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Using numbers in the proper case

numbers can be beautiful

Numbering of the major changes to typography recently is the ability to buy fonts that include several sets of numbers to be used in different areas of your documents. Almost all OpenType Pro fonts contain at least two of these sets: capital numbers (called Lining figures) and lowercase numbers (called oldstyle figures). Both of these number categories can come in two sets: tabular and proportional.

Tabular lining figures:

These all have the exact same width and are beloved by bookkeepers and accountants. Many of these financial types will consider it a typo if you do not use these figures.

Tabular lining figures

Proportional lining figures:

These have individual character widths, but they are all the same height (usually the same height as the capital letters).

Proportional lining figures

Proportional oldstyle figures:

These have individual character widths plus ascenders and descenders (usually matching the ascender and descender measurements of the lowercase letters).

Proportional oldstyle figures

Tabular oldstyle figures:

Not used by anyone I know of. Because they are lowercase financial types shun them. Because the letter spacing is all identical, graphic designers see the horrible spacing and shun them also.

Tabular oldstyle figures

Small cap figures:

There is one additional category that is very rare. These are small cap figures that match the size, weight, and letterspacing of the true small caps that come with the OpenType Pro font. I add letterspacing because true small caps should have increased tracking to aid readability. The better fonts have this added small cap letterspacing built in. My fonts are some of the very few that have small cap figures.

Small cap figures

Uses of numbers

It should be obvious by now. Lining numerals are used with all caps - and nowhere else! Using lining numerals in lowercase body copy is exactly like using all caps to shout in an email. It has the same effect and is just as irritating to the reader.

Oldstyle figures (proportional) are used within normal U&lc body copy. The numbers will look like they belong. They will be much easier to read.

Small cap figures are used with the lowercase portions of small cap words. The reason are obvious. They fit and do not shout.

More and more this usage will be standardized and recognized as the norm for professional typography.

You need to add it to your skill set.

David Bergsland

Also by David:

BEST Gradient Paragraph Rules
BEST Art from Dingbats
BEST Run-in Headlines
BEST New Typography: What difference does it make?
BEST Complex Tables in Adobe InDesign

David Bergsland

David has been a graphic designer, art director, teacher, and author on digital printing and publishing for nearly forty years. He has written several books, See his books and tutorial materials) designed well over a hundred fonts, and taught on the digital publishing industry needs for the past fifteen years. Presently he is working for a large printing company developing training materials for InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Acrobat. Most of his recent works are published by Radiqx Press and available on his Website: bergsland.org

Copyright ©2006 David Bergsland This is reprinted here with permission and kudos to David for contributing some of is extensive knowledge for DTG readers!

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