Small Caps: the older I get the less I know

meredithalix's picture

So I thought I had a decent handle on the use of small caps... until I started working on an annual report for a state chapter of the ACLU.

On one hand, the name appears so frequently that one could make a good argument for small caps: overall color, less visual disturbance, etc. But on the other, this is their annual report, and one could make a good argument for not wanting the organization's name to disappear into the text.

Bringhurst and other orthodox priests call for small caps in this situation. The other ACLU materials I have here don't use SC, but they make lots of other typographic faux pas, so I wouldn't base my decision on that, necessarily. On the third (?) hand, it's likely that if I use SC, the clients will just think it looks wrong since they're used to regular caps.

It pains me, but for practical reasons I'm inclined to use real caps. Yet on the fourth hand, if I do, then I'll have to set PATRIOT Act in big caps too, which pains me more. What to do?

--Meredith with four hands

hrant's picture

It depends on the x-height/cap-height ratio as well as the smallcap height of the font in question.

- If the x-height is big enough compared to the caps, then fullcaps can be OK. However this usually means the x-height is too big for good readability (at normal text sizes).

- If the smallcaps are too small (like they so often are) then they might indeed not work.

That said, typically the smallcaps are less bad than fullcaps.

BTW, you might check out FF Atma - a smallcap size for every season!


meredithalix's picture

I was using Bembo (Monotype) -- x-height is big enough that full caps don't look terrible. I think the smallcaps are, indeed, a bit too small. Maybe Atma is the way to go. Mid caps! Quarter caps! A smorgasbord of caps!

capthaddock's picture

If their other material is full of typographic faux pas, will they even notice if you use smallcaps?

PS I think you should use a Fraktur font for setting "PATRIOT Act"! ;)


hrant's picture

> Bembo ... x-height is big enough

Doesn't Bembo have huge caps?

> will they even notice if you use smallcaps?

Good point - smallcaps are one of the last things people notice.

> Fraktur

Too funny!


hdschellnack's picture

The starnge thing is that clients who have old publications with KILLER typographic errors

meredithalix's picture

I think HD is right about whether they'll notice the smallcaps: "Why is OUR name so SMALL?"

Re: Bembo's fullcaps -- they're not small, but because they're so delicate, I don't think they disrupt the page color much. (I'm comparing sample pages printed with Bembo, Adobe Garamond, Minion and Plantin.)

Re Fraktur -- LOL! Hmmm, wonder if the client would notice.

hrant's picture

> I think HD is right about whether they'll notice the smallcaps

Yeah, totally - what I meant was that there's no way they'll notice if the smallcaps are "real" versus fake (smaller point size of the fullcaps).


Chris Rugen's picture

> I think HD is right about whether they'll notice the smallcaps: "Why is OUR name so SMALL?"

Man, I get stuff like this a lot. The right stuff has become wierd and 'wrong' to a lot of clients. I say do it all with SC as your judgment and references stipulate (if the face you choose allows). Make a typographic argument for it if they notice and if they don't relent just change their name and not the rest. Arguably, you'd just be choosing a typographic solution that best fits the situation. And that's what we want, right?

I've had the same battle both internally (in my head) and externally (with the client) about client acronyms. This thread makes me feel like much less of an amateur.

emp's picture

It hurts to read this, because I only have clients who don't understand. In fact, they're behind me right now moving my arms and hands to type this.

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