Typography | Basics

Using the right character


The difference between an amateur-looking document and a professionally produced one can be a matter of details. The following topics cover some of the most commonly overlooked or incorrectly handled details of typography.

Italics, Boldface, and Uppercase
Unless you’re indicating text that is hyperlinked, you should avoid underlining text. Underlining is left over from typewriters, which lacked italics. Sometimes underlining is necessary when no adequate italic is available. Use italics for emphasis or for proper convention, such as the titles of books, periodicals, and plays.

If you want something to jump out on the page, try using boldface—but remember, contrast attracts attention. The best- designed pages display a clear hierarchy of information. If you make everything bold, nothing will stand out. Also, avoid using a bold italic typeface in body text. Usually bold or italic will be sufficient.

Sometimes, by selecting the bold or italic style option, an application will try to automatically create a bold or italic version of a typeface if one is not installed on your computer. These computer-generated styles should be avoided. It is always preferable to use the true bold or italic version of a typeface.

Avoid using all uppercase letters to emphasize text. They aren’t as readable as lowercase letters and interrupt the flow of the text. When your document calls for all capitals, use a small capital typeface, such as those included in many Adobe® typefaces.

Optical Sizes
High-quality typefaces have always had different designs depending on the point size of the text to be set. In the days of metal type, each point size had its own unique design that was specifically tailored for its usage. For example, a typeface to be used at 6 point, such as in a photo caption, would be a bit thicker or denser than a typeface used for a headline set at 72 point. Several of Adobe’s OpenType® fonts include four optical size variations: caption, regular, subhead, and display. Called Opticals, these variations have been optimized for use at specific point sizes. Although the exact intended sizes vary by family, the general size ranges include: caption (6–8 point), regular (9–13 point), subhead (14–24 point), and display (25–72point). Several of Adobe’s Multiple Master fonts also include the ability to select an optical size.



Getting Your Quotes Right
The neutral quote marks,’ and “, that are accessible from your keyboard are traditionally used to indicate units of measure. True, or directional, quotes, ‘‘and “ ”(sometimes called curly quotes), should be used whenever possible. Some applications automatically apply true quotes by changing the application’s preferences.

Using the Experts
Adobe sells a number of expert-set typeface collections. These collections contain many of the less frequently used characters that add a professional look to your documents, including oldstyle figures, small capitals, ornaments, and ligatures. For example, you can use f-ligatures, which eliminate awkward character combinations. Compare the fi, fl, ff, ffi, and ffl ligature combinations in the second line with the individual characters in the first line.


Adobe’s OpenType Pro fonts typically combine these special expert-set characters and the base character set in a single font. With an application that supports OpenType features, such as Adobe InDesign, substitution of these characters can be automated.

Upper- and Lowercase Numbers
When you are setting numbers with lowercase text, it is best to use lowercase numbers. That’s right! Numbers come in upper- and lowercase versions.

The lowercase versions are often called oldstyle figures, and they contain characters with ascenders and descenders. Uppercase numbers look fine in spreadsheets and in uppercase text, but look too large in body text.



Small Capitals
Smaller versions of regular capital letters, called small capitals or small caps, are drawn to have the same typographic color as the lowercase characters in a typeface, and to be visually appealing when used alongside lowercase text.

Some applications allow you to apply a small-capitals style to your text. This usually means that the application reduces the point size of full caps to about the height of the lowercase. The resulting letters are usually too light, even if the application does something like expanding the type horizontally. Small capitals are useful for section headings or chapter titles, to accent important words or phrases in mid-sentence, or at the beginning of a paragraph for a lead-in. True small caps are one sign of a truly professional typesetting job.


Many of Adobe’s OpenType fonts contain small capitals, and applications that support the

OpenType small caps feature, such as Adobe InDesign, can substitute these letterforms automatically.

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