Superscripts and subscripts

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mjr's picture
Joined: 13 Jul 2007 - 12:32pm
Superscripts and subscripts

In learning about typefaces, I have always been taught that small capitals are not merely scaled-down versions of caps, but are their own entity, so that the stroke weight is proper. (Sad to say too many fonts don't contain proper small caps.)

But anyway, is the same theory true for superscript and subscript figures? What I mean is, should there properly be separate figures created for superscripts and subscripts whose stroke weight matches the characters around them, instead of just using miniatureized regular figures? I've never seen a font that had these.

I'm just wondering what is in theory the most correct way, and in practice how it is done.

Thank you.

William Berkson's picture
Joined: 26 Feb 2003 - 11:00am

Yes, many contemporary text fonts with big character sets do have separate figures for superscript and subscript figures. E.g. Minion.

Matthew Stephen Stuckwisch's picture
Joined: 7 Feb 2007 - 10:21am

The same applies, they'll be optically scaled down. This means they can be:

a) a bit heavier than normal
b) a bit wider than normal
c) a larger x-height than normal
d) a & b; b & c; a & c; or a, b, & c.

A good math font will have this done. The problem design wise is its hard to really know which letters might come up in superscript/subscript situations. I think in one thread we collected a list o the typical ordinals which was close the entire alphabet. Diacritics will need to be resized since they too can be used on super/subscripts.

merkri's picture
Joined: 22 Dec 2008 - 3:56pm

Daniel Rhatigan has done some really nice stuff on mathematical typesetting, where you get into these issues.

His master's thesis provides some good examples (e.g., page 34).

P.S. I want Gina!

Nick Shinn's picture
Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am

These have always been available as separate characters, properly sized, weighted, and positioned.
In the days of metal and photoset type, only a few typefaces had them.
In the first days of digital, they were available for a limited number of text types as separate "Expert" fonts.
Since OpenType, the practice of providing them has become much more widespread, for instance I have included them in all fonts of my six most recent non-script typefaces.