Would you use small caps for USA and UFO?

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Frode Bo Helland's picture
Joined: 26 Feb 2007 - 1:03pm
Would you use small caps for USA and UFO?
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And what about national codes/abbrevations, like NO, DK, FR?

Ben Mitchell's picture
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Joined: 12 Aug 2007 - 4:05pm
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I'd say it's especially nice to use small caps in blocks of text where there are a lot of abbreviations or acronyms. Ubiquitous full caps make the text very difficult to read.

I have to use lots of acronyms in blocks of text and actually full caps look too clunky and I find small caps a bit pretentious. So I tend to use full caps but reduced a point size and bumped up from regular to medium to get the weight right. I think Bringhurst had the same idea.

It depends on how much you need abbreviations and how they look on the page I think.

Frode Bo Helland's picture
Joined: 26 Feb 2007 - 1:03pm
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I need the abbr., but they don't show up that often.

Another issue: The small cap height in my body text (Bembo Book) is a bit short, IMO. It's not all that obvious that they are supposed to be caps. They look more like lowercase, especially with a word like "USA" that has such similar shapes in both lc and uc.

Ben Mitchell's picture
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Joined: 12 Aug 2007 - 4:05pm
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If the frequency is low, it sounds like full caps would be ok. I think with Bembo it'll be hard to reduce a point size as you don't have a medium weight to make use of.

Frode Bo Helland's picture
Joined: 26 Feb 2007 - 1:03pm
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Another question:
I have a quote containing the word "BAAM". Small caps or not? Or maybe I should go italic on it. The downside is that it'll kill the comic book flavour.

Charles Ellertson's picture
Joined: 3 Nov 2004 - 11:00am
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Using small caps isn't a rule, it is a generalization. Their use should depend on context, even in text. The decision about when to use them is all to often not left to the comp, but to some unseen, unknown editor, who is not happy with anything not covered by a hard and fast rule.

For example, I did a book recently where small caps were specified for acronyms/abbreviations, but ultimately, use was my choice. One of them was GI, as in the GI's retuning from World War II. The most common occurrence of GI was "the GI Bill". Well, "Bill" always has an initial cap, so setting "GI" in small caps in this context would look passing odd. I wound up setting all occurrences of "GI" as full caps, primarily because of the "GI Bill" and because "GI" is only two letters long. Personally, at 3+ letters, I'd have no problem using small caps in some constructions, and full caps in others. Just like using old-style figures with U&lc text, but lining with full caps.

Unless an editor throws a fit, I always set abbreviations/acronyms in subheads in full caps, esp. when the subhead style is to cap the first letter of each word (general style is usually an editor's choice).

In your example of "BAAM," I'd set it full caps. As you say, it is suppose to be emphasized.

As for small caps that are a bit small, if you're using InDesign, you can search for all of them & bump the point size a point or so. You can also letterspace them with such a global search.

Bumping up small caps is better than setting full caps smaller IMHO. When you set a letter smaller, it also has less weight. Unless you're using a font where the caps are a bit heavy to start with, I find lighter "smallish caps" unattractive.

FWIW

Frode Bo Helland's picture
Joined: 26 Feb 2007 - 1:03pm
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Thank you for the advice, Charles! And thank you, Bendy!

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture
Joined: 24 May 2005 - 7:36am
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>So I tend to use full caps but reduced a point size and bumped up from regular to medium to get the weight right. I think Bringhurst had the same idea.

And where is that? I am unable to find that in any place of The Elements of Typographic Style 3.1...

Ben Mitchell's picture
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Joined: 12 Aug 2007 - 4:05pm
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Ha! Caught out! I don't have a Bringhurst to refer to. It's certainly written in one of the books I've read ;)

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture
Joined: 24 May 2005 - 7:36am
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Ok. Odd technique, I must say, since it wasn’t thought by the type designer; instead, he/she designs true small caps. But it worked for me once, long time ago.

If small caps are not provided, I tend to use all caps (never faux small caps). Or, if the text has a lot of “all caps situations”, it may be the right time for choosing some other font.

Ben Mitchell's picture
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Joined: 12 Aug 2007 - 4:05pm
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There are mid-caps (or petite caps) in some fonts that solve the problem neatly. Small caps draw too much attention in text blocks IMO. See an old thread of mine about this here. BTW it worked really well with Minion.

>if the text has a lot of “all caps situations”, it may be the right time for choosing some other font.

Right.

Manlio Napoli's picture
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Joined: 15 Feb 2006 - 9:13am
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> And where is that? I am unable to find that in any place of The Elements of Typographic Style 3.1...

Detail In Typography by Jost Hochuli.

Ben Mitchell's picture
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Joined: 12 Aug 2007 - 4:05pm
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Thanks, that's the one :)

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture
Joined: 24 May 2005 - 7:36am
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Thanks, Manlio. Good to know.

I just checked the Spanish translation —El detalle en la tipografía— and yes, it is there, just before the Numerals subsection, but not exactly: I read about reducing all caps by one point; but I am unable to find any mention about changing the weight from regular to medium. Am I missing something?

Ben Mitchell's picture
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Joined: 12 Aug 2007 - 4:05pm
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It wouldn't work for all fonts. The proportions between regular and medium have to be right but it's a trick that can work nicely.

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture
Joined: 24 May 2005 - 7:36am
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Ok. Just wondering. Thank you, Bendy.

paul.farrell's picture
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Joined: 13 Oct 2008 - 2:49am
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Out of interest, what are individuals general thoughts on how to approach consecutive caps which are either plural or possessive? eg. There were five UFOs/The UFO's lights?

If you were to use the Josh Hochuli trick of dropping the point size, should the apostrophe and lower case s also be dropped?

How would you differentiate between small caps UFO and lower case s?

Ed Long's picture
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Joined: 2 Apr 2009 - 4:03am
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Bringhurst says ...

"small caps are preferable in faces with fine features and small x-height, full caps in faces with large x-height and robust form"

I'm not quite sure what I'd do about UFOs in small caps. Or indeed in an all-caps title.

UFOS SPOTTED OVER MANHATTAN or UFOs SPOTTED OVER MANHATTAN?

Ed Long's picture
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Joined: 2 Apr 2009 - 4:03am
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Ben Mitchell's picture
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I suppose the apostrophe should be dropped but wouldn't fiddle the lc s. It would look weird to make it smaller than the x-height. Or do you mean something else?

>How would you differentiate between small caps UFO and lower case s?

Would it matter which glyph it was, if they looked the same?