ('regular type') in German
  • An italic type is called kursiv ('cursive') or kursivniy shrift ('cursive type')—from the German word Kursive, meaning italic typefaces and not cursive writing
  • Cursive handwriting is rukopisniy shrift ('hand-written type') in Russian—in German: Kurrentschrift or Laufschrift, both meaning literally ‘running type’.

As in Latin typography, a sans-serif face may have a mechanically sloped oblique type (naklonniy shrift—"sloped," or "slanted type") instead of italic.

A boldfaced type is called poluzhirniy shrift ("semi-bold type"), because there existed fully boldfaced shapes which have been out of use since the beginning of the 20th century.

A bold italic combination (bold slanted) does not exist for all font families.